This story comes from conducting my first official interview for Old Soul Wednesdays. The interviewee was Izzy VanHall, yoga teacher and artist.
I took her yoga class and then we went across the street to Tatte Bakery. We ordered a couple afternoon snacks. We scouted out a table. We sat, I took out my notebook, and I outlined general themes I hoped to touch upon: painting, the sensory experience of painting, and making art as community. Past that, I left it open ended. The following is my paraphrasing, synthesizing, and organizing of her ideas, offering context when needed and trying my hardest to keep her voice intact as the one telling this story.
“I want to experience this, and whatever comes out of the experience is perfect.”
The process of Paint Your Practice began for her in college. Paint Your Practice is the immersive experiential art and yoga workshop she teaches- you show up in clothes you don’t mind getting messy, and then she leads you through a yoga flow with paint filled sponges in your hand that you move across the canvas beneath you as you move through the poses. She wanted to infuse what she felt in her practice in the finished product- a product that had more depth to it than just its final state.
She approaches art from the frame of mind of inward exploration of her world and her thoughts. She also incorporates an anatomy focus, inspired by how the yoga practice turns on different parts of our bodies and creates a trail of connection through the body represented in the art.
In creating Paint Your Practice, she can bring this experience to others. It’s all about getting messy and embracing the imperfections. We’re so attached to perfection and outcomes in life but in yoga there isn’t an outcome, it’s about the process. That’s what she wants to incorporate into her art.
“The most important story is the one we tell ourselves, better tell yourself a good one.”
The conversation flowed and we veered off the topic of art and into the topic of life. In this same vein of being attached to outcomes, the idea of finding our purpose or reason for being here is popularized on social media. People with purpose are deemed valuable. But what about just being a good human?
Being a good human comes down to ego and cultivating the right relationship with our egos. In this realm of egos, we find the topic of the human experience of her yoga classes- the ones sans paint. She likes to let people flow on their own for some portions of the class, and realizes she’s taking a gamble when she does that. People came to class to be guided through their practice. However, she wants to provide the space for people to create their own experiences of the class. Everyone brings their day, their feelings, and their reactions to the mat- there are all these external influences.
Painting and Yoga, Evolving Concurrently
We returned to the topic at hand, painting. She told me about her perfect painting day, which of course never completely happens. But in the perfect painting day, she wakes up, does something active, prepares breakfast and coffee, and takes it upstairs to think about the color she’s feeling and then a posture, which can be any sort of body posture, not necessarily yoga. She determines whether she’s feeling outwardly expressive or more drawn into herself.
She thinks about a position or pose and how to texture it or color it on canvas. This focus on a pose stems from how she used to stop mid-painting to do a yoga flow, with the focus on what the peak pose would be. Her yoga practice has changed- it’s less about the peak poses or achieving a particular pose now, and more about the mental health aspect. She’s doing fewer paintings of shapes in motion and more of stationary human figures.
In high school, her mom enrolled her in a nude figure drawing class. She really liked movement and it was a great way to learn the basics of proportions and measuring to draw the human figure. In Teacher Training she drew stick figures of sequences, and added arrows in the various directions of motion. This was the beginning of the dialogue about the internal movement.
These drawings of human figures doing yoga with arrows representing motion led to the publishing of her first coloring book. For a while, she also maintained a YouTube channel where she posted time lapse videos of how she created her paintings. She would paint the background of the canvas, practice in front of it, and then paint the figure.
“Creating something beautiful was about the internal experience as well.”
For her, making art is the process of allowing her creativity to pass through her heart space and her mind in a form other than writing. The figures present as naked, but she also goes beyond the surface and beneath the skin to show what’s happening inside.
Things that are personal resonate the most with her as inspiration for her art- probably because her path to creativity was through connections to the people around her and to herself.
This is part of a series called Coffee Shop Conversations, profiling digital natives who live their lives in celebration of what makes us human.