3. Expression : Mining For Gold

Maggie And Friends : Pit Brow Lasses Of The Wigan Coalfield

Growing up in the coalfields of Wigan, Lancashire (coal mecca for hundreds of years) mining is quite literally, in my blood.  My maternal grandfather and his family were all coal miners.  My adventuresome great grandfather Johnson took his mining skills to the goldmines of Yukon andthe Klondike..twice!  (Those miners were/are made from resilient stuff .)  So mining and gold creep into my aesthetic as well as my workshops, from time to time.

Self Excavation:

Over the years of conducting workshops, I have discovered that it is not enough to teach my students how to see and paint.  My students are drawn to my workshops to discover not only how I paint, but they wish to understand why they are effected by the more expressive aspects of the work; wishing to know how to infuse creative energy and excitement into a similar essence into their own works.  In my opinion, this aspect cannot be “taught” so much as “inspired” or “excavated”.  I call it “digging for gold”.  What follows are some of the ways we gold miners excavate our art:

As On Earth…. 16 x 12 watercolor by Lesley Humphrey

Digging For Gold:

You are golden.

The story of the Golden/Clay Buddha:  When Tibetan monks were moving an ancient clay Buddha to make room for a new road, it was far heavier than imagined.  It cracked, revealing the Buddha beneath as solid gold.  (Apparently, hundreds of years earlier, in an effort to save the Buddha from advancing armies, the Buddha was encased in clay and was overlooked and forgotten for centuries.)  You were born golden and perfect.  You had no labels of who was good or bad, ugly or beautiful, worthy/unworthy; the right or the wrong color.  Over time, society and people (some who loved you) began to tell you who you are, how you should behave, and how you are supposed to fit into this or that role in the world.  Each label was like clay that eventually covered up the gold.  When we uncover that precious core, and have the courage to crack that ego/shell, revealing it to the world, I believe that is what people see and respond to because it reminds them of that hidden center within themselves.  As we move beyond technique as painters, we’re gold mining!  Going for the gold.

How do we go for the gold?  It’s about discovering ways to bypass our critical mind, going beyond technique, trying something new. 

At times it’s expressing something we’re feeling, instead of/or as well as something we like the look of.  In my opinion, the more passionate the artist is about his idea, and if she has the knowledge and the courage to convey the powerful emotion the idea evokes within her work, a special life, energy and presence comes into the work that cannot necessarily be attributed to the cleverness.

Art is a visual language with many ways to communicate besides the representational image.  By understanding elements of design (value, shape, pattern, line, temperature, color, etc.) we can use these design components to communicate ideas, not necessarily requiring a representative object to do so.

As my family can attest, for me it is done with my journal, my favorite fountain pen, and 3 cups of tea each and every morning. Here are some great books that have guided and helped me to mine my gold, and I am listing them in the order of their importance to my path:

The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Guide To Creative Recovery by Julia Cameron (A “Must have” for any serious gold miner.)
The War Of Art by Stephen Pressfield (Meet and manage your positive & negative drives)
The Dark Side Of The Light Chasers by Melanie Ford (Ways to face those clay chuckers)
If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland (Great book on creative process)

Horses I knew who came to a tragic or untimely end all find an imaginary retirement in my painting “The Golden Years”. 24 x 24 oil on canvas

Want to see the process in action? Click below.

Final Word….



My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”.  In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information.  The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey.  If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."

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