Visual artist, Sheri Hoeger, refers to her current series of paintings, A Touch of Hands, as “straight from the gut and through the heart.” Here we talk about this series, her evolution as a creative, secrets, the art of seeing, and how to improve our powers of observation. 

Sara: For many years you have worked primarily as a decorative artist, in others’ homes and spaces, and found great satisfaction and joy in creating for them visual connections with what was important to them. How did that prepare you for the launch of A Touch of Hands?

Sheri: As an outsider with intuition, empathy and a well trained eye, it was easy for me to present ideas that would appeal to my customers. I would visually tell some of their stories. When it came down to distilling it for myself, it was much more challenging. My aesthetic tastes are very eclectic, and I much enjoy painting just about anything. Too many options proved confusing to me. If images were beautiful to me, they seemed to have equal weight. So, if I didn’t have a commission to work on, I painted what I thought was beautiful and would sell. 

Sometimes I would paint something I didn’t particularly like, looking for what was beautiful about it to others because someone else thought it would sell. That is an interesting exercise in itself, and not unlike earlier commissions where I would be asked to paint something that wasn’t appealing to me, but that the client was hot for.

What was missing in my own studio work was a “why” that was deeper than a pretty picture as a vehicle for my entertainment, skill-building and gratification. I love this video that so exquisitely demonstrates the difference. And I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to articulate my “why.” A Touch of Hands satisfies my craving for deeper meaning through my art.

The idea for A Touch of Hands struck like lightning after a very long, slow and gut-wrenching build. I don’t think it would have occurred without my conscious search to heal myself after a series of great losses, balanced by a lifelong foundation of love, creativity and mindfulness.

What could be better than painting hands touching in every circumstance, little portraits exploring relationship in that moment. Celebrating the full range of human emotion and experience through this common gesture. The paintings don’t just tell my story, they tell all of our stories through something we all experience and that is so important to our well-being and so common that many of us don’t really notice. But what if we did?

Sara: As I read through your posts and as we talked, there were a few words that showed up repeatedly: “capture,” “secret,” and “pointless.” Would you reflect on/unpack their significance to you?

Sheri: As an artist, I frequently try to capture an image or a moment or an emotion, relationship, experience or composition. I want to capture the feel of something in the painting, which begins with trying to capture it in photos. I take hundreds of photos, and rarely do they actually capture what I see, (a camera cannot come close to the range of color that the eye can see) but it can be enough of a reminder that it prompts my visual and emotional memory.

I enjoy painting pet portraits, and prefer to meet the animal and interview the client about their personalities and special qualities. This also gives me a good idea of their relationship. When I am painting the portrait, I think about those qualities because I want to capture not only the image of the animal, but it’s personality and relationship to my client. Somehow those thoughts and intention comes through in the painting. What they really want to see is their animal’s likeness and the love that is exchanged between them.

Secrets. We all have them and though some can be painful, some of them can be fortifying. There are symbols that touch us that can not be understood completely by others. It is honoring a part of yourself that you don’t need to call attention to these, but can choose to reveal if a person is in your circle of trust. There is intimacy in a private joke, whether it is painted into a mural or spoken. There is something powerful about a secret between me and me. The earrings I continually wear are touchstones for courage and grace. I often carry two small stones in my purse, a guitar pick, a game token and a 10-sided dice. They are talismans of the ones I love most. I forget that they are there until I’m rummaging for change and my fingers recognize their shape. I smile, and I’m glad I have just a little of their energy with me. I can tell you these secrets, but that does not diminish their power. In fact, it strengthens our bond, to know my secrets are safe with you.

Pointless. It’s not that simple. We ask ourselves what’s the point? Our lives don’t have a single point. We have so many points in every direction that it pulls and twists and expands and turns into a shape. A big, juicy, messy, curious, loving, imperfect, nurturing, frustrated, taped together bundle of experience, emotions, and ambition.

Better to ask, what is my intent for this action in this circumstance? What am I getting out of it? What do I want to put into it. By identifying that, we charge the activity and its results with our intention. There is value in that even if our intention is to have fun or practice or whatever. That can be the difference between feeling something is pointless and feeling that it is not. It can be done in the same way and for the same reasons, but your mindful attitude changes the nature of it and shows up in the work. It also helps you be more discerning as you select the projects you want to prioritize. I am more aware than ever that life is short and I want to use my time wisely, mindfully rather than absently, whether I’m working or painting or goofing off or watching tv.

Do you ever open a piece of chocolate with anticipation, take the first bite thinking how great it tastes, then having your mind jump to something else and realize a minute later that you didn’t even taste the remainder as your awareness of it evaporated? To me, that is the definition of pointless. I’ve expended the effort and ingested all the calories but I forgot to fully enjoy the benefit. I missed the point.

Sara: You said that since you started your Touch of Hands series this fall, it has unfolded in ways you did not anticipate, as you are “allowing it to pull you, rather than you pushing it.” Can you say more about this shift in your inner stance?

Sheri: I’ve tried to be really open to synchronicity with regard to A Touch of Hands, listening to my own instincts about it and to the comments and contributions of others. I think of it as a collaborative effort and invite interaction on a Facebook page I set up by the same name, where interested people can post their photos of hands and the stories that inspired them. There have been some really beautiful contributions there and my intention is to sometimes use those images as resource material for the paintings. I am not considering monetary income as a driving part of the project, as most of the paintings are given to those who have modeled for them. Connection, comfort and deeper understanding are my currency, and knowing that I’m doing something that feels important.

It’s been really freeing to just put it out there and see where it leads. The images are resonating with people, I think because the relationships, emotions and circumstances are universal. Each one is a statement in itself, but as a collection I feel they are even more powerful.

This is born of a wider shift, a conscious choice to be more forthcoming; to give voice to and more readily reveal my thoughts and perspective. It helps me make sense of my experiences when I can share some of the wisdom gained from it.

Sara: In listening to you talk about your work, I was struck by how you bring so much wholeness into your clients’ lives. This led me to ask you if you thought of yourself as a healer, and your answer was so tentative that we both laughed: “Um…not in an articulated way, but I probably have a knowing that I probably tend to be somewhat…” Can you reflect a bit more now on how your work brings wholeness and awakening to your world?

Sheri: I think the most important part is just that people need to feel truly seen and heard. Whether I’m teaching or consulting or waiting in line at the supermarket, I try to honor each person where they are at. Sometimes I fail and just react but I strive instead to choose my responses. I don’t need to know all the details of their lives to have compassion for their untold stories. We’re all works in progress and have been through difficult things and wondrous things.

I’ve had opportunities and success beyond what I could have imagined and survived more pain and worry and sadness than I could have thought possible. I’ve had my share of love and laughter, thrived through the struggles and joys of parenthood and appreciate living a creative life with daily doses of art and music. I’ve witnessed new life being born into this world and I’ve watched it go. I am grateful for the full range of human emotion I have experienced, the depth of my joy and sorrow each more exquisite for knowing both. I know that because of all of this I am capable of seeing not only the details, but how they combine to reveal the big picture and can imagine all the “wild” possibilities. I have seen that my perspective can help others to see themselves more clearly, and feel that I’m sharing my best self when it occurs. I fulfill my purpose when I have that kind of impact, whether it is through my work or other aspects of relationship.

Sara: Having been raised in a family where “seeing” itself was dangerous, I continue to struggle to see what is right in front of me. Literally. And you have a way of seeing and holding the world in beauty with all of its difficulties and complications that is whole-making. Can you offer some practical wisdom to those of us who wrestle to clear our vision?

Sheri: In my family, it was what one said that was dangerous. It could be twisted, misconstrued and turned against you when you least expected it. What we heard was contradictory and confusing, difficult to reconcile with what was overtly being taught. What I could see was pretty safe, and offered respite from the chaos. I was lucky that I had the chance to daydream, my strongest memories of middle school being a long bus ride, winding our way up and down the hills, slowly climbing hairpin turns overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The patterns and color in the water. The boats moving in and out of the harbor through the mist. The sparkle of the sun reflecting on the water. It was the quiet time this rather introverted girl needed to try to make sense of it all.

I have trained myself to lock onto what I find beautiful that is right in front of me. There is almost always something that is astounding right there at any given moment. I know from experience that if there are those horsetail clouds, there are likely to be sun dogs. If there are drops of rain hanging from a tree and backlit by the sun, you can bet that if you relax your eye you will see that they will shimmer and twinkle with tiny dots of brilliant color. Even in the most dire of circumstances the sight of an egret or the croak of a frog can lift my spirits. It triggers my sense of wonder, which brings me joy. It comforts me to know that all the rhythms of life are underlying even my saddest song.

A great way to increase your powers of observation is to do some right brain drawing exercises from Betty Edwards’ book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I especially recommend blind contour drawing, where you practice drawing your subject without looking at your paper. When you observe something that closely, you alter your understanding of it, which will extend to other things like it. You will see more and more each time. If you do it with some frequency, it will wake your curiosity about what you are and are not seeing, whether you are participating in the exercise or not. 

Another way to shift your visual experience is to look at things differently than you normally do. Take an old punched out slide or a mat board and hold it in front of you to literally crop different areas of your view to isolate the part of the image you find most pleasing, filtering out the extraneous information around it. If you are working on an art piece and feel a bit stuck, look at it with a mirror or turn it upside down. You will see it anew.

Challenge your assumptions-this is especially fun to do with color. People have often learned to screen out so much information that they stop seeing what is in front of them. If I ask what color the road is, many will answer that it is black or gray.
Next time you are out on the highway on a sunny day take a look. Ask yourself what color that really is, scanning and comparing with other colors. Be safe, of course! Maybe wait till someone else is driving. Then do the same with the clouds.

One of my favorite gifts ever was when my husband got me what we affectionately call my “kitchen microscope.” It magnifies only 10-30x, which is perfect for getting an up close view of what you can get the gist of with your naked eye. You can get one of these on Amazon or Ebay for a very reasonable price. Bring in the treasure of the day; a leaf, a feather, an ordinary paper clip. Pretty soon you’ll have a collection of your favorites, and it’s fun to share this closer look with others.

Once you have honed your powers of observation, you will notice exponentially more. You will be more sensitive to body language and facial expressions. To mood changes and synchronicity. To light and shadow and color and form. Look for the unexpected, like the actual color of a shadow and the reflected light within it. They are sources for endless delight.


Sara Eisenberg is a healer, herbalist, activist and elder. A life-long learner, Sara draws on her many years of questioning, practice, training, and experience as a guide, facilitator and educator in community, academic, and spiritually-based settings. She is the founder of A Life of Practice, her online home where she integrates her work in Nondual Kabbalistic Healing, Herbal Medicine and Radical Inclusion with A Life of Practice©. She meets with clients in her Baltimore office and online.