I am an attorney practicing law in Chicago. Twice a year I have the good fortune to work as a Tour Guide in Italy for Il Chiostro Workshops. It was in Italy where I first met Joan. Il Chiostro hosts her Italian workshops. I observed her teaching her workshop in Tuscany in May of 2016 and October 2017. I’ve worked with over 20 various art instructors but had never seen anything like her approach.
I was fascinated by how she would give students very specific instructions, and yet in the end everyone's’ work was incredibly unique. I realized that beyond technique she was showing them all to respect and follow their own voice.
Without exception, I loved what everyone in the class was doing. There were professional figurative painters taking the workshop to “loosen up.” There was a landscape painter who would follow Joan's instructions and get beautiful hints, insinuations, or memories of mountains. A botanical painter who had never done abstract work was producing charming, warm, almost comforting pieces.
In October 2017 I was able to experience first-hand what was happening in these painting sessions. I was with Joan and her students and was able to participate in some of the classes. Students shared materials with me and encouraged me, while I painted along. This was the first time I had ever painted.
At the end of the week the class exhibited their work, and I hung two paintings I had done. I loved it. There was something so familiar to me about what I had created. It felt like magic.
After the workshop was over and I was on my own in Florence, I bought some cheap paint, brushes and paper. I painted some pictures. I explored techniques Joan taught me. It was interesting, exasperating and invigorating, I knew I wanted to take one of Joan’s workshops. I wanted to work with her, just paint, study, and to be a participant in a workshop. Before leaving Florence I had signed up for a workshop that started several weeks later in Sedona Az.
I arrived in Sedona with lots of preconceived notions about my ability. I was raised in environment that discouraged creativity and encouraged conformity. Though I have always been interested in art and the lives of artists, I considered myself a steak tartare (raw), “I am a lawyer.” “I’m a real estate broker.” These labels I could apply to myself, but not “I am an artist.” But Joan revealed to me in Sedona that I can make art. I am an artist. This experience was transformative.
Joan’s demonstrations of how to look at the art and not judge it as “good or bad” has been key. She has students constantly turn the composition 90 degrees to see it and make it from all perspectives, and to make marks without censoring. Now at home, spontaneously layering paint and marks, my painting has become a meditative practice. When I find myself being hypercritical or wanting to start over or stop a piece, I hear Joan in my head, “Turn the page 90°.”
Studying with Joan, watching her work and looking at her work, has been an inspiration to me. It has enriched my life.
I' have attached a detail of the painting I did soon after I return from Sedona. This part of the painting is especially beautiful to me and meaningful, as it incorporates two photos from my childhood. Profoundly sad, but ultimately, and more importantly, the process of doing the painting helped me to celebrate, to mourn, to process my life.
I’m excited for Joan’s online experience and encourage others to take the plunge!
January 8, 2018 Jim Cachey
"Paint Yourself Free" available Jan 28th: ONLINE CLASS