The sun is hitting it so right.
About a month ago, I started a part-time job working with a high end landscape design company. I'm learning things like how to prune rosebushes in some of the prettiest privately owned properties in Knoxville, TN.
In other words, I'm in painting inspiration paradise.
I walk past this building all the time in my neighborhood. It reminds me so much of James Marshall, my favorite children's book author and illustrator. Both of the illustrations below are from his book "Yummers." I LOVE his illustrations and I love this building. So much.
My work isn't directly about it, but it may be because of it. And in spite of it.
There is a strong connection between pursuing, or not pursuing, a creative life and mental health.
If you pursue it, it can make you crazy. It most likely will.
If you don't pursue it, it will also make you crazy. I think a lot of people don't know why they feel shut down, depressed. I think one reason is because, a long time ago, they gave up on a creative life. They work and drink to fill that void.
When I say creative life, I don't necessarily mean a professional one. I mean one spent cooking at home, taking a dance class, stringing together beads. It could also mean professionally, but more and more, that makes no difference to me in terms of the necessity of the pursuit of it. I love to see people try. Of course, I love to see someone become good at what they do, but I know they will never become good without starting. So I love to see a person begin.
In my life, I have pursued creativity as a profession, and there have been many stages of darkness involved in this process (I know. Dramatic). I'm happy to know that the initial stage is dead and gone- the one where I spun my wheels almost to death, the one where I almost forgot the reason why I create.
I made it over the wall. It's not a question of will I be creative in my life, but in what capacity.
Today... I am feeling stuck. It feels like a struggle between what I want- to create from deep within my soul (blerg)- or to create professionally. I don't know if they can be the same. That question is plaguing me.
And there is a great risk of creating from that place within. It's vulnerable and scary. If it doesn't work out, what else is there? (I realize that is a loaded and personal question. Maybe I will unpack that one later...)
Left to my own devices, what I create isn't that good (You should see my sketchbook). It is creating for others that pushes me toward refinement. I feel like I need that give and take. I can't just make art and hide it away. That is not fair to my work. If it needs others to become better, I need to share it.
But in this process of creating for others, I make things really hard for myself. I squash the ideas and methods that come easy to me. I have subconsciously operated under the notion that if it comes naturally, it must not be good. Where did that even come from? It's such a dadgum sad thought.
I've had to admit it recently. I am the stereotype. I am an artist that struggles internally- deeply. Recently there is a steady voice that keeps whispering to make things easier on myself. But pursuing what comes naturally to me feels scarier than not. At least to take that first step. It's going to be a war all the way. And for me, a lot of hours. Hours and hours of work.
This blog post is obviously a step toward it, so there's that. (please, no applause)
Here is what I am thinking through:
What do I want to do?
How will I find the resources to do it?
What is in my heart to share? Am I willing to share it?
To whom will I share it with?
To what extent does it matter what other people want? Can I make artwork and be content if it never sells? If it never sells, in what capacity will I share it? What does that even look like?
I'm trying to get to the good stuff, but why's it being so elusive?
I guess we are always in varying degrees of transition often, but last year felt especially like that. So 2018 is about putting my feet on solid ground. And putting my money where my mouth is.
I am working to let go of a few things and tie up loose ends because I feel like I can't move forward until those things are off my plate. I do see progress, it's just really damn slow.
One current thing that is sticking for longer than I planned is leaving my position as Director of 17th Street Studios. The plan was to be done at the end of 2017, but there are still things to do, so the new deadline is the end of this month.
There is actually a LOT to do, so while I am ready to start some new projects, I can't get to them, and it's been frustrating.
My work schedule is about to get a whole lot more structured beginning this next week, and I am really looking forward to that. Did you know I have four-ish jobs? And I am leaving one today to start a new one this week. I'd like to write about that, too: Leaving places and people on a good note as opposed to hanging on out of... fill in the blank all the reasons anyone sticks with anything too long. I have a lot of experience in the latter.
So I'm trying to be patient right now, and still, slowly like a snail, chip away at some projects that I'm hoping to dive into as soon as possible.
I worry that my life will always be like this, though. Having too much going on to get to the good stuff. There are so many things out of our control, we could never know what we have to take on from day to day. I don't know how people do it with kids and their unpredictability. How?
Maybe part of it is accepting that this is all a part of life, and to make sure we are taking care of ourselves as much as possible (eat well, sleep well) so that in all the tiny moments I have, I can chip away at the ideas that are nagging at me.
This requires so much discipline, planning, and forethought. I like the idea of this, but I also like spontaneity. And I'm the person that sticks around at the party til everyone is leaving- no matter how much I told myself I'd only stay for an hour or two. I think living this way is also important, because people are the most important. It's such a struggle to find that balance of a solitary creative life and one that is enriched by engagement with others, not just superficial encounters.
I do feel like this is more so how it will go for a bit... until I have three jobs or less maybe. What would my life be like if I could spend the better part of the day making art? I'm not sure I'd know what to do with myself. The thought it terrifying... which is maybe the cause of all this slow moving of letting go.
Fear. There you are, you ole Grizzly Bear.
I'm a big planner. Like, I think I'm probably addicted to it.
I love making lists and getting out my planner to outline my week or month. It's fun for me.
I do this all year long, but December is "The Show" because it's when I like to think about a whole year at once. What do I want to accomplish by next December?
Here is one of a few Goals:
I want to finish my several year-long Organizational Journey.
When I turned 30, I started organizing my home. It was a much needed gift to myself.
Beyond being a semi-hoarder of sentimental and useful-to-me-possibly-one-day-in-the-future things, around that time, I had received a ton of furniture and objects from family members who had passed away or sold second homes. I was also really unorganized with papers. Just drowning in them.
At the beginning of my Organizational Journey (I don't know what else to call it. Let me at least make it sound like a great adventure!), I read Getting Things Done by David Allen, who my boyfriend at the time called my real boyfriend because I talked about him so much. I'd sort through some things and one of us would say, "GTD!" I really geeked out about it, which I feel like my imaginary bf David Allen would appreciate.
And then last year I read The Magic Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Y'all, I know she's a little out there, but I LOVE her. Both books have helped me so much.
Three years in, I'm on round maybe 47 of purging and decluttering. I feel close to being finished but I still have to move my studio contents home, deal with stuff in my basement, and go through a last round of sentimental things.
For example, yesterday, I went through my grandfather's pin and cuff link collection. He passed away a few years ago, so it's not as easy as you'd think. My general rule was, I kept any with his initials on it or any with a "Tennessee" or "Memphis" theme, and put the rest in the "Goodwill" bag. I feel ok about it.
I have to tell myself that he was sensible enough of a man to say to me, if he could, "Beth, don't go wasting your time and energy holding on to something that didn't mean that much to me. Live out your life how you want to, just like I did mine!"
He was a good man who lived and full and interesting life, and I know I need to let some things go, but I want to keep some things that were his, just because they were his.
I also have these ornately detailed, white porcelain Goddess statues from my other grandfather, also who has passed away. If I remember correctly, he brought them back from serving in the Navy in Japan during WWII.
I mean, how am I supposed to give those away?? He was serving in the war and picked those things out to bring back home! I cannot get rid of them.
They are a little creepy (I kind of like them) and just sitting on the dresser by my bed. I had this thought recently that they might be bringing me bad juju. And then I have to remind myself that I don't really believe in that kind of thing. Not really. Anyway, I'm keeping them.
Anyway, that's where I am with this. I feel so close to being done. The papers are still plaguing me. I'm a collector of magazine pages (for art reasons) and I have all these handwritten notes from the past decade I need to go through, organize digitally, then toss. And then there's the bins of photos and letters from other people. And then, digital files and pictures. Phew, that's going to be a doozy. The photos on my computer and external harddrive are a disaster.
Any tips would be helpful, especially for how to organize photos and back them up. Or if you're a friend and want to drink wine with me and make some scrapbooks. I'm not joking. I've been waiting to get to the scrapbooking level for many years now.
2018 is it! I had no idea getting old and boring would be this fun!
When I was in high school, CDs were all the rage. Obviously. And I had a group of friends that was all about music and festivals and live shows. We were always talking about bands and going to buy CDs, a collection I still have today. So I always had this ongoing list in my brain of albums I wanted to buy, but this weird thing would always happen to me whenever I'd walk inside of Best Buy.
I'd forget all the albums I wanted to buy. All of them. And sometimes I'd buy something that wasn't even on my "list," and I'd walk out of the store wondering what had happened to my dream of owning something else.
This magical loss of ideas and thoughts when I need them has been prevalent throughout my life. As an adult, I at least started writing things down, and actually became quite obsessed with making plans and lists. I became a crazy hoarder of little scraps of paper with notes on them and piles of colorful post-it notes.
And then I'd lose the lists and notes or they would get buried in other papers and mail I neglected. And whenever I'd "enter the proverbial Best Buy," I could never remember anything I'd written down. I couldn't remember the plan.
Over the past year or so, I've become far more disciplined, to cast a wide net and capture all of the ideas and wants I have, so that I can actually go after them. I have a system that involves the To Do app in my phone, my calendar app on my phone, a dry erase board I made from an old window, an Inbox tray with little notes and reminders I've written myself, and a beautiful mint green leather-bound planner. It's not a perfect system because of my own nature to wander off, but at least I know where my ideas are when I'm ready to come back to them. After I've broken through the fence and explored the neighborhood like a dog with ADHD, my plan is waiting for me back at home when I'm ready.
I also have a manila folder system cataloging all the magazine pages I rip out for artworks or personal projects. And I have a more intricate system of how to capture ideas on writing and art that involves voice memos in my phone.
Because when I sit down to make a piece of artwork, I completely forget that idea that would not quit badgering me when I was at work and couldn't do anything about it. Or while driving in my car to Memphis and couldn't do anything about it. These pesky, incessant ideas come to me when I am in no place to do anything about them, and when I have to the time to create, they hide! I think this might be one reason artists drink a lot or go mad. It has been maddening.
So I decided instead of accepting alcoholism or going insane as my lot in life, I will be fastidious, steadfast, and vigilant. I will be ready at all times (as much as possible!) to take my "lasso" - all of my tools I've mentioned above- and wrangle in that idea when it comes, even when it pops into my head when my hands are in a huge blob of bread dough at the bakery where I work. Because they LOVE to pop up then. Because they are jerks sometimes.
Or, if I was Elizabeth Gilbert, I would say instead, they are not jerks, but rather gracious and generous to even visit me at all. So I must be ready for them. It would be irresponsible of me otherwise.
I've been thinking a lot about the barriers between me and producing artwork. While I think about art or making art all of the time, especially the business side of things, the time I take to sit down and make work pales in comparison.
Here are my barriers, or what have been barriers that I've remedied:
1. A studio that I don't like being in/ that's hard to go to.
This is a hard one to explain. I've always been thankful for my studio at 17th Street Studios. I used to go there at night and there was a time I could be there multiple week days for hours at a time. I am still grateful for it, and once I break through the resistance it takes for me to get there and stay there, I can get work done.
As I get older, I want to be home more. In my younger adult life, I really have avoided being at home for various reasons, mostly mental health ones. But as I find more peace in my life, I feel this desire to move more slowly and make everything as simple as possible.
My studio at 17th Street has become this obstacle for me in the times I have to create, which are late at night or early in the morning. I don't want to leave my house at those times. I want to walk around in my pajamas and drink coffee or make dinner and drink boxed wine.
My old studio also has these yellow tinted windows that, for a long time, didn't bother me, but over the past few years they have. I neeeed good light.
I live in a house now with a big white room with two big old wavy glass windows that I'm slowly making into my studio. I also have a basement with wood-working tools where I can make a mess and spray paint things.
That has been a HUGE desire for many many years: to have everything I do creatively all in one place. I had hoped for that at The Salvage Shop, but that wasn't the road for me. Beginning in 2018, that dream of consolidating everything will be a reality.
I can't wait.
2. I'm scared what I want to make has all ready been made.
I'd never intentionally rip off any other creative person. In all honesty, I am not well read enough on other artists to do this. I do it less these days, but I used to put on blinders, protecting myself from the overwhelming amount of art out there and people's varying levels of success making it.
I'm afraid of ripping off someone unintentionally. I wouldn't know how to defend myself. I would feel guilty even though it wasn't true.
I'm a firm believer that trends happen in waves all around the world without people knowing it. (What's that called? It has a name*) It's where a scientist from South America discovers the same thing as a scientist in China at the same time. I believe that happens in art, and while I understand this, I don't think all people do. (I am working on not caring what other people think, too.)
So if I'm not proactively studying all the art before and all the present art being made at the speed of light, how will I better ensure I'm not making what others make? And what if my work is sort of alike, but still pretty different (hello, Ashley Longshore art).
My simple and short answer is "Screw it." I'll do my best not to worry about it. Well, given my nature, I WILL worry, but I'll do my best not to let it hinder me. And if someone draws comparisons, I'll say, "Splendid! An example of (fill in the blank of whatever word I was trying to think of before*.)
I should say "Splendid!" more often anyway, and tap the pads of my fingers together.
3. Materials/ Cost / Storage
I hit on this in my last post. I'm coming to terms with materials and storage. I want to use the best but I also don't have all the space (nor money) in the world to store the materials or the finished products.
For the first time, I've thought about renting a storage unit. I am adamantly against storage units for excess personal belongings so this is a big step. I could get behind a storage unit that is rented in the name of Creativity.
When I have shows, I make about 10-20 pieces. In Knoxville, maybe a couple sell and then begins the great "Shoveling of shit." For the next several months, I have to figure out where I'm going to put these pieces- they get hauled around in my car, hung in my studio, put in businesses who want free art on their walls, on friends' walls temporarily who want free art on their walls, in my house, at other First Friday venues.
My goal is to make a body of work, show it, and have that venue sell it for me until it's gone. Forever. I want to make it, store it until I'm done with each piece, and then release it. That just does not happen in this city. Artists show the same work over and over again here. Myself included. Maybe this is the way it is everywhere, but it's not a great set-up. It does nothing to inspire us to keep creating.
I want to move work more quickly, and I'm thinking of better ways to do so until I'm wickedly famous and can find those people that love my work and are able to value it with their dollar bills.
4. My own hang-ups
I've hit a point in my production where I am really trying to produce the artwork that is easy to make. This is a hard one for me.
I've never been one to take the easy route. If things aren't difficult, I make them difficult. This is a confession, not a brag. It's a terrible way to live.
But I've ascribed this method to art-making for a long time: it must be painstaking and laborious if it's going to be worth anything.
I want to give this up to some extent. Not completely, as I do like meticulous works.
This is a lesson I could have learned a loooong time ago in a small capacity.
My first art show. I was in college, 2005. I had spent all this time on several pieces- paintings on paper. I painted and fixed and painted and fixed and labored and toiled under the sun. And then I was inspired to make this one piece, different from the rest. And I made it in about 30 minutes. The idea came to me in a flash and I was ready to create it and it came with such ease and splendor.
And it was the most well-received piece in the show. It was of birds (and was at the beginning of the bird trend that I didn't know was happening. See number 2. The see Portlandia: Put a Bird on It.)
Today, I am trying to search out those ideas that are deep in me, begging to get out. They are there and they take a lot of TLC to coax out. It's why I'm trying to clear a lot of the clutter- physical and mental- out of my life, so I can tend to them better. Bring them out and put them on paper. Or canvas. Or wood.
There will always be hard parts in creating. Sometimes you have to labor, sometimes it gets boring, and that's ok. But I'm hoping to make more work with more ease. To trust my instincts in a way I haven't before.