Solist, egere flying over wave. Egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

The Messenger, egg tempera, 2016. Daniel Ambrose

sanderling bird sleeping egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

Asleep to Dream IV, egg tempera. 2016

The Messenger and Asleep to Dream IV are new egg tempera paintings just off the easel and headed to Hughes Gallery for their winter season.

They are visual indicators of thoughts I circle. In essence, perhaps these two paintings are simply about noticing things—the beauty of natural moments—of birds, of stillness and gratitude, about living in astonishment.

Besides being astonished, learning to appreciate a moment can cultivate a sense of happiness. Painting from life will do it, and meditation is another way to bliss.

While painting these two temperas, I’ve been listening to On Being with Krista Tippet. In a podcast interview, Krista’s guest, Ellen Langer, Harvard professor of psychology, said that meditation is a means to an end:

“Meditation, no matter what kind of meditation, is engaged to produce post-meditative mindfulness.”

In other words you have to meditate to be in the moment—meditate to be happy.

Dr. Langers, decades of research has shown that we can skip the meditation and jump right to the end. The simple act of actively noticing things, will result in increased health and happiness.

“And so, mindfulness, for me, is the very simple process of actively noticing new things. When you actively notice new things that puts you in the present, makes you sensitive to context. As you’re noticing new things, it’s engaging. And it turns out, after a lot of research, that we find that it’s literally, not just figuratively, enlivening.”

We all have our problems. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be alive. The secret to getting more joy out of life, is to simply pay attention and actively notice things. In general, deeply noticing people and things in our lives begets astonishment. Astonishment begets gratitude. Gratitude begets happiness.

Which pretty much sums up my artist friends and my experience of drawing and painting from life. The moments in my life when I’ve been totally absorbed in observation or drawing from life, reside happily in me with great clarity. From these memories I can draw a kingfisher on a slender limb, Venus beside the moon, the shape of her eye, the tender curves of those lips…

In noticing, I’ve been a receiver, a grateful witness to illuminating moments of inspiration.

Look around you and actively observe something. What do you notice?

For my painting The Messenger, I lifted the title from a Mary Oliver poem. In it she writes quite eloquently about noticing and astonishment.

The Messenger
Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.

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