"Solitude: My Artistic Journey," by Robin Whitfield

This spring has been different to say the least. Solitude, blurring of days, quiet mind, alert senses, abundant uncertainty. This list sums up my experience during shelter in place but it also sums up my experience from my most productive and creative times over the past 30 years. Rather than fear, I have felt a sense of the familiar. I found myself asking “How can that be? And what does that mean?”. The answer in the magic eight ball of my brain has finally shown answers I hope can guide my future. 
As I began my career as an artist in the mid 90’s I had tons of solitude, days that were fully mine with no obligations, newly honed skills from studying with Sammy Britt at DSU and uncertainty as a way of life. This was a hard but exciting time which started my journey with watercolor and deep connections to north Mississippi forests, swamps and rivers. I had few demands on my time and my introverted nature inspired my portable, lightweight painting system allowing access to remote and wild locations. Watercolor replaced my oil paints and a kayak became my mode of transportation. Life was hardly this clear and easy at the time. In the moment it was pure 100% uncertainty – learning to use watercolor with fluency, figuring out how to make a living, navigating wild places filled with mysteries (at the time I didn’t know anything about the plants and animals I encountered) and scariest of all… engaging with people and community.


I recognize each of these uncertainties as the strongest forces which have shaped who I currently am which of course is a direct reflection of what I create. The past decade has offered amazing opportunities which have turned most of my uncertainties into something familiar. The familiarities have allowed me to speed things up and cram more things in my days and weeks to the point that I have little time to dance with the exhilarations of uncertainty. I have learned how to get things done and check the next thing off my list.  




Over the past three months I have spent big chunks of time wandering around in the wild paying attention to everything. Unlike my early days of becoming an artist, uncertainty has come as an old friend. I didn’t know I missed her. What I like about uncertainty is that you never know what’s about to happen! My watercolor brush knows this well! Pigment in water has is as uncertain as it gets but without time I have not made the connection. Such an uncertain and mysterious process is so much more like magic.


One color touching another color bleeding and blending into something all on it’s on! As the artist, I watch mesmerized my hand reaches for a new color and movement all on its own (more magic!) changing the direction of the painting. This is uncertainty in action but it’s the kind of uncertainty that is exhilarating. I never know what might happen during a painting. What I am taking in with my senses and what the paint decides to do are the two main tensions that conjure the painting onto the paper. This process reveals a beauty and poetry about nature that I can’t discover in any other way. Uncertainty has been my faithful guide all along!




I have taken full advantage of this time and season. Deep explorations of Lee Tartt Nature Preserve, Island 62 on the Mississippi River, Malmaison Wildlife Management Area, Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge, Holly Springs National Forest and Bogue Creek have been my shelters. So much about these areas are familiar now but I realize when I give myself the “power and time” (borrowing that from Mary Oliver) uncertainty is a superpower that can reveal new things, pull me out of a rut, open my eyes & heart and help me stay in the present moment (not thinking or worrying about the part or future). As “normal” comes back into play I hope to find a way to be intentional about leaving room for the unknown and unexpected. Solitude, a quiet mind and alert senses are the perfect place to start.

-Robin Whitfield





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