Filling My Cup with the Bittersweet

I’ve been on a short ‘artistic retreat’- that’s what I’m calling it anyway- in Skye. I’ve always been attracted to the edge places, and though the Hebrideans and Orkadians would scoff, Skye seemed pretty far flung to me.

And yes, I suppose I was searching for something ‘spiritual’, ‘divine’. Out of the ordinary. Something deeper than washing up or food shopping. Skye’s a pretty good place to do that. I’ve always believed the the further out you go, the further in you go, so to speak. And it seems others feel the same way- the far flung Scottish islands have always been considered places where the veil between the earth and ‘God’ is thinnest.

In an attempt to keep luggage to a minimum I spent a long time deciding on the one book I would bring with me. It ended up being ‘Bittersweet’ by Susan Cain- a book about why we love joy tinged with sadness, and how that can transform us and be the impetus to make new things.

I’m very glad I chose it as my companion to my days full of ‘sharp stabs of joy’ (a Susan Cain phrase), at the stunning but ephemeral beauty of Skye.

Reading it made all my longing for moments of beauty in nature seem full of meaning. I don’t know about you, but when faced with an overwhelm of beauty, I firstly want to cling to it, then I try to accept that it’s beauty is in it’s ephermerality. And then I get to the search of meaning. Context. Like eyes searching for form in the darkness, I’m always searching for what it means if something moves me and what it means for my life. In some ways this picking apart of life isn’t helpful (though it may be the beginning of making art…), but Susan Cain maintains that the melancholy and sadness we feel when the beauty moves on and fades is actually part of our search for belonging, home, God, transcendence.

So then it all fell into place: the constant search for nature and light that will move me, the joy and sadness (at the same time) when I witness it and the urge to capture it in art. They are all ways to search for, and connect with, the divine- and boy, did Skye offer plenty of opportunities for that.

And so, when I left my home, flagging in more ways than one. Lacking meaning and motivation and having forgotten (for the time being) why I make art, I spent a week filling my cup with the bittersweet, ephemeral moments of light and rain and sun and clouds over water and mountains.

I didn’t want the retreat (or the moments) to end, but I also knew that I wouldn’t make any art if it didn’t. And so I find myself back at home, having filled my cup with intangible things that only exist for moments, and I go to the studio and let it flow.