The Painting Experience
Picture of Michelle Cassou
"Even if we are not aware of it, each one of us longs to create, to manifest what is unique inside of us, to give it form. Freedom is necessary for pure creation take place.   The pressures and demands of an expected result must go.  We need to re-enter the present by the simple act of being spontaneous.  Intuition guides us.   Trusting the flow that comes naturally is the magic of creation.  The hidden, the mysterious, the sacred from within are revealed.  Old patterns  break, The natural movement of creation becomes part of our life.  Passion sets in." Michelle Cassou

Michelle Cassou, teacher, author, and paintor, is the innovator of "the Painting Experience", a process by which through paint we can tap into our creative expression. She is based in the Bay area and leads workshops extensively in Northern California.

A listing of her workshops can be found at

More of Michelle on the painting process...

"There is a piece of paper in front of me. It is white and has a feeling of aliveness and depth, as if I could be absorbed in it. I feel this pressure, this call from the paper. My hand starts going toward the paints, and I see myself taking a dark red or a 'violet or a blue. I let the form come; I do not choose, decide, or compose. As I draw the first line my heart is beating strongly and my breath is rapid. My whole body tingles as I touch the piece of paper. I feel like someone who has discovered a new land for the first time.

When I look at the painting I am surprised; it seems as though something has taken form inside me and on the paper at the same time. I receive it, not in my mind but in my body, and the message goes back and forth, a dance between me and the painting completing itself. The colors just come, I go toward them without reason.

I started painting 30 years ago, when I enrolled into several art schools in Paris. They taught the way of learning step by step, obeying the rules and concepts, slowly mastering the skill in hopes of eventually developing creativity. I was terribly frustrated to observe such a gap between my feelings and my expression. I felt unworthy, incapable, and without talent or possibility. Mter two years of trying I gave up painting, I thought forever.

A year later I was lucky enough to experience what I call the second alternative. I was thrilled. I could not believe the expression of my creativity was so close to me. I became impassioned; I painted from six to twelve hours a day for years. A volcano was erupting from my being, and I was delighted to really feel and release the pressure within me. I realized that my concepts about beauty and art on the one hand and my desire for approval on the other were preventing me from expressing myself. So for a long time I didn't show my work. I wanted to protect my freedom to paint ugly, absurd, fantastic, dull, childish paintings - the freedom to do anything I felt like doing. I saw that when I stopped putting any idea of achievement in the painting, the colors and forms came to me in a very natural way. It was like something being born. At that time I did not want to look back on my paintings; I had to forget what I had done to have greater freedom to go on. I discovered that what is important for me when I paint is the process, not the painting. The value of the painting is the value of the process I go through.

We are not used to discriminating between the two ways of painting. The first way is the voice of reason. It knows what it wants and where it goes. It is the way of decision, effort, achievement, comparison, success and failure. It first conceives and then acts, it is never direct or total action. Listening to this voice is working in the past with the past, and the only satisfaction is intellectual. Such a work needs approval and recognition from others, being incomplete at the beginning and trying everlastingly to fulfill itself.

There is a strong belief that techniques, knowledge and training are necessary to paint well. There is a tremendous fear of helplessness if we think of not acting from the proddings of this voice. We believe that it is bringing order and harmony and that decisions are necessary. When I paint I see that choice only comes from confusion. If I hesitate between two colors, I can be sure that my expressiveness is blocked and that I am outside the creative flow. The first voice supports my conflict, my unconscious decisions, and my hidden resistance to feeling. It tells me in advance what I should paint. It tells me what color to choose, thinking of the effect. It tells me to reproduce what I think I see, and ultimately what I think I feel.

There is another way in art, natural art I will call it, free of result. It has a depth and a direction of exploration. There is no anchor to it, nowhere to arrive, nothing to grab, no end to it. When we listen to this voice all colors and forms have just one way to be without doubt or hesitancy. They flow with a rhythm so perfect and precise that it dictates even the direction in which every line has to be painted, from left to right or reverse, and if for some practical reason we try to turn it around, the painting does not breathe in the same way. The painting is a living thing and cannot be manipulated. If we are able to give up control and follow its movement, the painting goes its own way perfectly. If we don't paint in this way, we paint on paper, it becomes just a piece of paper with color.

I remember some years ago painting a woman on a very large surface. I worked for days and finished everything except a place in the circle of her arms which remained white. I had no idea whatsoever why it stayed white. By the time I completed the painting, a baby being nursed appeared to my great surprise. The space fit his body exactly in position for nursing. After that day I gave up trying to control my work because I learned that I could really trust my painting. Each thing comes at its own time and its demand is always different. A new color, an unexpected line will appear and complete the painting with a peculiar rhythm and style that was never there before. It's like the beauty in a flower or a leaf. How perfect it is. When I listen to the second voice it has the perfection of nature, because it is nature.

Sometimes there is a desire to start a new painting before the last one is finished. I have many discussions with my students on this point. I tell them that when it is really finished there is a very precise and deep feeling of satisfaction -whatever the painting looks like. Leaving an unfinished painting is like leaving an unfinished relationship, there is a regret that in a subtle way will affect the next painting.

Often students don't realize that their feeling is passing through their mind before it goes on the paper. This is the greatest challenge of my teaching. What I encourage them to discover is the capacity to take feelings directly from their guts and their heart and put them on paper, without intermediary. Then something opens in them, often to their surprise, and they become deeply interested in painting."

Michelle has also written a wonderful book called Life, Paint, and Passion available through
Book cover for Life, Paint, and Passion

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