by Donna Greenberg

"There are no happy accidents when the heart and mind are open to all possibilities"


I surprised myself a few times during the making of The Wave. Except for the desire to create something flowing with a roiling energy, I really had very little else in mind when I started.  When creating my BioSystems I usually start by making  small elements that follow a theme of sorts. The sea, the woods, etc. I am in no way a realist artist, but staying within the parameters of a given idea helps me stay on track. So with nothing more than the motion of ocean waves in my head and no real end game in my sights, I allowed myself to breathe and let it be and asked the clay what it wanted.


As I worked I began to see some unexpected sub themes emerge. Cutting out the wave like silhouette in paper put me in mind of the Japanese Master Hokusai’s Great Wave woodblock print. It’s hard to escape the influence of such an iconic image but realizing this relationship fascinated me and rather than worried me about ‘copying’. I felt energized and actually freer to embrace my own wave. As I added some smaller orbiting circular pieces I was struck again by the art history bug, only this time in the form of Van Gogh’s Starry Night sky. His rolling ribbons of sky and small comets, stars and suns were creating the barely contained energy I myself often sought in my work. And while I did not purposefully go looking for these inspirations, working without too much agenda allowed these old friends to visit me while feeling open enough to draw from my own well.


But the surprises did not end there. From the corner of my eye, I kept noticing a lone carved feather element I made for no reason one day. I was struck by how the curved, floating shape was reminiscent of the movement of my wave. Yet here I got stuck in my old habit of trying to stay within theme. Logic said that feathers and oceans don’t ‘go’ together. Even when the forms were so related it was like mixing metaphors in writing. I kept trying to add other shapes that were more sea worthy but none had the dynamic energy and unexpected pull of that errant feather. So I gave in, stopped fighting myself and invited the feather back to let it hang out until we were all comfortable together.

My final surprise (yes, another!) came at the very end. I had originally painted The Wave in my usual soft overlays of mid pastel glazes. But it felt lifeless, bland and safe and even after days of work I was ready to chuck it all. That’s when I remembered a rusty wheel barrow I had

recently photographed. I pulled out my deeper more contrasting paint colors and stipple brushes and just attacked the piece full throttle until I conjured up a verdigris/rusty effect. I absolutely loved this last minute transformation and the way these new colors pulled all the disparate thoughts together into a cohesive piece. It was with great relief to understand that I couldn’t care less if I was on theme any more. Today I see this as an important transitional piece. A wrong-way turn that set me on a new way of thinking.

What did I learn?

  • My art school professor always told us to learn the rules so that we may break them when we have something to say. I needed to relearn that with my ‘theme’ problem.
  • It’s always OK to acknowledge things and people that inspire you. Honor them by working hard to find your own path.
  • Don’t be afraid to work a piece until you are ready to toss it out. There’s a wealth of valuable information stored in these push-come-to-shove moments. And if needs be, toss it out but do keep the knowledge.
  • Remember to draw on older skills and ideas when necessary. My 25 years of painting faux finishes came in handy when I decided to move towards the verdigris/rusty look.  Sometimes going backwards is actually moving ahead.

At the Breakthrough2020 retreat you will:

  • Be welcomed to ‘trust your gut’ when making decisions. Christine and Donna will be there to listen openly and help guide you.
  • Have access to polymer compatible materials such as paper, pastel and pencils to add interest and surprise into your work.
  • Be encouraged to look inside and outside the workroom for inspiration. New environments can often lead to new thoughts.


  • How can you be influenced by other art without copying the work outright?
  • Can you identify your strengths so you can call upon them when you need to change or move ahead?
  • Can you re-imagine a piece in your head without going to the internet for help?
  • Can you turn your weaknesses into your best works? How would you go about that? Where would you start?

Please, post your comments and questions on FB.