I came across something this past week that reminded of an Aha I had while viewing the Matisse exhibit a few years back.
I can’t compare my rough drafts with someone else’s finished masterpiece.
Yet I fall victim to this all the time and people in my workshops often do the same thing. We’re too hard on ourselves. We forget we aren’t seeing the process and the experiments of the masters. We don’t ever see the bits and pieces lying in closets, sitting on a hard drive or consigned to the trash.
Our work is as unique as our signature and that comparison can be helpful. I never worry that my signature doesn’t look like someone else’s. It doesn’t even cross my mind. (Not to mention that would be illegal.)
That’s why we shouldn’t compare our efforts to the person sitting next to us in a workshop or even worse, hanging in a gallery. We are learning about tools and techniques, just like we did in school as we learned to sign our names. Be gentle with your inner artist.
There IS a lot to learn by studying the work of others who have mastered their craft. Just don’t try to BE them.
Let’s be ourselves
So next time my inner voice says “I wish I could paint like…” I’ll remind myself that it’s better if I let myself paint like me.
Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify. – Henry David Thoreau
Simplify. Sounds so easy but here I am, once again, learning the lessons of simplicity. To ask myself if I really need to do ________(fill in the blank) or is it a distraction? Does this painting need this level of detail or am I fussing too much? Do I really need to do this chore or is it busy work?
Getting too ‘fussy’ results in chases down rabbit holes and procrastination.
I have to stop myself and ask “Who made up this rule anyhow? My standard? Or someone else’s?”
A good case in point is my MuseLetter. I can get so caught up in what the ‘gurus’ say I must do that I overcomplicate things. It’s far more important to listen to what my subscribers say they what.
When I simplify, everything else flows
Time and again, people tell me they like the MuseLetter I send out because its simple and short. They can take a couple of minutes out of a busy day to be inspired.
That’s also the reason I like it. It’s simple which means it doesn’t take hours to create but it keeps me in touch. When I try to get “fancy” I end up procrastinating.
The same thing works in my paintings. When I keep composition pared down to the essentials, I feel a different energy and I find people respond to it differently.
In my art work, it’s the same question. “What does the viewer want?”
The simple answer for me is they want to share my experience. Keeping it simple feels lighter and I like the idea of inviting my viewer to be part of the creative process as their imagination fills in the details.
So my creative mantra is “Simplify…simplify” because who doesn’t love it when life flows along easily?
The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow. –Jim Hightower
Reasons or excuses?
Matisse’s famous quote “Creativity takes courage” is almost a cliché, we’ve heard it so often. It’s everywhere in memes and posters but maybe that’s because as artists, we know it’s true. If fear wasn’t part of the creative experience, we’d be neck-deep in new art, products, recipes, gardens, etc., etc.
Sadly, fear holds too many of us back from our creative potential.
It took me a long time to get past my own fears, most of which were related to perfectionism. However, I called it “being responsible”. After all, I had a family to care for and a business to build.
They turned out to be my excuses.
Not what it seems
We all have our own justifications but if you actually look at what’s lurking behind our wall of words, we find fear.
It took me a long time to understand that staying in my comfort zone robbed me of too much. The price is high. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, it costs our lives.
Think of your fear as a gift. It’s a signal that you’re up to something and it’s the only way to experience that courage Matisse speaks of. Working through it builds confidence, stretching our capacity to create.
Each of us must come to terms with it because it’s an integral part of the process. The truth is, not one of us can grow creatively without some stress and learning to live with discomfort. Answering the call means a willingness to be seen, warts and all, because art is deeply personal and uncertain. There’s no such thing as ‘fearless creating’, no matter what the gurus say.
Don’t tell me exposure isn’t scary! And, after accepting the risk and doing our work, nothing is guaranteed except a need to continue creating.
How to manage the fear
After all my years of excuses, I finally realized the work itself (and the risk) could be “chunked down” again and again until the fear felt manageable. It needed to be small enough not to wake up my flight-or-fight mode.
With practice, I built a tolerance for discomfort and found myself able to take bigger creative risks. The blank canvas stopped looking like a chasm and more like an opportunity.
If you’re avoiding your own creative nudge, start with small steps. Three years ago, I committed to 15 minutes of creative action every day for 30 days. Often it was just a doodle in a sketchbook but if I spent those 15 minutes, it counted.
I ended up with a book of little sketches but I also built my creative muscle and developed a habit. And I still refer back to those sketches for inspiration.
What you choose may be different (although if my example works for you, please use it!) The point is to make it small enough that it doesn’t scare off your inner child, the muse or whatever you want to call that urge.
Courage is not the absence of fear.
Like sunshine and shadow, we need fear to experience courage. When we tiptoe past our fears, something pretty amazing waits for us. Our real life.
I highly recommend this book about the Kaizen way for help on how to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
My comfort zone felt safe but it also kept me from growing.
Recently I tried something that wasn’t really new. Just something I left behind years ago – painting with acrylics but it definitely moved me beyond my current comfort zone.
Everything old is new again
I used to teach decorative painting using acrylics. You’ve seen stuff like it on Pinterest, I’m sure, decorating tables and other furniture using fluid brush strokes and simulating 3D. I loved it and still have a few of my pieces decorating my home.
The problem was I travelled (a lot) on business, which meant airplanes and luggage. I didn’t quite trust packing acrylic paints in with my business clothes so I switched to watercolours. They seemed less risky and cleaning my brushes in a hotel sink was easy.
This meant learning a whole new way of painting because, if you use both acrylics and watercolors, you know they require slightly different techniques. So I made the decision to focus on the watercolours and abandon the acrylics. I didn’t have time or budget to learn and practice both mediums.
I never worked with acrylics again – until recently.
Stretching the comfort zone
Frankly, I was a little concerned about trying them again, afraid I might find it confusing to switch back and forth. Plus I spent a lot of time and money bringing my watercolour skills up to snuff. Did I really want to start back at the beginning again?
(I think perfectionism might have been running that train of thought.)
But my comfort zone felt stale. I wanted something with a different energy and vibe and acrylics kept calling to me. So when I dropped off my paintings at Roundhill Studio for their Wee Art show, I noticed her flyer for an acrylic class. I threw caution to the wind and registered on the spot. (That way I wouldn’t change my mind.)
When I showed up for class, I was pleasantly surprised how my watercolour skills crossed over. The brush didn’t change, only the medium. (Duh.)
I felt so excited and pleased with the painting of sheep I created that day, I went back to my own studio and started pumping out acrylic paintings. I’ve done a number of them since that workshop a few weeks back. More importantly, I’m outside my comfort zone, having a lot of fun!
What I learned
I still paint with watercolour but in a completely different style. They tend to be much more detailed while the acrylic paint brings out my loose and playful side. I find it easy to move back and forth between both mediums and styles, which surprised and excites me.
All this time I’ve hesitated only to discover that each one informs and enriches the other. I might never have know this if I had continued to shy away.
Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way and leave the safety of the comfort zone. When stopped listening to that story holding me back, I learned a little more about what I was capable of.
What’s something new you’d like to try? Have you stretched your comfort zone lately? Share what you found there in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Organizing anything can be a big job but I believe an artist organizing her studio faces a special kind of distraction.
I realized this after I took on the job in my own studio and then read Marion Boddy’s Monday post on her studio blog. Seems she and I shared a similar journey. She mentioned books as her brand of distraction and I find the same thing so I’ve learned to shelve them as soon as I finish with them. An open art book is also an open invitation…
Between projects I try to keep some space ready for when inspiration strikes but it seems the Studio Law of Attraction states that all horizontal surfaces should be covered. I have no one to blame but me for cluttered counter tops because my husband learned long ago NOT to dump things there (and the dog can’t reach.)
It’s usually at its worst when I complete a project. Then it’s like an archaeological dig, going through layers of inspiration as I sort, toss and put away.
Too often, WIP’s (works in progress) interrupt the organizing process. I usually prop up a painting for a bit to let it ‘percolate’. To see it with new eyes, so to speak. Then it seems inspiration hits when I’m trying to straighten up my creative mess.
I’ve learned to pay attention when the muse whispers her ideas because when I don’t, she’ll go away in a sulk and refuse to repeat herself just because I have time to pay attention.
Organizing the studio just isn’t as simple as it seems but every once in awhile, everything is back where it belongs and the tabletops are clear.
I’m discovering that while I love my home to be organized and tidy, it’s a different story in the studio. That’s where I want a little creative chaos. My muse appreciates it, too.
What about you? Organized or mussy? How do you like your creative space? Share in the comments.