“How in the world do you do what you do?” This is an interesting question I get either verbalized or emailed to me. I’m always surprised at the question. I wonder what it is they perceive I’m doing or accomplishing, since USUALLY I’m thinking I can’t do anywhere near what I’d like to do or accomplish. Crazy isn’t it?
Typically my first thought is: I have no idea. In the past I have said, “I do it because it’s my sanity.” And that is true. I’ve also said, “I do it because I have to/need to.” And this too is true. I’ve also responded, “I do it because it’s so fun!” True too! But recently it has begun to form in my mind, the real “how” of all the creative stuff I love: drawing, painting, knitting, crocheting, designing, illustrating Genevieve, blogging, writing poetry every now and then, and the occasional collage. If this seems too self-oriented, then do just click away from this post. I only write it in hopes that it might encourage or inspire you in your creative endeavors! Here goes:
How do I do a creative life?
1. Look for Beauty. So honestly, this is the crux of the matter. Without something beautiful, I haven’t any reason to draw or paint, to knit or crochet, to write in prose or poetry. Sometimes I’m struck by a lovely thing without looking for it. Many times, I purposefully look for beauty in and around my little life. And on days when I’m hard-pressed to find anything of beauty, I search for it. It’s actually a discipline, this artist’s life…to scour your world for the Beauty you know is there even in unexpected places or places where we don’t think beauty could be found. Beauty can even be wrapped in painful or discouraging circumstances.
2. Find a way to express it. So for me, merely looking for, seeing, and noting a thing of beauty (whether it’s the inside of my dishwasher or the gorgeous fall trees in my neighborhood) is not enough. I must record, express, celebrate, honor, capture, harness it in some way. Most times, that way is drawing in a sketchbook. Or painting the faces and places in my life or in others’ lives. Other times it is writing. And yet others it is knitting something in the colors I’m seeing out my windows. There are many many other ways to express the little beauties in your life: photography, music, composition, dance, theater, etc.
3. Do what I can, with what I have, where I am. This is actually a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. It is incredibly helpful for someone like me who has more ideas I’d love to see come into being than I know what to do with. I can get really stuck in thinking: well, I CAN’T do X, Y, or Z (due to time or money or ability) so I just won’t do any of it at all. I camped out with this block for nearly two years a few years back. I was wanting to make it big-time as a professional artist, painting big paintings, being represented by a gallery or two, entering exhibits all over the region, etc. And when it seemed to be way out of my reach, I just stopped drawing and painting altogether. What ended up happening during this period, is that I picked up my needles and yarn and began knitting and crocheting like a fiend:). But one day, I literally ran into the book ISH, by Peter Reynolds, and realized that all I really wanted was to draw, no matter whether it became a professional thing or not. You can read more about that here. And you all know of my desire to travel to France, a longing to have a life that allowed for this kind of travel, (both in time and money), only to realize the amazing beauty of my own little town of Kernersville as I began to look for it and draw it!
We tell ourselves that we don’t have enough money for canvases or paints, when a cheap sketchbook and watercolors is sitting underneath a stack of books somewhere. We tell ourselves we have no time, while we sit in a car pick-up line for ten minutes and could sketch something or knit a few rows. We tell ourselves we are too tired at the end of a long day, when the very best restorative medicine is a swoosh of color on a page, or a few rows of crocheting that blanket.
4. Blast through resistance. I’ve been reading (and re-reading) a book by Steven Pressfield titled The War of Art. In it he defines what resistance is and how it keeps us from doing the thing(s) we are really longing to do and need to do. I highly recommend this book! I am continually learning all the myriad of things that resistance throws in my path to keep me from being creative. In some ways, this fight through resistance is very difficult! But in other ways it’s really simple: I put on my artist armor and hack through the underbrush of weedy resistance. I show up to the page, the yarn, the blog. Whatever it is, whatever it takes, for however long I have to give it (10 minutes or 2 hours) I SHOW UP.
5. Relish the FEW creative projects I have going. It is good discipline for me to limit how many creative balls I juggle. What has happened to me time and time again, is that when I have too many going on, my energies are splintered, my focus grows fuzzy, I feel overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, and I can’t seem to accomplish or finish anything. Boundaries are good. Limitations are actually an ASSET!! Disciplining the bouncy, creatively ADD, artist child within you is necessary to a slow-but-steady-progress kind of life. AND it actually allows me to RELISH what I’m doing NOW, being present in the lovely creative moment, instead of hurrying through it to get to the next thingS on my accomplish list.
Well, there it is. An answer to a question you may or may not have wondered. It has helped me to write it down. It’s a touchstone for me. A way to remember why and how it is I do what I do. Perhaps it will help you as well.
**Addendum: If any of you saw my recent Instagram photo, you would see that I’m not doing that well with #5! Oi! What’s a girl to do?!!