Why Paint? and Exciting Happenings from the Studio

Someone encouraged me recently that as an artist I should be noticing that I notice what I notice. I’ve been noticing lately the many reasons why I paint. There are so many reasons NOT to paint…but, why have I chosen to dedicate so much time and energy to the practice of painting?

Why paint?

One reason that I paint is that it is a sensory experience for me. I experience the vibrancy of the colors flowing out of the brush across the canvas and the feel of the lines pouring out as thick paint moves across the surface.

But, creating art is also so much more than that for me. When I am creating, I take the time in quiet to listen to my own internal landscape and translate it to the canvas. I allow what’s inside to flow out through my hands. I process my world in a healthy and life-giving way.

Painting is meditative and centering. It is a time for me to sift through what is important and what needs to fade away. Sometimes it is a safe place to wrestle with unknowns and mine the depths of my life experiences-the good, the bad, the gifts and the tragedies.

“Centering Within #19” installed in client home

I take this long, hard journey deep inside my thoughts, my heart, with brushes, pigment, water, and time. I paint this inner excavation-down through the layers past all the junk that gets in the way. I take these sensory, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual journeys time and time again through the years.

The finished painting is not the journey. The journey encompasses so much more. But, the painting is an important by-product of the internal processes. Maybe it’s like the postcards sent to friends and family along the way while traveling?

“Centering Within #19” installed in client home

But, so what???

So, I’ve taken these journeys…why could that matter to anyone else?

Isn’t it self absorbed?

A giant waste of time?

Downright selfish?

A waste of precious resources?

A waste of art supplies?

Who really cares?

How can a few more paintings in this world make anything different?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg hinting at issues that creatives battle against.  They are only the beginning of the thoughts that can and do haunt or stop our creativity from flowing into our world.

“Centering Within” wall collection installed in client home

But, still I paint.

Because I can. Because it is part of me being alive in this world. Because it keeps me healthier. Because I am human. Because you are too. Because art reminds us of who we are. Because it helps us all to heal. Because it activates our senses. Because it reminds us that we all have stories. Because it builds community around us that helps us survive the perils of life. Because we all have the task of figuring out who we are in this world and what kind of life we wish to create. Because we are all in this journey together.

Precious Flow, Resting in the Shadows, and Harmony Shift on exhibit in Chicago, IL

Freedom Multiplied, Space Between and Freedom from the Core on exhibit at Semeiotic Gallery, Chicago, IL

Exciting Happenings from the Studio

I have three exhibits available for viewing the next couple of months. Freedom from the Core is on view at the Becoming Free Semeiotic Gallery in Chicago, IL. This gallery space is a beautiful and historic church building in north downtown Chicago. The exhibit will be on view until October, 2019.

Nuances of Freedom is on view at Harvest Vineyard in Ames, IA. They will be hosting an Artist Talk & Reception on September 15, 2019 from 12:30-2:30 pm. Come join us at the Harvest Cafe if you’d like to hear more about my work.

My professional painters group, Paintpushers, is holding their yearly group show, MoveMent, which is on exhibit at the Ankeny Art Center in Ankeny, IA until September 26.

Nuances of Freedom installed in Ames, IA

Final Art Fairs of 2019

Finally, I have my last couple of art fairs of the year this month. This weekend I’ll be Rockbrook Village in Omaha, NE and on September 22 you can find me at the Octagon Art Festival in Ames, IA. This will be my only Iowa art fair this year.

New Inner Core Painting Series

After a winter season of painting in my studio, I’m pleased to share with you my new Inner Core painting series. Last year I found myself painting a recurring image of a spiral shape. These spiral shapes were different from other spirals I had painted in the past. The shapes began in the center, but rather than spinning counter-clockwise around a center point, the lines flowed outward and came back to the center again. This movement repeated itself again and again around a central point.

Because it had continually been showing up in my work over and over, I let myself be more curious and continued to explore this shape-especially experimenting with multiple spiraling and overlapping shapes within the paintings. And, I challenged myself to paint these spiral shapes on a much larger scale. The shapes were bold, flowing, overlapping, multi-dimensional and soothing. I began working on four large canvases by pouring lines of acrylic paint from bottles and then adding layers of translucent paint. Slowly over the time I’ve worked within this imagery, the more I’ve become aware that a theme of focusing on the inner core of life was appearing before my eyes on the canvases.

Freedom from the Core 48×48 Melynda Van Zee©2019

Speaking into our current culture

Simultaneously, I’ve also been thinking about the concept that artists are often responding to the shifts, trends and realities of the culture within which they live. Sometimes adapting their work to the cultural norms and sometimes reacting against or speaking into the current cultural flow. As I reflect on our cultural life together, I’m increasingly alarmed by the way our communication with each other and knowledge of our personal selves is being eroded right before our eyes.

Detail from Authentic Connections 48×48 Melynda Van Zee©2019


Awareness is one of the first skills I teach in creativity classes. And, I’m still somewhat incredulous how important it is that I teach this- how important it is that I teach people to “look”, to really look at the world within and around them. As a culture we have forgotten what it looks like to really pay attention to our particular physical and non-physical world. We are so absorbed in what other people think, what other people are saying, how other people are reacting to current political and societal ills that we have forgotten how to slow down and look at what is happening in our own hearts, in our own personal relationships, and in our own backyards.

We are afraid to look too deep, because there we might find the things we don’t want to face. As a culture we are numbing out with reactive living, technology or other mood altering habits. These invasive habits are our escape mechanisms.

Detail from Resting in the Shadows 48×60 Melynda Van Zee©2019

New Inner Core Series

My new Inner Core Series has arisen from my own journey of choosing an alternative path-a different way of showing up in the world. It is a path that involves focusing on my own inner core. My art practice is one of the crucial pieces of how I figure out who I am- who I am going to be in this world and how I am going to show up. Art gives me a healthy place to make all these explorations and process my world. It is a sensory experience-the intensity of the colors, the movement of the brush, the vibrancy of the creativity flowing through me.

It is in my art journals- in the gathering of visual information and sketching that I begin to quiet down the outside world and allow myself to explore my own unique visual ideas. I filter the ideas and sketches in my art journal  and eventually some of the ideas end up as paintings. This process requires paying attention to my own heart, emotions, thoughts, decision making, responses and reactions.

Detail from Resting in the Shadows 48×60 Melynda Van Zee©2019

Creativity Research Project

This vulnerable journey feels like a giant creativity research project that I’ve been investigating for years. I don’t want to keep the results of this work to myself, so I keep sharing my discoveries and creations with you. Thank you for joining in with my on-going creativity research project. If you’d like to see more of the new series, the paintings are available to view in Paintings. Interested in purchasing a specific piece? Please contact me on our Contact page. Finally, if you’d like to see me at an art show this upcoming spring/summer season, the schedule is below.  

Catch My Breath


“Catch My Breath” 36″x36″ 2107©MelyndaVanZee

A few years ago we packed up and moved our family to a new home in a new city with a new school and new employment. Every day leading up to the move was full of real estate issues, cleaning house, planning for the transition, etc, etc…Moving falls in the Top 5 list of most stressful life events we encounter-it is a time of rapid change.

I created “Catch My Breath” following this period of transition. Painting right through the transitions in my life has been a growth point for me-not waiting until the “perfect time in life to create”, but creating right in the middle of it. Painting helps me to process my life as I live it. I used to think “I’ll paint more someday when…”

Students visiting “Catch My Breath” at the Nuances of Freedom Art Exhibit by Melynda Van Zee at Iowa State University Memorial Union



Nuances of Freedom: my personal journey

Nuances of Freedom at Iowa State University Memorial Union

If you would have told me five years ago that this time in my life was coming, I wouldn’t have believed you.

For the past four to five years, I’ve been sitting on my couch in the quiet, thinking, pondering, and sketching in my art journal. I’ve been going to my studio adding paint to canvas. I’ve been applying to art fairs and art exhibits, traveling and sharing my work in an ever widening circle around central Iowa.

The Beginning of “Nuances of Freedom”

One day, last winter I was asked if I was interested in exhibiting my work at the Iowa State University Memorial Union. I said “Yes” and agreed to bring 25+ medium to large paintings to be hung in December and January, which is good timing for me since I don’t normally travel for art shows during the winter. I spent this year looking forward to the show and creating new paintings knowing that the exhibit date would be coming up following my art fair season.

Nuances of Freedom at Iowa State University Ames, IA

The beginning of something else new

One other rather strange thing that has been happening to me recently at art fairs is that several people have repeatedly mentioned to me I should be exhibiting my work in Florida. Now as an artist from the heart of the prairies in Iowa, this was initially surprising to me. Doing an art show in Florida was not something I imagined myself to be doing in the near future. But, clients began to purchase my paintings and telling me they were planning on bringing the art to their condos in Florida. Others were telling me my colors and swirls and designs reminded them of water and I should be showing them in Florida. I began to listen to the comments about Florida that kept coming as I shared my work, and this fall decided to apply to art fairs in Florida for the month of January.

Nuances of Freedom Iowa State University Memorial Union Ames, IA

By October, I started to get acceptance letters from a couple of Florida shows. I got waitlisted to a few shows (“waitlisted” is artist talk for what happens if you almost make it into the show-it means if another artist drops out of the show, they might call you) and I got rejected from a few shows (which is another thing that happens frequently to artists).

By Thanksgiving I had to finish all of my paintings for the Iowa State show and I had to make decisions about what Florida shows to attend and how I was going to handle all the logistics of going to Florida.

Nuances of Freedom Opens

And then, after a year of planning, painting and preparation, my art exhibit Nuances of Freedom opened on Dec. 14 at the Iowa State University Memorial Union Gallery. Over the last month, I’ve had a delightful time sharing the show with friends and family who have visited over the holidays. A couple of school groups are scheduled to visit the gallery, who I have the opportunity to talk with about the art. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Art Reception on Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6-8pm in the Memorial Union Gallery. For more information on the show, visit Memorial Union Exhibits Ames Artist Van Zee’s Work-Ames Tribune.


In addition, I have my first art fair in Florida this upcoming weekend. I’ll be sharing my art at the Las Olas Art Fair in Ft. Lauderdale from Jan. 5 & 6. I’ll also be exhibiting at Boca Fest in Boca Raton, FL on Jan. 12 & 13 and the Boca Raton Fine Art Show on Jan. 27 & 28.

If you would have told me even a year ago that I would be simultaneously having a large exhibit of my work here in Iowa, while doing three art shows in Florida, I wouldn’t have imagined it would be possible. It’s like the journey to creating the Nuances of Freedom show spilled over into other parts of my art business and my life. Stepping into a lifestyle of choosing freedom on a regular basis, helped me to find the creative courage to pursue other goals.

Nuances of Freedom at Iowa State University Ames, IA

A Lifestyle of Freedom

Our human condition is to not feel freedom, but to focus on pain, pressures, restrictions, perfectionism, doubts, and fears. But, expressing our creativity helps us to tap into our inner core, to tap into our spirit within where vast resources of energy, abundance and intuitive knowing await. Expressing my creativity helps me to process my life, to leave a record of the fact “I was here” and to share the beauty I see. Painting allows me a place for my internal thoughts and insights to be processed visually.

“Monitoring the Waves Lengths” at Nuances of Freedom

We all have things we want to do in our lives-passions to pursue, dreams to fulfill, hopes that life could be different. We all experience pain, hurt, fear, and at some point we have to decide “what is going to win?” Will it be the lies or the truth? Am I going to live a restricted, “safe” life or a life of freedom? I’m not talking about the freedom to do “whatever we want, when we want to” or the freedom to hurt or injure others, or our own bodies, but rather an internal freedom to make choices that will be healthy and life giving to us and those around us.

I know that art can move us, heal us, inspire us and assist us to make sometimes imperceptible shifts and changes that can eventually, over time, with repeated actions, help us to make choices and develop habits that break us free from the negative and bring us to places we may never have imagined possible.