Trusting the Process

Guest columnist Cora Li-Leger painting in her Crescent Beach studio.  The paintings to follow are all watercolour on paper.

The creative process can take many different forms.  For me at best, it is spontaneous, unfolding through the influence of direct experience.  This is a story of a journey – a creative process that unfolded during a time of injury and debilitation. 

I have been involved with art and image-making since the 1970’s  (  When my children were in school, I realized that I needed to leave the solitude of my studio to be with other people, and I was drawn to volunteer work in the health and education sectors.  This led to graduate studies and a second career in art therapy.  For the past decade my working life has been largely devoted to this practice.  The work was endlessly fascinating, challenging and often exhilarating, but it left minimal time for my own painting.  

Little did I know that one day I would return to my studio, with the chance to become my own therapist as well as my own client.  Here is a story about the power of images, which revealed new levels of understanding at a challenging time of physical recovery. 


My Journey

The story begins in Baja California, Mexico.  In December 2007 my husband and I stayed with some friends at their winter home in Loreto.  On holiday, we had the luxury of roaming the surrounding landscape, painting and soaking up the sun.  Unlike many Canadian snowbirds, I had never before been south of the Mexican border towns, and this experience was new and exciting to me.  I was particularly impressed by the vivid (and often audacious) use of colour – on buildings, on clothing, in art and in daily life.  I was also really taken with the presence of the lovingly-constructed, highly-expressive cemeteries and roadside shrines that dot the Mexican landscape. 

Upon returning home, I began a series of rather light-hearted paintings, dominated by the form of the cross (inspired by the Mexican memorial shrines) to organize and divide the picture plane.  My watercolour paintings stood apart from traditional handlings of the medium, as I used very deeply saturated hues (inspired by the strong Mexican colours).  As I am both moved and grounded by the natural world, this also became a central element in my work.  (Garden Wall)

Shortly after starting these paintings, I fell and broke my hip.  This led to a (third!) hip replacement surgery.  My art therapy practice was suddenly interrupted, as I would require several months of recovery and rehabilitation.  Although I faced the onerous task of recovery, I realized that I now had the luxury of an extended ‘solitary retreat’ time to focus on my art.   As much as I could, I immersed myself in my painting project, and the crosses seemed to keep coming forth – often inspired by things people brought to me as I was convalescing.  A bouquet of sunflowers, a delicate rose, fresh figs from a garden, tales and photos of others’ travels abroad – all were welcomed and incorporated into this work (Crown of Thorns, Forbidden Fruit).

Garden Wall, Crown of Thorns, and Forbidden Fruit (each 22" x 15").

Soon I exhibited a few of these paintings with an artist friend, who was exhibiting her fanciful paper maché sculptures of birds.  As she had also been my host in Mexico, we thought that our work shown together might reflect the warmth, fun and intensity of our shared experience there. 

However, it appeared that my paintings of crosses evoked some very mixed reactions.  While some people did admire the work, some protested that the images were “too Christian”.  Others expressed an objection that a non-Christian (like me) had “no right” to appropriate a Christian symbol like the cross.  Crosses can be loaded and provocative symbols indeed! 

Undaunted, and in fact encouraged and excited by this turn of events, I kept working.  I also began researching the many forms and meanings of crosses and expanded my imagery to include them.  Besides my original Latin crosses, I painted sunwheels, medicine wheels, Coptic crosses, equilateral crosses, and the most notorious crosses of all – swastikas  (Garden of Eden, Savastika I – Ura Manji).

Garden of Eden and Savastika I - Ura Manji (both 22" x 22").

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