When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? — Ralph Marston
The picnic tables in the park down the street are calling to me. They overlook the bay and I plan to visit them soon with my paints and sketchbook for a little plein air work.
I love my studio but lately I’m hungry to be out where I can smell the ocean and feel the wind. After a dreary, rain-soaked season, I feel flat and empty.
It’s been an easy winter but still…it is winter. At first, I enjoy being cocooned indoors but by March I’ve been inside too long, despite daily walks with the dog.
Every time you express a complaint about how difficult and tiresome it is to be creative, inspiration takes another step away from you, offended. Elizabeth Gilbert
In her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert takes a practical common sense attitude towards living a joy-filled, creative life I can appreciate. It’s a breath of fresh air that makes creativity feel accessible to anyone and dispels the myth of the suffering artist.
The risk we take
Actually, when we focus more on the negatives in any area of our lives, we risk becoming boring and a repelling force. Chasing people away with our attitude runs counter to success in any endeavour, creative or otherwise.
That’s why I’m heeding Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice to focus on the joy of my creative practice. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t difficult times and I don’t get tired. Hardly.
What is joy?
I’m not blind to the hard work (and yes, sometimes sacrifice) it takes to create from the heart. And I’m no Pollyanna. I grew up in a dysfunctional home with a mentally ill mother, so I get it. Life can be tough and painful and even frightening at times but I don’t need to drag that along behind me.
Yes, we experience joy in the bright moments but it’s also there in the shadows. A friend of mine put her busy life on hold to care for her mother in the final stages of a terminal illness. After her mother was gone, she shared with me that their time together had joy laced liberally into the sadness.
Joy isn’t about being giddy but rather feeling deeply fulfilled by an experience.
Find your own joy
We’ve been well-taught to look for the negative. The marketing messages you’ve heard most of your life start with the idea you’re not good enough and need to be fixed. (We can help! Buy our product!) So shifting your perspective may take some re-training of your inner chatter.
Here are some tips that can help.
First, pay attention
That inner chatter is powerful. Train yourself to be aware of the negative words you repeat to yourself, especially about your art. Write them down, if you need to. Whenever you hear one pop up, challenge it by responding “Says who?”
Change the conversation.
Second, stop comparing yourself
The habit of comparison always gets in the way of our satisfaction and joy. If we look at the public works of a successful artist and think “I could never do that”, we overlook the ‘learning curve’ pieces, hidden away in closets or thrown in the trash.
Third, actively look for what works
Back when I facilitated creative writing workshops, I followed the AWA method. My training in the methodology emphasized providing feedback only on the strong writing.
“What works? What moves me? What emotions do I experience?”
I witnessed the magic of that again and again. The weak writing fell away simply because we humans crave the positive feedback. “You liked that? I’ll do more of it!”
Each week the writing improved. Many of my students went on to be published, so we were definitely doing something right. I only ever had one participant who constantly complained that unless I told her what was wrong, she couldn’t fix it.
Missing the point, she also missed the joy her art could have brought to herself and others.
A couple of months ago I had an interesting conversation with an artist friend who asked me about my style. I admitted to her I couldn’t define my style. Yet.
Up to this point I’ve been learning the mechanics and mastering my craft. However, lately I’m feeling an inner push to go to the next level and polish a personal style. My raison d’etre, if you will.
This led to discussions in our Facebook group on topics like our Why, being authentic and creative courage as I wrestled with this question. It seemed to me I needed to know me better, if I wanted my style to ring true.
Then, just recently a friend who is also a coach like myself asked if I was overthinking it. Ding, ding, ding. Lightbulb goes off. Of course I was! I was working WAY too hard on trying to come up with the ‘perfect’ answer.
So I promised myself to hold the question lightly and wait for whatever showed up. To stop thinking and just hang out with the question and make the journey. For some it might be an “AHA” moment but for most of us I suspect it’s an evolution.
So I’m creating while keeping an eye out for those clues the universe loves to place in our paths.
Style Clue #1
In the Facebook group we focused on the word WHY for a week and one of the members mentioned her reason was to have fun. That struck a chord for me. No. Wait. Let me be clear. Her words gave me good bumps.
Here I was, trying to make my Why be IMPORTANT and WISE and PITHY. I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about here because I see this in folks all the time and I fell for it, as well. I’d bought into the myth that if my Why didn’t sound like a quote from Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela that somehow it wasn’t valid.
I mean, really, why can’t it just be about the fun? After all, I’ve always maintained if something I’m choosing to do isn’t fun, why am I doing it?
I used to do a lot of rug hooking but somewhere along the way I stopped. Too busy making a living, I suppose. Recently, my interest rekindled so I bought a small kit.
I was drawn to this little roly-poly sheep and completed the pattern in a week. As I hooked the last loops, the wind was howling outside and suddenly I heard Gramma’s voice in my head saying “He was 3 sheets to the wind”.
Only my brain heard “sheeps”.
Immediately I grabbed my sketchbook and came up with this drawing. It tickled me so much I kept going.
The ‘punniness’ demanded a painting that was playful and light. The next day I pulled out my acrylic paints, a canvas board and began to play with the idea. As it evolved I even found myself telling a story – something else I love.
Below is what I have so far. It needs the details like eyes and foliage but every time I walk by my easel I smile. I believe I’m onto something. The colours and simple figures appeal to something my heart. They cheer me up.
When I complete the final version, I’ll post it for you.
Style Clue #3
Most mornings, along with my coffee, I check out the CBC on my Ipad. I love the Nova Scotia news and also from Newfoundland (my husband’s home province.) While there are the usual crime reports and bad news stories, it seems to me they fill in with more local and human interest stories.
Some days feel so far from where I meant to be at this time in my life. I dream of creative exploration but spend too much time navigating the ‘real world’. I took a wrong turn somewhere. A Personal GPS would be handy right now.
As a child growing up in a home where mental illness existed I learned early on that anything that took attention from my parent made me “bad”. To answer a creative calling was the most suspect thing of all. “Useless. Selfish indulgence.” Something to fit in after the ‘real’ work was done. Which, of course seldom happened.
Claiming my creative voice was first and foremost a declaration of independance.
Regardless of who we are and any early conditioning we experienced, we have to be very brave to make art. By its nature, art is a different way to see things and different always challenges someone, somewhere.
Personal and unique are essential qualities of any creative process and its product. But art exposes the heart of the artist.
And that’s scary. To see the venom some people can spew I only have to explore social media. It takes an extremely courageous heart to step into the line of fire totally exposed.
I do lots of creative things. Painting, knitting, quilting, collage; but it’s in writing that I find the edges of my fear. Art needs to skate that edge.
I have two novels partially completed exploring topics that frightened me away from the work. I put the work away fearful of what “they” would say. My heart felt too tender for blunt blows.
Am I brave enough to go looking for that missed turn?
Suddenly, possible regret for the road not traveled is more frightening than anything “they” might say.
After the holidays I enter a special creative time of the year before I love. With no personal deadlines (only business ones), it’s wide open spaces and lots to choose from.
Unfortunately, this is also when The Committee moves in and tries to stage a coup. I’ll bet you have your own Committee, too.
The Committee is made up of so many voices from our past that often we don’t even remember where they started. The Committee’s weapon of choice is guilt, telling us that creative time is selfish time. This is one of my creative clients biggest struggles – working through the guilt.
Here’s how I deal with The Committee.
Those voices are long gone. The past doesn’t control my future. I can choose to listen and continue to struggle OR I can get them out of my way. (Just don’t try to ignore them. They only get louder.)
The way I get them out of the way is to physically get up, walk to the nearest door and invite The Committee to step outside for awhile. Really. I get up, open a door, speak out loud to The Committee and escort them out of the room.
I know it may sound silly but getting into motion changes your energy. I recommend this to my clients all the time. When they actually try it, they are pleasantly surprised at how well it works.
Here’s why. Your brain can’t tell real from imagined. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you went to a scary movie. I’m right, aren’t I?
This week, why not make a collage of your Committee as I did above. Get them out of hiding and into the light. Becoming aware of them is one more way to break the hold they have over you.
Me? I’m going to start a challenging knitting project because I’m ready for something new!
What about you? What projects are waiting for you?