We’ve got a big prickly-pear cactus growing here at home, the kind with the foot-long, beaver-tail shaped branches (pads).

It started as a single pad planted  in a dry part of the yard.  The pad took root and after a while the one pad became two, and then two became four or five.  Left alone, the cactus exponentially rambled into a seven foot plant, throwing itself out in every direction. But here’s the important thing.  At a certain point  the most developed branches, those burdened with the most weight, began to bend and eventually broke off, took root and began a new plant. And that’s apparently how they work.

I may regard “breaking” as something to be avoided, but it’s how life moves forward, too. In this sense one can consider the difficult rethinking of their work, in this case watercolor, a really good thing and the breaking a happy necessity for growth.

Much of what I thought I needed to discard is turning out to be old attitudes and mindsets. I’ve unknowingly been playing to the invisible critics (they pursue all artists) without questioning their authority or jurisdiction often enough.  My task now is to loosen their grip on me, primarily by recognizing them, letting them go, and replacing their influence.

Replacement Therapy

When Martin Luther wrote his small catechism, he took the Ten Commandments, and with clarifying remarks amended the Shall Not’s with a positive behavior, sort of a shall do. I guess he knew that it’s best to re-direct existing energy towards a good instead of just saying something is bad.

Because I’ve already exceeded brevity in this post, I’ll simply rewrite the shall do notes from my own critique. They’re personal, written in the terms I use with myself, and may not be the words others might choose.  The parenthetical ( ) statements are my simplified reminders of the new directions. The replacement therapy. I don’t know how successfully they’ll take root yet,  that’s why it’s work.  But I’m finding a new joy and lift in the work again.

From my sketchbook :

What I’d like to see more of…

-Innovation…in subject and viewpoint (enjoy more)

-Richness in values & design (plan more)

-Emphasis on suggestion over delineation (look more)

-Clarity of communication (think more)

a.  Selection, with emphasis on essentials.

* A whole that is greater than the sum total of it’s parts.  Effect first…what is the big effect? Paint that with emotion. See the routine as extraordinary.

DSC_0102 Untitled, watercolor  11 x 15″

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  1. Aloha Mark,
    Great reflection on your cactus growth and life…and watercolor.;) Agree. “Breaking” is vital for growth. Difficulties reveal what is of real value to us. Faith moves forward.
    I like the Replacement Therapy statements from your sketchbook. 😉
    Beautiful watercolor.
    Thank you for your generous posts!

  2. Aloha, oh Learner,

    Thanks for your comment. Thought I wrote this post years ago, the principle came to mind again the other day, and I can see that over time my point has validated itself as generally true.

    Whether its something personal or an institution, we scramble to shore things up when, perhaps, the break is the best thing in the long term. Something new and vital may spring up.

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