Notes from Jesse Reno's Workshop


I was looking for a workshop that could jumpstart my creativity. I had spent the last year sitting in my basement studio doing the same thing over and over again. Some finished pieces I liked, but most felt "expected." I had lost my verve. Jesse Reno's class was just what I needed. 

I chose to go to his workshop after watching a video of his painting process. He poured paint into his hands and then attacked the canvas. I had never seen anyone do anything like it before. Watching it happen, my pulse quickened. It was exciting. Primal. Perfect. 

The week-long art retreat was held at a place called Hacienda Mosaico in Puerto Vallarta. There were five students in all in the outdoor studio; each of us got our own table and easel. For the first demo, Jesse got down on his hands and knees before a tarp and a primed canvas and began pouring paint into his hands. As he worked and talked, I witnessed the transformation of the canvas, and a seed began to grow in me. At one point, tears flew down my cheeks - as they always do when I witness pure, holy beauty. 

The next five days were all about unlearning everything I had been taught up to that point. I learned so many things, but here are the top six: 

1. Don't define the outcome before you start

Also known as the "Don't Kick Your Own Ass" rule. By setting up an expectation of what you want the painting to look like before you've even started, you've set yourself up for disappointment. Don't get preoccupied with what it's going to look like in the end - when we do, we struggle to make it. But there's no map – just a journey that changes every step of the way. Expectation corrupts. Perfection is death. Anxiety only begets more anxiety.  

2. Yes, and...

PaInting is a lot like improv. If something unexpected happens in your art, it's as if you've been handed an opportunity to act. Don't ignore it or move past it. Accept it and work with it. Do it quick to avoid over-thinking it. Made a mistake? No big deal – something interesting can finally happen now. 

3. Be a student of your own expression

Destroy the canvas - bring it on! Get tangled. Get messy. Play. Interact. Smash. Fracture. Bury. Resurrect. Build up a base then isolate elements you like; cover up the ones you don't. Build, take away, build, then take away again. Restraint does not allow wholeness. Let the art take you where it wants to go – random interactions are inspiring and can take you places you would have never expected to go. Don't illustrate or conceptualize. The magic happens when you are lost. 

4. Fix it right away or ELSE

If there's an area you aren't excited about, cover it. Change it. If you don't, you will get used to it and will find that future decisions will be hampered by this compromise. What was there before doesn't matter. 

5. Keep on Moving

Keep several canvases going at once so that you have distance and something to move onto when you get stuck or bored. This also prevents a painting from feeling too "precious." The more canvases you have going on at once, the more you will have to celebrate. Jesse will sometimes put away a canvas for a month, so that when he looks at it again, he can see it with fresh eyes and not be afraid to add to it - or start over again on top of it. He says that he knows a painting is done when the canvas connects to his truth.

6. Pay Your Dues

You can't expect to hit a few balls around and have the Yankees banging down your door. It's work. At times it's hard work. It's about putting in the time. Sometimes the lows will be lower than the highs. But it's worth it, like anything else that's difficult. Stick to it and you'll have learned to silence the inner critic and grab the joy that comes in the freedom of understanding what's important to you.