September 13 2018 – Nelson Ruger


This is the story of 'The Gate.'

Back in 2001, I was fortunate enough to have a great job. I had a steady, solid income, a great home, and was having lots of fun, but I wasn't all that challenging. Everything was too easy, and I could feel myself getting complacent. So, in April of 2001, with the economy being great and some money saved up, I left my steady job and decided to freelance. It started out great. Jobs fell into my lap, I moved back to the East Coast to be closer to my family and freelance work, and had a great summer. I put my house on the market...a seller's market.  Everything was looking great.

Then, September 11, 2001, happened.

Chances are I don't have to tell you about this day.  I don't need to share the loss, the grief, and the fear.  Each of us suffered in our way, and I do not wish to lessen the impact of that day by attempting to share how we all felt within a story of my journey.  

So without further tarnishing our memories or our losses, the rest of the story unfolded in the weeks and months to follow.  In short, an end to a bright future for my freelance career.  Everything fell apart.  All the work I had coming in had contracts canceled.  My house suddenly had zero prospects for selling, and I was unemployed.  I lost everything and ended up living in my parent's basement with no prospects, no income.  It was all rather...grim.

Making the Best of It

So, I decided to make the best of it.  An artist friend of mine, Kim Weiland, knew I needed to get out of the rut I was in.  He was about to start teaching a watercolors painting class at the local community center - just something light and fun.  No tests, no major projects - just painting and finding a creative outlet.  I had taken one painting class of his before and loved working with him.  A great guy, and an amazing artist, I thought, what the hell.  Using what little cash I had left, I signed up for his watercolors class.

The first four weeks were an unmitigated disaster. I couldn't get anything going.  Everything I tried to paint was horrible.  Nothing looked right.  My perspective was off; tonnes were wrong, I just couldn't find anything that worked.  My rage grew with every single class.  Kim could tell and kept trying to get me to calm down, and just have more fun.  Have more fun?!  Are you mad?!  I've got no job, no life, I'm living in my parent's basement, and now I can't even paint!  What the hell!  YOU calm down!

Make Painting Fun

So one night, after a particularly unpleasant class, Kim pulled out a bunch of stock photos he had taken that he uses for inspiration, and told me to pick one.  I wasn't in the best of places, so all the pretty, lush photos he had didn't appeal to me.  One photo, just one, out of the stack caught my eye - a spartan, rough tree growing behind a rough, gray stone wall.  A white gate, paint peeling and slightly coming apart, hung in the middle of the wall, in the midst of a path leading down to the water.  A rough, ugly dead bush lay behind the wall.  The sky had the overwhelming cerulean hue of a crisp, winter sky when it's so cold that nothing can grow.  Dead.  Lifeless.

So yep.  I chose that one.  Seemed natural really.  Dead, lifeless, just like my black pit of a heart at that point.

And of course, it was also an unmitigated disaster.  Nothing worked.  Couldn't get the colors right, the shapes were wrong, Just a painting mess.  I was so angry.  So Kim, being awesome, suggests I wipe the page clean.  Don't start over - be grateful for the first try that didn't work.  And wipe it with water - SCRUB IT.  Who cares if there's some color left, just scrub it off and leave the texture, and then, when I start painting again, recognize my feelings of anger and rage and be thankful for having fuel for new art.  Acknowledge the feelings, don't embrace them, but acknowledge their existence and channel it.  Let those feelings choose the colors.  Let the feelings adjust the composition for me.  Have the feelings pick the shapes.  And don't try and make it something it's not.  

Discovering My Inner Artist

I just went with it.  Instead of painting blues for the sky, I went with edgy greens and rough browns.  The tree was sculpted in purples and yellows.  I used all the 'wrong' brushes because of...well. I felt like it.  I broke all my own rules.  I was grateful for all the knowledge and feelings I had, and acknowledging all those feelings I went with it.  To date, it was the most effortless painting I've ever created.  It happened over a series of weeks, whenever I felt down or frustrated.  'Painting therapy' if you will.  

One day, I put down the brush and looked at the painting.  My anger and despair were gone, and in its place was gratitude for my feelings and the circumstances that put me there.  And the painting was just...done.  One of the few works I've ever created where I knew the painting was done, and never went back and did tons of touch-ups or line work to clean it up.  And when it was done, I moved onto my next surf wall art piece, which was bright and used greens and purples and reds and yellows to paint a surfer on a titanic wave.  Refreshing, vibrant, and alive - just as alive as a sky of browns and greens with trees of purple and yellow.  Just...different.

Original Impressionist Ocean Beach Artwork by Nelson

This piece taught me a few things. 

  • It taught me that unpleasant thing happen, and it doesn't make those things bad - it just means they happen. 
  • It taught me that no matter what, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. 
  • It taught me that using the 'wrong' brushes and the 'wrong' colors is often the right thing to do. 
  • It taught me that despair and sadness are beautiful in their way. 
  • It taught me that fighting against feelings and circumstances doesn't always lead to the best results. 
  • It taught me that there's always a way out.

All my surf wall art, all my glassware, all my pendants, hold special meaning for me, but not all of them change my life, and my art, the way The Gate did. 

Sometimes we need the things we hate the most to forge us into the people we need to be.


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