What a Blank Canvas Taught Me About Letting Go


This year has been one of chaos, of change, of newness. I graduated college. Got engaged. New Job. Moved. Marriage. Bliss. Chaos.

With the beauty and the gift that change is, I’m never prepared for the grief that it’s paired with. Transition melts you and reforms you to where you feel like a piece of playdough that a 3-year old pancake-smashed, mixed with other colors, and stuck on the bottom of a desk. I almost don’t recognize myself.

Recently, a friend said a picture of me came to her mind–She saw me running as a young girl through the streets of the town where I grew up. I wasn’t running from anything, just running simply because I could run. She said I was marked by a free spirit, uninhibited by the rules of perfection and performance.

She said I’ve lost that, and I miss myself…I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be full, to not limit myself to the mold that I’m expected to fit into, or limit myself to the words that I’ve begun to describe myself by: Wife. Employee. Machine. Tired. Incapable. Not. Good. Enough.

I’ve laid out high expectations for myself, ones that I could never achieve without wearing myself down to dust.valeriedenisephotos-69

If our house isn’t speck free. If our fridge isn’t full. If our lunches aren’t prepped. If the bed isn’t made, I’m defeated. I question my worth.

How is it that I’ve even begun to define myself by the state of our dirty laundry?

As I begin to re-discover the parts of myself that have been choked, I recently began creating space in my weekly rhythm to explore things that fill me. I started painting again, one of the things I spent most of my time doing in high school. It was one of those things that really mattered to me that was the first to go when ‘life’ got in the way. I hate that.

Warm, 11a.m. sun bleeding into our 600 square foot studio, bare feet, and hair in a top bun, my paint brush grazed the bare canvas and I immediately stepped back. What was I doing? I didn’t have a plan for this painting. I had no vision for the final piece, much less a plan to execute it effectively.


I kept going, and I let myself have so much fun with it. There was no formula I was trying to follow. You know how often I was told as a kid to stay in the lines? Screw it.


That canvas that day taught me the three most important things I needed to know about surrendering myself in a way that leaves ample space for freedom. After all, the literal definition of surrender is to cease resistance.

1. A painting is never perfect. Stop striving for perfection.

I won’t ever be done. I won’t ever be able to apply twelve point font and one inch margins, double check for spelling and grammar, and submit myself to be graded. Trying “arrive” is mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.

2. A painting adds life and character to a space. Stop trying to be someone else.

If my canvas looked like the one on the wall of my favorite coffee shop, there would be one too many. I need to add my own life and character to the places you find myself in. If I find myself in places where I can’t do that, then I probably shouldn’t stay there.

3. A painting is a process. Step back once in awhile, refocus, and remember why you started.

Halfway through my painting I had to go take a walk. My eyes were dry and sandy with frustration. When I came back I had new eyes and a new excitement for where the painting was headed. Step back once in awhile, refocus, and remember why you started.

So, my new words for myself as I began to run through the streets again and regain freedom? Messy. Passionate. Strong. Imperfect. Not. Yet. Finished .

Photos by Valerie Denise Photos 

Adrianne Verheyen