I was stuck for a long time. Essentially, I had writer’s block for at least 20 years. I was waiting for someone else to judge that I was good enough and give me permission to start. I waited for a fully formed great idea to come before I could start. And when I did have ideas, if I discovered that someone else had already done something similar, I’d give up on it. I had to earn it, be good enough, prove myself, get permission, and have a really great and totally original idea first, before I could start, so I just kept waiting.
I have since realized, not in a single flash of understanding but through a lot of hard work and excavation, that the only thing getting in the way of me having the life I wanted, doing the work I wanted, being an artist, was me. I could give myself permission, get out of my own way and simply start.
I can only know what the project will be by starting it and being fully present and mindful as I work. This became clear as I was working on my heART Exchange art swap project, because that’s the way it happened. At first, I had plans to paint something. I recently took a painting class with a group of friends, and I liked it so much, I bought some canvas, brushes and paints. I’m not very good, but given enough time and patience, I’m not horrible.
But somehow I got confused about how the process of the art swap would work, and got it in my head that I’d have plenty of time to start after I got my partner’s name and address, so I waited (this always gets me in trouble). When I got the name, I realized I only had five days to make something before I had to mail it, and I was working four of those days. I would never have enough time to paint something, and it would be a stressful experience, not a creative work filled with love and joy. I had to think of another idea.
I looked around my studio (I just made the decision to call it that, to admit that this space I work in is no longer an office, it’s an art studio) to see what I might make. I remembered the fabric I had left over from when we made Kelly a quilt, (here’s the blog about the process). Here’s the square I made:
The leftover fabric is special, can’t be used for just anything, so I thought about what I might make with it for my art swap. I got an idea, and that idea evolved into something completely different as I worked on it, (I’ll post more about the project once my swap partner receives it). I made myself stay with each step of the process: stitch all the gold thread designs before stitching the silver, sew all the buttons on before writing the words, etc. There were five similar pieces in the project and instead of finishing one completely, to check and make sure it would “work,” instead of rushing and pushing and judging, I stayed with each step, fully embodying that part of the process, understanding and finishing it before moving on, instead of jumping around in fits and starts, and resting when I got tired.
In this way, the magic of the process manifested a finish project I could have never predicted if I had tried to decide it before I began. Here’s a sneak peek:
So I have learned that you have to simply start, and be mindful and present as you work. I have also realized that I am a messy artist. I used to assume that meant I didn’t know what I was doing, because “shouldn’t I be in control of the process, know what is happening, direct it?” But no, I just do the thing right now that feels like it needs doing, should be done, is right without needing a clear reason or plan. I do that for a long time, one step at a time, step after step, and at some point the whole becomes clear, comes into focus, and it makes sense what I’ve been doing and how it will work and what it might mean. This awareness often happens just before the project is finished. Not until it’s fully formed and done do I understand what I’ve been working on.
I explained this to my friend yesterday and she said “that takes a lot of faith.” Yeah. To trust it will work out, make sense eventually, and that you just need to keep moving, working through that unknown territory without a map or any instructions, trusting your gut and your intuition and the process. In that way, it’s so much more about the act of creating than the creation, the product. To make art is to be in it, embody the process, life evolving as part of the practice.
I am not one of the lucky ones who can make a plan, outline the steps ahead of time. I have to show up every day and do the work, be the work, and trust that it will all lead somewhere, and even if it doesn’t, being present for the doing, the mindful creating, is what ultimately matters. Because, in the end, I am not only making art, I am making a life.
- What are you making?