A Button Tree!

Last spring, five lovely ladies joined me over the course of six weeks to explore tools for healing and growth. We so enjoyed our discussions that we decided to keep meeting. Using Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, as the basis for our meetings, we gathered once a month to share our discoveries as we strived to live the principles laid out in the book.

We finished the book last month and, to celebrate, decided to do something fun and creative together.

Enter Creatively Cali Art and Performance Studio.

We are so fortunate to have someone like Cali in our little town, offering art and drama classes to the community. She also teaches drama in our high school. I’ve had the opportunity to help out with a few of my sons’ performances over the years, but it had been years since I attempted to BE the artist rather than be on the sidelines supporting the artists.

It was a little daunting!

Words I can do. I love playing around with color in my journal, attempting cartoony, stick-people sketches. But paint? On a canvas? Without the little numbers to follow or someone giving very explicit, now-use-this-brush-to-put-this-color-here instructions? Not so sure.

Cali and her mom, Sandy, had everything ready for us. Four spots in the front and two in the back. My walking partner and I arrived early so we snapped up those two back row seats, but everyone else who entered after us would immediately head to the empty table in the back and then have to be coaxed the the places prepared for them at the front.

Funny, eh?

When we’re taking a creative risk like this, we’ll try to hide any way we can. Somehow, even in a tiny room, the back row is  ‘safer.’

Cali started by showing us some examples to give us ideas and then told us to choose the color for our backgrounds.

That was Deer-in-the-Headlights Moment #1.

How does one choose a color from all those luscious choices? What if it doesn’t look the way I think it will look? What if it’s too dark? Or light? Or I change my mind?

I finally chose my color and then headed to the back of the room to pick out my buttons. There were a lot to choose from! In fact, we all spent a lot of time huddled around the table, poring over the choices, because the longer we took to choose our buttons the further back we pushed that moment of applying color to canvas.

Cali had to keep inviting us back to our seats for the painting part of the evening.

We joked that painting would be a good activity for commitment-phobic people. There are a lot of decisions to make, many of them irreversible. Or at least they seem irreversible to neophyte painters. Once the paint is on the canvas, you are committed, and every brush stroke ties you to something you may or may not like in the end.  There’s no turning back.


And then a mantra started playing in my head:

Don’t be tentative! Paint with gusto!

Like any new thing we try our hand at in life, it’s that first, tiny step that is the hardest. Once that step is taken, the next one is revealed and everything else grows from it. It’s not to say that there won’t be other hard steps along the way but, by the time they show up, we’ve proven to ourselves that, scary as things look, our actions have been successful in the past so there’s no reason to believe we can’t manage — and even master — this next hurdle.

All evening, we peppered Cali with questions about how to do things or whether to do things and Cali would unflappably respond, with variations on a consistent theme, ‘It’s all a matter of personal taste. What do you want? What do you prefer? What would you like?’


I want it to be beautiful and lovely and pretty and . . . perfect.

And yet, by insisting that we follow our own creative urges, Cali ensured that when the last button was glued into place, the work was all ours. Yes, she provided examples for ideas and inspiration, and showed us various techniques, but ultimately the work — the creation — was ours.

The most intense moment for me came as my brush hovered over the canvas, preparing to paint the tree — trunk and roots and branches. This was the moment of truth. Could I actually paint a tree that looked like a tree?

Good thing that mantra was playing in a continuous loop.

Don’t be tentative! Paint with gusto!

So I did. And I learned a few things:

There are no mistakes. A brush stroke gone awry can lead to a new effect you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Never judge a work in progress. You may not like how it looks mid-creation but the final details, added at the end, change everything.

When you enter into the spirit of play and discovery, you invite serendipity and surprise. Like the delicious moment when I discovered that gluing small buttons into the center of large buttons created a whole new look. I’m sure others have discovered that while playing with buttons and glue (no doubt many of them in the pre-school set), but I discovered it for myself and it was an exciting final touch to add to my painting.

I did have one regret.

I wish I had taken the time to look more closely and more often at what my fellow painters were doing in the course of the evening. There were a lot of good ideas that I would have liked to incorporate into my painting. Something to keep in mind for us Lone Wolves who get so caught up in the solo-vision of what we’re creating that we forget the power of collaboration.

Except that, had I kept wrenching myself away from my painting to look at what was going on around me, I might have missed out on that delicious feeling of flow that happens when the outside world disappears and nothing exists but this moment and the colors expanding under my brush.

So, scratch that regret.

Everyone’s going to bring their paintings to our next meeting so we can adequately ooh and ahh over each other’s creations and make note of those ideas and techniques we like — for next time.

It’s amazing when you think about it.

In the space of two hours, six blank canvases showcased six very different paintings — all of them beautiful . . . and lovely . . . and pretty . . . and perfect.

My seat mate beamed at her painting. “It contains everything I love.”

And every time she sees it, she’ll remember that she is the one who created it. It contains her artistic choices and is a beautiful reflection of her. Hopefully she’ll also remember how much fun it was to create. How nourishing and uplifting.

I know I slept like a well-fed baby that night and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I wish I could show you all the paintings so you could see for yourself how varied and beautiful they are, but I only have access, and permission, to share one.



Bet it makes you want to pick up a paintbrush, doesn’t it?

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3 Responses to A Button Tree!

  1. Laura says:

    I love this! I especially resonated with the bit about how there are no mistakes, as well as never judge a work in progress–no different than writing. No different than life, too 🙂

    • maxinespence says:

      Yes – no different than life. If only we could remember that when we’re angsting over decisions. There are no mistakes — ever — not matter what it looks like from here.

  2. whoist says:

    I’m very late responding to this – but I love it! It resonates with me deeply – that desire to “just do it” but the holding back until I’m sure I’ve made the right choice (in buying clothes, in posting a blog, in making a skirt, in decorating a room etc etc). The joy of ‘doing it with gusto’ and getting it right is great! I’m still working on feeling ok when I do do it with gusto and it doesn’t turn out to be quite perfect….!! I hope you’re well and happy. x

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