Painting Together

Painting together is both an exhilarating and vulnerable experience. In my previous articles, I wrote of the emotional and mental blocks that many artists might experience as we gather materials and set out playtential time to actually get to do the painting – not just dreaming about it! So now let’s talk about painting together, collaborating with others as artists.

It takes two people to enjoy a painting. The artist writes his story and the art patron ‘reads’ the work.

Cynde Roof

Consider Context

Some of us are more confident being creative all on our own, and others find comfort and motivation with the company. Perhaps you see yourself somewhere along that spectrum. If you do, consider the context. Without peeping eyes around, painting in privacy may soothe anxieties common to new and seasoned painters. Your creations are laid for your eyes, your judgments only. Or, in the right social context, you see yourself grabbing a brush with ease and painting together with a friend or kids at home, strangers at a festival, a public paint-by-numbers in the park, or at work with your clients. Why is it that context changes our mental readiness to create with others?

Let’s explore the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual context of our experience that we may need to feel at ease when painting together.

Creative Collaborating

Painting together is one way of creative collaborating. Collaborative art implies that more than one person may contribute to the project or piece. However, we certainly can get meta about this and go so far as to say that every painting is naturally collaborative. As the painter engages with their materials and mediums, the viewers engage, notice, critique, and favor whatever the painter has left for them to interpret in their work.

I trust my work. It’s a collaboration with the material, and when it’s viewed, it’s a collaboration with the world.

Kiki Smith

Share the Load

Creative collaborating is an invitation for each person to express themselves, see value in using materials, select colors, and how fast or soft to stroke or draw. Collaboration also relieves any single painter from the pressures of ‘finishing’ a project of their own accord. Share the load! Work together = less work for you!

Sharing the creative space is sharing vulnerability, curiosity, and courage. Each person flexes their creative muscles. This flex is physical by nature, for one must pick up and do the art with their bodies, paints, brushes, and tools. It, too, is emotional by overcoming fears of inadequacy and judgment as we so easily compare and contrast with one another (<3 human nature…). Also, it is mental, envisioning possibilities, making creative decisions of what to use and which strokes to do. And finally, creative collaborating elicits the spiritual side of us to come alive.

Painting Together

Within ourselves, and simultaneously in the shared creative space, we feel alive and in the moment. We are here, now, playing and engaging in life creatively. When we creatively collaborate, we work together on something greater than ourselves. A community or relationship project that we can cherish as shared, sacred time together.

So it is essential for each of us on our own to welcome art into our own lives first. And then ask yourself: what will it take for you to share the load of a project and play with painting together to creatively collaborate with someone else (or many ‘elses’) in the creative space?

Illustration of a group hands painting together (seen from above). © Recipes for Wellbeing
Source: Recipes for Wellbeing

Competing and Comparing

As a big fan of balance and reflection, we should talk a bit about the mentalities of competing and comparing in collaborative art. It takes about zero minutes of being alive to observe that human nature leads us to these dispositions. And competing, nor comparing, are inherently poor or negative qualities in a painter (or in humanity, for that matter). The point is to normalize this pattern of thinking and feeling and draw attention to the potential pitfalls of this mentality when making a painting together.

Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.

Andre Gide

Unless you grab a brush and go at it, you may find yourself in that beautiful big mind of yours: thinking. Thoughts like: ‘how do I compare to the others’ skills?’ ‘What if they do not like my style or choices?’ ‘Painting feels so permanent – how far can I run if I mess this up!?’

Thinking welcomed competing and comparing oneself to our own past and desired future-selves, to those who share this project with, to the professionals we so admire. But, as mentioned, it isn’t all bad – and is so normal. You can see how these fear-latent thoughts may hinder us, cause us to freeze or shy away from this opportunity of creative collaboration.

Creative Driver

Does it also serve us? Certainly! When we admire or critique someone’s style, we learn about ourselves. We can replicate, add our own creative flair to a style or subject we liked before. We can judge affectionately or repulsively the degree to which someone else’s art lands with us.

Or, we don’t have to adopt or attempt at a style or subject matter we see in someone else’s work that we don’t like. Competition and comparison also drive us. It isn’t wrong or bad to judge. Art is subjective, and that is beautiful because it keeps it open. Engaging and collaborative.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas

How You Respond

How you respond to sharing this space can completely transform the room from isolated and nervous to one that yields safety, belonging, and connection. What is most important here is your decision and how you respond to the inevitable competitive, comparative nature. That inner-judge never leaves, by the way. Every artist knows it! Young, old, new, and Picasso-status-y – but what happens next in your thinking and doing is the breaker. Let go and trust, or concede and shy away from the moment—the opportunity for sharing playtential time, for expressing yourself, for play, bonding, and community.

When catching yourself in the competitive or comparative mindset, consider the context you are in. How important are familiarity and trust to you with those you wish to paint with? Might you feel more at ease to paint if no one knows you, or if you are with your most trusted, your kids, partner, friends, and colleagues? Are there passersby or an audience, or are you most adept in your room on your own? None are wrong. None are right. This is deeply personal and can inform you of what conditions may support your creative journey to welcome painting together.

Painting Together with Family, Friends, Community

Painting with family, friends, and community inevitably will foster connection, sharing, and playfulness. There are many ways to try painting together, from pairing with your partner or child at home to public classes and workshops.

Some examples of collaborative painting:

  • Paint nights (often accompanied by wine!), often one artist leads a group in painting the same subject in a shared room
  • Public collaborations: chalk art, paint-by-numbers, murals
  • Group Art Therapy sessions
  • Painting Classes/workshops
  • Partner painting, where each person paints something, then passes the canvas to the next to add, and back again
  • Painting with your kids!

After an extended family afternoon painting with her siblings and kids, Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945) remarked: “making art created a relaxed atmosphere that allowed us to enjoy each others company and perhaps talk a little deeper than we usually did.”

I love this source from Artist's Network for some great adult collaborative projects, too. Check it out here!

Bring Us Together

Creative collaborating more often brings us together on every level of our being. Even if insecurities, fears, competitive and comparing thinking come up for one or any of the artists involved, we share that experience. This is why collaborative painting can be a transformative experience. We may approach our project fearing the unknowns of what is to come, how we may ‘perform’ in our artistry. But in shared experience, those fears may melt away. Instead, experiencing both fun and connection through that shared vulnerability can soothe and renew us.

So what do you think? Does painting together seem worth giving a try? I would love to hear how you feel about creative collaboration, and please let me know about your experiences!

About the author:

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I am passionate about making the best of life through cherishing relationships, exploring worldly experiences, and cultivating a creative lifestyle of art, music, dance, and fitness. I am a self-taught painter, inspired by the sublimity of nature, consciousness, love and universal transcendence that binds all of humanity and nature, together.

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