Paint the Light

This watercolor was painted by a HER Saturday patient

The following narrative was written by Barb Boylan, a volunteer at our weekly HER Saturday clinics.  Barb runs the watercolor table activity for the patients. HER Saturday is a weekly women-only clinic and stands for Health Empowerment and Resources.

When one paints with watercolor, one is “painting the light,” not the negative spaces. Most artists “paint the light” from memory, and try not to dwell on the darkness. Transparencies, layering of colors, messy, not always within control, personal choices, emotions, blooms of water, all contribute to the uniqueness of the individual’s artful watercolor masterpiece. Such is life too, when complicated, unexpected episodes, not always in our control, suddenly appear, as we boldly and fearlessly put ourselves out there, and try to be our authentic selves.

But there is another important influence on one’s artwork: it is one’s confidence, laced with courage and hope. In painting, the artist must begin by confidently putting paint to the canvas. It’s the same as in life, when one begins to take that first step toward doing something with one’s life that then becomes reality.

But, what if you are homeless with no place in the world in the traditional sense? What if you are shy, afraid to put yourself out there and speak up? What if life has handed you illness, a traumatic childhood, a broken marriage, a lost job, bad decisions, no means to support yourself, an addiction, no family, single parenthood, or an accident?

We are all the same. We have the same cares, same desires, same wants, same needs. But, what if the thing that differentiates you from someone else is that you have no home.…no place to feel safe, secure and loved?

Recently, as a volunteer at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s HER Saturday weekly women’s clinic, I have learned to see life differently through the watercolor painting of the women at the HER Saturday — all of whom are homeless and vulnerable.  Most live in South End shelters, near BHCHP, with some living outside, sleeping on the streets. Their painting at the HER Saturday clinic allows them a chance for safe and authentic self-expression, without fear, without judgment.

With each brush stroke, there is a relaxed sharing — not only of art techniques, but also of memories and emotions from their past. Some of the women had parents who were artists, or art teachers.  Some painted over 40 years ago as students. “Happy accidents” often occur in water coloring, when somehow the water and the pigment mix in an unexpected way. These homeless women have taught me to see things differently. Their artistic “happy accidents” remind me to never let bad things ruin your heart.

In spite of the fate that life has handed them, HER Saturday artists strive to maintain their dignity, as they paint the light expressing their need to be loved and cared for, to have a safe and secure place to live and to contribute in life. These women are the same as each of us, they just don’t have a place to live.

By Barb Boylan, A BHCHP HER Saturday volunteer.

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