I double-guessed my creative impulse for far too many years. I’ve always been “crafty”; always decorated the edges of my school notes with complex designs that were far more interesting than what I was writing down. I studied art, particularly ceramics, all the way through high school, but was told quite seriously at the age of 15 that creativity was something that I would “grow out of” and so being a good girl I shelved it away and studied to become a lawyer. (That was an absolute disaster — its own saga.)
But now, 25 years after that unhelpful advice, I find myself struggling back towards that creativity — back towards a creative life, a life in which I take my creativity seriously, in which I listen to it and honor its impulses. This is how I found Studio Mothers — looking for someone who could help me with this re-focusing while homeschooling three energetic little boys! I found the advice to do something creative every day, even if it’s just jotting down an idea on an index card, to be incredibly helpful and inspirational. I find it very hard to find and honor my creative impulse and this is a way of acknowledging this part of my life on a daily basis.
I often liken my creativity to listening for a faint sound of music on a windswept beach. I need to turn carefully to hear the thread of sound and to follow it. I’ve found that the second I try to force something — to do what I “should” — the sound dries up and I have to start at the beginning again.
Some people are born with the equivalent of full-blown marching bands: they’ve always known what they wanted to do and have never doubted their calling or their path. For the rest of us, particularly those of us who have had our creative leanings deliberately discouraged, the process is a little more tenuous. I’d like to add that that discouragement isn’t necessarily cruel. It’s simply that most people don’t understand how a living can be made from artistic pursuits, and so assume it can’t be done and try to discourage the budding artist “for their own good.”
Leonie Dawson has a wonderful, and quite different, way of describing the creative process. She calls it Riding the Wild Donkey. Actually, being Leonie, she calls it “Riding Ze Wild Donkey” and it’s a much more robust way of framing the issue than “Listening for the Windsong of the Universe.”
Her take is that a Wild Donkey of an idea shows up in your paddock and you jump on and ride that thing until it’s done. She has periods of intense creativity and yeehahs her way through until the project is finished, then has periods of recuperation. She calls the stuff she’s tried to do slowly “Mount Project” as it’s piled up into a heap on her desk and slowly gets bigger.
I think that the key to this approach is that you just go at it until it’s done. This may well work better with e-books and courses than with 15-foot canvases or epic photography series. In those cases, you have to find a greater depth of stamina and commitment to see the project through. Or, alternatively, you may need to find some way of chunking the project down so that you can throw yourself at each part with mad abandon.
This approach also has echoes of The Cult of Done Manifesto, which is, as it sounds, about finishing work. I don’t agree with all of it. Number 5, for example: “Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.” That wouldn’t work for me. I tend to pick things up, do them for a bit, put them down again, then pick up something else. Eventually, I work my way back around to something that I put down and finally finish it. This is where the bit about honoring my creativity comes in. The urge is to finish at all costs, but I just don’t work like that and I need to trust in my process — that I *will* circle back around to those pots and finish them; but right now I’m sticking seashells to my collage (isn’t acrylic medium AMAZING?!).
I’ve also found it unbelievably annoying that the second I try to monetize my art, the creative impulse just dries up completely. I have an Etsy shop that has held the same scarves for the last year. I have a studio FULL of art that I keep putting off photographing and popping up for sale. I have a wide selection of rather cute ceramic dishes (if I do say so myself!) that have been waiting for 4 months to have their bottoms waxed and to be dipped in clear glaze and given their final firing.
I’m lucky in that my family is not dependent on my ability to make money from what I love. I have the opportunity to experiment widely both within and across genres and media. In the last year I have experimented with photography, stamp carving, reduction lino printing, ceramics, acrylic and watercolor painting, needle felting, and collage. In the past I have also experimented with papier-mâché, mosaics, garden design, acid etching, dying, and sewing.
Without a supportive partner, I’d currently be working as a librarian and checking out craft books from the library on the weekends! When I was working fulltime, I had absolutely no time or energy left for my art. Homeschooling has its own set of challenges, but I can set the boys up with paints and paper and they can splosh away while I try to get some painting or glazing done.
Actually, while I have my librarian’s hat on, I can highly recommend the book “Creating a Life Worth Living” by Carol Lloyd. It’s not a quick read, but the book is worth dipping into and out of as Lloyd covers a huge number of the issues to do with both having a creative life and paying the bills at the same time.
She’s also a great believer in daily creativity — whatever that may mean to you. I find Morning Pages a bit daunting these days, but can always find time to do a Zentangle. I also find needle-felting in the evenings while listening to documentaries (I MUST get into podcasts!) to be both relaxing and a good way to express my creativity. It’s turning to winter here in Australia and so I suspect that I will circle back around to my knitting needles and start again on the Bolero I put down last October.
Its difficult to trust in this process — to accept that its not an efficient way to get art done, but that it’s *my* way to get art done and if I don’t honor it, the desire to make art at all just dries up completely.
I’d be very interested to hear of your approaches to honoring your creativity. Do you work slowly or do you get things done fast in a fury of inspiration? Does getting paid for your art change the way you approach it? If you get paid for your art, do you approach paid and unpaid work differently? If you are a mother, how does caring for your family impact on your ability to honor your creativity? If you work, what affect does that have? We all have so many roles to play that it can sometimes be difficult to honor our creativity and still get everything else done! I’d love to hear how you do it!