4. My Gestural, Artistic Process


  A great way to describe my process is that I tend to “play the paint’ and materials, just as a jazz musician might interpret their music… I pour and paint, brush and scratch my individuality into the work with colour and line choices;  sometimes soft, sometime loud;  sometimes in harmony with a theme/rhythm, but sometimes escaping any pattern, planned composition, baseline or fugue. 


POLO POWER (Detail/in process) by Lesley Humphrey. Available “The Sporting Art Auction” 2016 Contact: Greg Ladd, Cross Gate Gallery, Lexington, KY for details.


Like jazz musicians, as an artist, I work each and every day to hone and practice my skills; Sometimes I practice wielding my technique and instruments;  Sometimes I’m composing/writing, but what I am constantly working on is setting aside my ego so I can express the energy and life that is ‘me’, and translate that into paint!

Gestural mark-making is inspired by a strong need to express life and energy and I love gestural, expressive art whether in paint, music, dance, film… no matter the media!


An artist begins with a kernel of an idea, and again like music, many paintings are composed in harmony with a ‘theme’.  Often, the artwork showcases a great technique and ability with instruments;  But sometimes, incredibly, it’s as if they “get out of the way” somehow. 

I know this sounds weird, but it’s as if you are being used by something quite sublime, something more masterful, something ‘bigger’ than yourself, and all you have to do is get out of the way!  I that believe that a masterpiece can only happen when the person/artist chooses to respond to/is attuned to something internal, yet indescribable…. Something “not of the mind” or in service to any product or egotistic intent.  It’s as if some internal compass, more like energy than thought, were directing the hand and mind.  I call this “below the neck painting”…. (Jung would say it’s being driven by the muse/archetype).  So I’m trying…. I’m responding to the best of my ability ‘to life’!…  I’m ‘getting in the zone’ to play my own, silent music….

Marcus Miller, a true master “in the zone” at the Golden Horseshoe speakeasy last month.

I don’t want to infer that I am masterful.  No one can ever say that.  I can say though, that I have learned how to put my ego and ‘product-oriented’ self aside so that, no matter how imperfect the result may be, at least “I’ve shown up” on my canvas.  I want my energy and individuality to show up not just in the theme, but in the gestural marks.  I think that, in the end, that is what we all must learn do, to show up…. Whether “They” (those that critique and label) like it or not, regardless of the result.

The life and processes of an artist is always a mystery.  Is it any wonder that people are often enamored with an artist’s life and process?  So many people are attracted to artists, but it’s really their artistic process we’re attracted to.  Maybe we want to feel “that alive!”  After all, we wouldn’t know Baryshnikov walking down the street in a baseball hat, but on stage, infused by the archetype/muse of dance he soars through the air, bringing a tear to our eye at the encounter of it! 

For the first time in ages, I had an ‘open studio’ event last weekend and it was “standing room only”.  People were lined up even on the stairs.  This is not because I’m this ‘grand artist’, but because they were interested in seeing ‘art made’.  People know I really “get into it” when the muse enters.  They like to see me respond to ‘play’ my silent music.  (A famous ballet dancertold me “You think you’re a painter, but you’re not!  You’re a performance artist!”  Everyone sees the artist through their own prism, don’t they?)  I told them, “I paint like jazz.”  Allow me to explain…

Entrance/foyer to the Golden Horseshoe speakeasy in New York City was dripping with faded opulence, the aged patinas thwarting the idea that pristine paint is beautiful.

My husband Larry and I love jazz.  In March we had a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience that resonated with me deeply and truly fed my artistic soul.  We toured “The New York Jazz Scene with Marcus Miller” (an Entertainment Cruise Productions event).  Miller, a brilliant and highly respected musician, took us to iconic venues such as The Blue Note, Birdland, The Appollo Theatre, and Dizzy’s Club, where jazz was nurtured, ground and honed into the art form it is today.  We went to many venues and hard fantastic music in each, but there was one day in particular that struck me the most. In Dizzy’s high rise Coca Cola Club overlooking Central Park, we heard traditional jazz performed by superb musicians from Vuillard and other fine music schools…  But… in stark contrast, it was in the subterranean depths of the Golden Horseshoe speakeasy where I began to fully comprehend the correlation between jazz music and my painting process on a much a ‘deeper level’ (pardon the pun). 

As we proceeded down into the speakeasy, we found ourselves surrounded by aged plaster and stained patinas.  Faded glass lined the walls of the old night club which was dark and broody, adding to the overall haunting experience.  We had stepped back in time.  I could almost see beaded costumes in the smoke, feathers, sparkling necks and crystals dancing from ears as the women danced, music played and people forgot about the world upstairs, for the moment, just responding to the jazz and feeling live.  Like we were. 

Aaron Parks and Grethchen Parlato, and others joined Miller on the stage.  Miller ‘set the tone’ with his iconic baseline, from which everyone ‘escaped on cue’, each musician individual and yet somehow together – caught up in this process.  The execution of the performance was superb, alive, completely unique even as we recognized some of the tunes.  For me, the art was not the tune, but what was happening aside from it.  Each artist was himself/herself, an instrument, responding to the flow of the moment and to each other, way beyond thought.  They felt the music, they performed and responded to the music, and we did too. 

Surely this is what painted art should also be about?  Surely we must somehow feel the rhythms, pattern, the music of our own life and interpret what we… and I mean just us.. hear!  As artists maybe our job is to be keenly attuned to our own skills, figure out how we harmonize and contribute to life, and ultimately to figure out how our work can inspire others to feel it too.  Surely we should then muster the courage to show up fully in our own lives and purpose, not worrying if we make a mess, get it wrong, or if others will approve!  (Others being the authority figures, trained patterns and yes, your teachers.  After all, we’re artists and if they’re teaching it, it’s already been done!)  I’m off to my studio to play… I’m showing up, and I am prepared to fail. 

This painting is in process.  What you see here is yesterday’s process (about 3rd sitting).  It’s nowhere near finished, but I decided that it’s more important that you see the process, rather than the product.  Look at that mess. 

You’re going to have to wait and see how it turns out.  Do I know?  No way!  Am I confident?  Not on your nellie!  Will it stop me from going to the studio and having a go at finishing?  Nah… but I’ll have to pick up courage to show it to you when it’s done!  The hard part… The scariest part… is always wondering if anyone gets it, or if it, or you ‘measures up’.  Good luck to us all!

Messing about with marks, adding, subtracting with anything I can get my hands on (old credit cards even!)

Paint applied thick and thin, transparent and opaque, with rags, credit cards, tape, finger smudges, and wiped off again. Mark-making Humphrey-style.


Joseph Campell said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being exactly who you are”.  Isn’t this the key, the ticket to a truly happy life?  That you somehow were able to do whatever it took to ‘be yourself’, thwarting labels, old patterns and habits and completely showing up in whatever it is you were born to do?  And when you’ve figured it out, passing it onto others?  I think so.  So “It’s me” …  passing “IT” it on again. 


In case you’re interested, I am teaching a workshop on these and other processes at DaVinci Artists Gallery in Tomball, Texas, 24th, 25th, 26th July, 2016.  The class is full, but you can be placed on the wait list. 

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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