the first collaboration painting

Holly, a dear friend of mine, died last summer. She was a writer and a creative soul in many ways, including artmaking of all kinds. She was an imaginative free spirit who appreciated the unconventional. So her art was usually quirky. Self-taught, she didn’t often think her art was particularly good (though it was), but she loved to stimulate and support others. She was a powerful Muse for me. Her creativity was playful and she liked to see others play too. Together we delighted in whimsical painting, sculpture and collage. She unfailingly encouraged all my artistic efforts, at the same time subtly jostling me out of my comfort zones and into new creative territory. I have discovered that even after death Holly continues to inspire and challenge me well beyond what I had imagined.

When she was in hospice she told me to take from her apartment all the art supplies that I could use. I retrieved several canvases, some new and some that she had begun to work, and a few other miscellaneous items. One day this fall when I was missing her, I looked through the canvases that she had started, pulled one out and began to paint. Immediately comforted because the canvas held her energy, I sensed her with me as I moved the brush. Even as I painted intuitively unlike anything Holly would have painted, I talked to her throughout, felt our love for each other, and sensed we were collaborating. Which was not only comforting but also exhilarating. So far I have completed four paintings that way, though none since this fall.

Holly as/where she is now

Holly has been especially present in my heart and mind the past few weeks, as those of us who love her are thinking about a memorial for her. So yesterday I decided to do some art to “be” with her again, sense how she is, and clarify my feelings. For various reasons I didn’t want to use paint, and colored pencils didn’t seem bold enough. I was reaching for crayons when the thought of oil pastels popped into my head. I rarely use them, because they are messy, but I felt drawn, and when I went to get them, I realized I had Holly’s now as well as my own, so that sealed it. Thinking of her, I was tugged right away to some colors from her box and I began painting intuitively. At one point I sensed I was supposed to smear all the colors, something I had never done and didn’t want to do. Yet I went ahead and it was beautiful! I chuckled, sending a warm thank you to Holly. Then I went on to add another layer of color and line, until the drawing felt complete. When I stopped to look at it, I teared up because it made me so happy. I believe that the wiggly lines on the bottom and those showering from the top are spiritual energies, and with the soft colors and overall effect my sense was that Holly was fine, that she was in a beautiful place: new, stimulating yet peaceful.

I went on to do another intuitive drawing, this time about myself. As I continued to discover new ways of working with the pastels, I sensed Holly laughing alongside, encouraging and inspiring me.

Holly was doing what she had always instinctively done for me: she got me making art, helped me shed my concern for neatness and order, and pricked me into trying something new and uninhibited.

Thank you, Holly, for dancing through the veil, continuing to inspire me, prod me, and cheer me on. May a Muse as loving as you have been to me find you in your next life.


Have you been inspired or challenged by loved ones who have died?  I’d love to hear that story.