The Art of Leaving White Space

“The less saturated with color your watercolor painting is, the more it can breathe.” -Conson Studio tutorial

“White space in a watercolor painting lets the artwork breathe. White space gives it life.” -Elise Engh, tutorial on blueprint.com

No, this is not a tutorial about watercolor painting. Yes, it is some commentary on what leaving some “white space” in our lives can mean. Enough space to live our lives with some freedom and balance. Which we all need, yes?

I have been one of those creatives who never found just one place to live out my love of creating, and now I find myself in yet another new world that I had thought about for years. Watercolor painting.

Watercolor painting, it turns out, is a lot about leaving white showing amid all the color. White space that draws the eye to itself, that breaks up all the color with white dots and dashes and spaces large and small. It is an art to know where to place them, an art that takes time to master.

My working space is my wide kitchen counter which is now my small art studio. Go figure. About 3 feet by 5 feet of granite countertop for everything. Luckily, I don’t cook much! This is where I am learning to put colors down as I honor the need for spaces between them.

We do what we have to do to fulfill our dreams, don’t we? We find the space we need, literally and figuratively, and we discover that where we live feels altogether different now. The landscape of my apartment’s 720 square feet of space has been changed. My living room has morphed into a library/art studio/blogging platform space. And I’m loving it! Rather unconventional, perhaps, but it’s mine, and it suits me.

While it is most definitely not spacious, it has a kind of grace all its own, I find. It’s the outward and visible sign of my busy, creative, overthinking, over-stimulated mind that is full of blogging ideas and now, flowers and birds and landscapes. A mind so full that it dearly needs breathing room here and there. Now and then. That needs its spiritual “white space.”

Look inside this often preoccupied mind and you’ll find spaces that are grace. Just as the eye is inevitably drawn to the white spaces in watercolor painting created on white paper, so the mind’s eye needs to be drawn to places of quiet solitude – and wonder – and fascination – and deep thought – and anticipation – and calm – and brightness – and possibilities – and eagerness – and rest. Soul-filling rest.

Without the “white spaces,” we become overburdened.

Without the “white places,” we burn out.

Without the “white spaces,” we cannot breathe freely.

It is the “white spaces” that give us a balance to live our best life.

It’s just as true in elderhood as it is in any other time of life. I wish that I could say that I’ve become an expert in creating my own inner “white spaces” just by living this long. What I have learned is how to know when those spaces are missing.

I have become more adept at recognizing when they’re lacking now. When life is heavy or out of balance. So I take a deep breath and ask what I need to do to regain the space that’s too filled up with huge blobs of energy-sucking overwork or overeating or overthinking or over-worrying. Those are the things that rob me of that beautiful balance that brings joy and peace of mind – and sometimes even glee!

“How do I find that space again? How do I set it free?”

Sooner or later, the answer comes. A few days ago, for example, the latest answer appeared. I came across a grace-filled tutorial on “loose watercolor painting” and found this stunning painting of poppies by Joanne Boon Thomas. It absolutely captivated me. As she painted and spoke, she kept talking about planning for the white spaces, of allowing everything to breathe. I watched her do just that. It took courage, every brushful of water and paint that she sloshed on.

And then, there it was! Taking my breath away and then giving it back to me. Is that what my soul looks like? Flashes of color that look as if they would jump off the edges of the page if allowed to spread more; flower images breaking free of too much constraint; near-chaos but so full of life and held together – by the white spaces? So full of life. Full of the breath of life.

Now if that could be what my elderhood looks like, I’d be very okay with that.

(Top photo: Martha improves her flowers with white space.)