Susannah Paterson Painter, Ceramicist & Psychotherapist

Trusting The Unconscious

Trusting The Unconscious


It usually begins with a colour. I will wake up in the morning with spectrum red, or viridian green buzzing around. I don’t question why, I just begin to play with ideas . What wants to be born? Will it be monotone, or limited palette, using just complimentary opposites .. or will I throw all those rules out the window and do something wild .. like a whole red painting (How To raise A FireBird for example)… I take my cues from the Unconscious Mind.

I prepare the surface, canvas, or wooden panel, with thick layers of gesso (white chalk paint), sanding between each layer to get it as smooth as possible. Yes it takes a long time! I meditate, sometimes to music, and then begin, by making random, unique, unplanned marks all over the surface. You have to trust the unconscious to produce these marks. If I think too much, they end up looking contrived. If anything I feel the archetypal energies of playfulness, fierceness and tenderness in each mark. There is always a moment of panic or fear when I think oh god … it’s such a mess … and I can’t see anything good in it at all, but I have learned that if I am patient, persistent, and just keep focussing on balance .. something will begin to emerge.

It occurs to me that this stage of the work, which may last days or months even is similar to those moments in life when we have no idea what to do or where to go. We feel lost, alone, anxious. It is the “dark woods” time of the psyche. At some point though, so long as we don’t give up, a light will appear … this is the moment that the painting begins to talk to me. I see a shape, a figure, that I begin to work so that it becomes more three dimensional. I continue to work on the marks that surround it, working outwards, without necessarily knowing what it’s going to become. The point is, that no matter what is there, harmony, balance, pleasure, intrigue can emerge. The key is remaining curious, and connected to the marks. To keep looking deeper, thinking, yet not thinking, all the time searching for the treasure.