It’s 6:00 on a Thursday evening. Nine ladies from various countries and backgrounds sit around a table in a shop in the center of town. Most entered this art workshop as strangers. But it’s amazing what can happen in just two short hours.
Artists in the Making
The table is strewn with scissors, paint brushes, glue, and several large boxes filled with patterned paper napkin scraps. Each of us is given several small pieces of cardboard, and with only the slightest bit of instruction, we’re encouraged to simply get to work.
To say I’m not crafty is putting it mildly. In forty years of adventure and learning, this is the first time I’ve taken any sort of art course. And to be honest, I find myself a bit nervous.
As we chat and begin to create our own little works of art, we are directed by a lady whose style and personality are much like her art: bold, colorful, creative and unique.
A Facilitator of Mindlessness
While some would say she is an art teacher, Lizz Daniels tends to identify herself as a facilitator: of creativity and passion, and of what she likes to call a journey towards mindlessness.
Along our creative path this Thursday evening, Lizz encourages us to think less and glue more. It’s an exercise in that mindlessness she speaks of: letting go and letting our emotions and inner-self take over. She encourages us not to think about mistakes, but to embrace each layer of serviette as another step towards a work that may or may not ever be totally complete.
A Colorful Character
When describing her work, Lizz talks about transforming and revitalizing what already exists. And as you get to know Lizz, you realize that this is also a good description of her life. A talented artist and instructor, Lizz is indeed a woman bursting with color and creativity. Originally from Kent, England, she’s spent her years in a number of countries and has travelled rather extensively. She’s held many roles in life, and has never been one to shy away from trying something new.
Several years ago, she found herself making another move, this time to Sandefjord, Norway. It was love that led Lizz to the seaside town in Scandinavia: a romantic love that causes one to sacrifice the ease of doing life in one’s home culture and language. The passionate kind of love that makes one study hours on end to learn her partner’s heart language. The kind of love that really pushes one out of her comfort zone.
A Mother’s Worst Nightmare
But it was a different kind of love that brought Lizz into the creative realm where she now thrives. And not just love, but also loss. Much like the legendary phoenix of which we’ve spoken before, Lizz is a woman whose triumphant spirit comes from a place of tragedy and deep heartache.
In 1996, she faced a life-altering event that no parent even wants to think on. At the tender age of 6 years old, Lizz’s youngest daughter Rosie died from meningitis.
Lizz’s world was rocked. As she sat and shared her story with me recently, she spoke of the beauty that came in just six short years of life. She talked of the impact a small child had on her life and the lives of others.
But she also spoke of heartache. The unimaginable reality of losing her child was almost more than she could take.
Lizz looked to those around her. But instead of a shoulder to cry on, she watched as neighbors crossed to the other side of the street to avoid her. Perhaps it was their way of dealing with the grief – Rosie was well-loved by everyone who knew her. Or maybe they did not know how to act in a situation so uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Regardless, they simply avoided Lizz so they wouldn’t have to fully face the reality.
She felt alone. She longed to cry and talk about it. She needed someone who would simply be there. She desperately searched for a way to grieve fully and openly, without judgment or social boundaries.
Paths to Healing
She found such an avenue among some friends in a communal living environment near Amsterdam. Lizz was able to talk, scream, cry… whatever she felt was necessary. Those around her allowed her to grieve without judgement, and listened and grieved alongside her. In the process, she realized she had never fully dealt with other losses in her life, including the deaths of her mother and her son. She worked through all of those things, and began to experience healing.
Dialogues are important to Lizz, and she demonstrates that as she talks openly about grief. Recognizing it as a unique emotion to experience, she notes it is something most don’t really see openly in life. It is often kept behind closed doors, a taboo in many settings. Deeply intense grief is rarely encouraged. And yet, from Lizz’s experience, she feels that once you really get to that place, “you open a well-spring of grief from the past,” leading to an experience that can be cathartic and empowering.
Sink or Rise
“You have to question everything when a child dies: about life and death, the purpose of life, what’s it all about. You have to look at your feelings, to deal with guilt and – I mean it’s quite a traumatic period. And within that situation, you can either sink or you can rise. And I think I was in a position from my past experience of work with emotions that I was able to go really deep.”
Even in conversation, Lizz has a way of painting a picture. She says in life, when we aren’t in the middle of crisis, it’s like we are walking this fine line, which can actually be quite mediocre. But when we are thrust into a crisis, it’s as if we’ve been knocked down off of that line.
As Lizz goes on to explain, you have no choice but to go into it. You sink down, but in the depths, you can also see the other side of things. While you’ve left the safety of the line, you can also see more around you. And when you meet the crisis, you also learn “that there is so much more to be had at the other end, at the other side of it.”
She found healing through further travels, including a very meaningful trip to India. And another path Lizz pursued was through art. Always one with a creative streak, she found new motivation in her grief. She began by exploring sticky back plastic. She saw it as a sort of meditation, a way to focus and have things fall into perspective. She enjoyed the cutting and sticking, finding it therapeutic and even symbolic. That sticky back art became her therapy, and became a gateway to a new chapter in her life.
In every aspect of her art, Lizz feels there is a bit of the joyful nature of Rosie’s personality. Always. Because of the joy, every piece of her art has a piece of Rosie in it. Regardless of the medium or subject, there is something there.
Back to School
At 58 years of age, Lizz followed the encouragement of family and friends and made the bold move to go back to school. Seeking to advance the creative streak she’d been cultivating, she enrolled in a foundation course at Maidstone Art College.
For two years, she explored new techniques, experimented with new mediums, and read everything she could get her hands on. The first one to arrive each morning and the last one to leave each night, she considers it a privilege to have had such an opportunity.
And now, with new roots in Norway, she has found ways to share the experiences of art school and of life. Through facilitation of courses, instructing children in private creativity sessions, plugging into an art collective in Sandefjord, and involvement in community-related initiatives, Lizz is both helping and connecting with others.
Lizz loves playing the role of facilitator, and finds herself learning from those she instructs. She feels honored at the chance to push people into a situation that causes them to explore, in various ways and on numerous levels.
As we wrapped up our time together, we came back to Rosie, and Lizz smiled through her tears. She talked of how she’s quite thankful that she can continue to pass on her daughter’s spirit, story, and joy. “Somehow she came into my life to help me. I was very blessed to have had such a beautiful daughter for six years.”
A Facilitator of Creativity, Friendship, and More
Back at the evening art course, we begin parting ways. At the end of the two hour session, something has happened.
Creativity has been discovered. Confidence has been built. Relationships have been formed. Phone numbers are exchanged so new acquaintances can meet up for a coffee. In the days to come, many will bump into each other in the city and greet their new girlfriends with a smile or a hug.
And in my little corner of Sandefjord, I’m now armed with several new friends, and a few really cool pieces of art.
All thanks to a woman who took her passion and her heartache, and made something beautiful from it.