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Creativity Interviews : Naomi Rifkin

Spotlight On: Naomi Rifkin

Founder of Brush Fire Painting Workshops

See also: 20 Questions Interview with Naomi Rifkin

Naomi Rifkin of Brush Fire Painting Workshops"IN PROCESS PAINTING, the first concern is NOT what kind of painting you will end up with when you are done. The intention, as opposed to many other types of art, is to really be present for the act of painting."

Naomi Rifkin has spent many years looking for ways to re-connect to the creative spirit she knew from her childhood. She has explored many art forms, from writing to dance, and with each form, found that parts of her creative self had to be subordinated to the techniques of each discipline. Simply, Naomi found no place to play.

Finally, and quite by accident, Naomi found process-oriented art and began attending workshops with Stewart Cubley, co-founder of The Painting Experience. Here in front of a blank piece of paper, Naomi found a place where there were no rules, no imperatives, no expectations and she was able to explore the path leading to her own deep well of authentic creative expression.

PaintingSo moved and enriched by her own experience with process painting, Naomi started Brush Fire Painting Workshops ( to bring the pleasure of authentic expression to people in the San Francisco bay area. Naomi will also be teaching two different art education programs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

An Interview with Naomi Rifkin (2004)


More About Brush Fire Painting Workshops

PLAY WITH PAINT! Lose your inhibitions! Explore and enliven your creativity in a non-judgmental, non-competitive studio full of all the supplies you need to uncover embodied creativity.

Based in San Francisco, California, Brush Fire painting facilitators encourage participants to shed preconceptions about art making, let go of the final product, and paint with the joy and freedom of a child.

Are you a painter looking for new ways of seeing? Or maybe you feel the creative impulse, but stop yourself from painting out of fear of being judged or dread that you have nothing to say. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, twenty-four brightly colored jars of paint invite you to dive into a series of process painting workshops.

Facilitators encourage participants to shed preconceptions about art making and:

• Explore the joy of spontaneous expression

• Connect with intuition

• Challenge fears, take risks, & embrace "what is"

• Reunite with the playful essence of creativity

Brush Fire Painting Workshops challenge you to explore new places that bring you closer to what is truly yours. Contact Naomi to bring Brush Fire Painting Workshops to your home town.

The following is an interview with Naomi Rifkin by Maureen Boges of the San Francisco Chronicle. (Reprinted with permission.)

Describe the basic structure of the painting workshops.

After everyone is checked in, I introduce the process, the paint table and myself. Since this work is really experiential, I try not to say too much — I don't want anyone to start formulating an idea of what the workshop should be like. At this point, participants often have a lot of questions, which I try to address, and then we paint for 2 or 3 hours until lunch. After lunch, we paint for another 2 or 3 hours, depending on time. I make myself available for questions, guidance, and teaching during the painting sessions.

What is "process painting"? How is this different from other types of painting?

In process painting, the first concern is NOT what kind of painting you will end up with when you are done. The intention, as opposed to many other types of art, is to really be present for the act of painting. Nothing more. No painting a picture to have it look like something. No painting to please others. Process painting gets to the heart of what "I'm" interested in by supporting painters as they explore the inner source of creative expression. As a teacher, one of my favorite questions for my students is, "Can you paint the way that emotion feels in your body?" That brings the creative energy from an intellectual process to an embodied one.

Where in our lives are we able to slow down enough to really focus on the process rather than the product? It's a radical act because the more we paint for process, the more our focus turns from what we should become to who we actually are — and the implications of that are staggering.

PaintingBut I'm not an "artist." I can't even draw stick figures.

When I hear this, which I often do, my first thought is of the inner critic trying to live up to some ideal of what an artist is. We have made artists out to be some kind of exotic, rare, and sometimes crazy people. The idea of creating to express oneself is as old as cave paintings, when someone put stick to stone, or whatever materials they used, and declared "This is how I see the world." Process painting takes us to that primal creative urge. I think the need to communicate our experience lives within us. So if everyone has this impulse, then everyone is an artist.

What if I don't like my picture?

One of the things I love about process painting is that it lays bare the places where we judge ourselves. This is not always comfortable. But it's a rich arena to explore issues of kindness and respect for oneself, others, and the world. The exact questions vary from painter to painter, but I think the essential elements of dealing with the inner critic rest on 3 questions:

  1. Whose standards am I judging myself by?
  2. Do I apply these standards to everyone around me? (Usually the answer to this one is no.) 
  3. Is there an alternative to seeing myself through a filter of hostile judgment? 

The answers to these questions may change with each painting, but asking them is an act of courage, bringing us out of our habitual patterns and into the unknown.

What if other people don't like my picture?

The main rule of "process painting" is that there will be no comments on other people's paintings, positive or negative. This way, we are free to explore without concern with what other people might think about our paintings and, by extension, ourselves. When external expectations are removed, we can see what judgments we have internalized. Then it becomes clearer where we hold back, don't take risks, or silence our inner voice out of fear.

PaintingWhat if I'm disturbed by what I paint?

Emotions are like the seasons, the tides, and it is common to experience everything from bliss to rage when painting. Both are natural and deserve their rightful places. So what do you do when you feel disturbed? Our tendency is to ignore it, cover it up, and try to look good to the people around us. Process painting provides an opportunity to paint our disturbance with an attitude of benevolent curiosity.

How does this compare with art therapy?

Because everything is OK to paint, and because diagnosis implies a judgment that something is not quite right, I never, ever, EVER analyze anyone's paintings. Having said that, some people gain valuable insights while painting. These insights are great, but they are not required and not the point of process painting.

Is there anything I should do to prepare for the workshop?

Try to come with as few preconceived notions about what to expect. A whole adventure can open up when we step into the unknown. Still, there are some things you can do to prepare. Get a good night's sleep before the workshops. Bring a bottle of water and wear comfy shoes to the workshop, and try not to make too many plans for yourself after the workshop is over. Use that evening to relax and reflect upon your painting experience. •

Learn more about Brush Fire Painting Workshops at

Images and artwork © copyright Naomi Rifkin.