20 Things I Changed About My Creative Life in 2020
I made a creative space for myself in my home. If you’ve followed me on social media, you know that I am currently the proud owner of an art shed. It’s a beautiful space full of plywood and paint drips that I adore, but I didn’t always have this space. A year ago, I would paint on an easel I would bring out to my living room then put away. I would sometimes work in my bedroom, but it was cluttered and disorganized. While reading through Julia Cameron’s Artist's Way, I was convicted/convicted that I needed an art space for me. Our whole apartment was dedicated to communal space and our babys' needs; I hadn’t left room for me in our home. So, with my husband's help, I cleared off the desks that were in our bedroom and set up the easel permanently beside it. I put my painting stuff into organized boxes, and arranged the corner into a creative work space. This helped me create a painting and writing rhythm. Before I made this space, I would create only when I felt like it. Once I had the space, I was able to create a painting/writing habit.
I painted my nails weekly. I know this sounds silly, but for years I’ve been one of those women that admired others for having painted nails but didn’t paint my own. I said it was because I worked out so much and because I didn’t have time and because I didn’t have the right supplies and other excuses. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t make time or space in my life to do this thing that was purely for myself. The Artist Way heavily emphasizes taking yourself on a weekly artist date. Slowly but surely, painting my nails became a weekly event. It was something to do while I was watching tv that made me feel pretty. And in a year lived mostly in sweatpants, I liked feeling pretty every once in a while.
I made a creative tribe. Years ago I was in drawing co-ops and had an art mentor, but those things faded from my life for one reason or the other. I missed them. I missed having people that asked me about my drawings other than my spouse. I missed being held accountable by people to show up weekly for my painting. I wasn’t able to find one, so I forged one with my friend Anna. It turned into Coffee and Creatives.
I finished the creative improvement books I started. Before this year, I had started The Artist Way five times and never finished it. I finished it this year and I read the Creative Habit, Big Magic, and Art, Inc. I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s a big deal to me. I broke the pattern of giving up on myself and my art.
I made a schedule for my art. Just like athletes and students and many other life endeavours, having a schedule and a plan is vital. As my dad always says, “fail to plan and you plan to fail”. It’s the same with art (at least it is for me). Knowing when I’m going to paint, helps me. Sometimes I feel like it, sometimes I don’t... but there’s that space in my week to sit down and paint.
I got organized. I got organized in my personal life and in my artistic life. I was noticing that a lot of my day was getting eaten up by random chores around my home. I didn’t have structure to these chores. Oftentimes when something was left out, before I could put it away I had to figure out where away was. I changed that by organizing my home, throwing a ton of crap out, and sticking to a cleaning schedule. I did the same with my art supplies. I have my paints, drawing supplies, canvases, and projects organized. So when I go into my art shed to paint, I don’t spend time looking for where that prussian blue is or the brush that I want to use is. I know where my stuff is. I know exactly where that brush is. I know exactly where that size canvas is. Organizing is a pain in the butt that I don’t enjoy, but it helps me have more time to do the things I love.
I had grace with myself and with others when things got disorganized and things didn’t go according to schedule. Today, my daughter was sick. Not terribly sick, but sick enough she was miserable and snotty and sad. I had wanted to chuck her to her dad as soon as he got home so I could go paint because that was the plan. Instead, I held her. I cuddled. I fed her pears and made her tea. I delayed painting and didn’t meal prep (frozen pizza and bagged salad for the win).
I started treating my art like a job. Boundaries are important, they’re so so so important. I don’t think I realized that before this year. I realized I had poor boundaries with others and therefore with my art. If I was exercising and someone called, I would answer. Pausing my workout always leads to not finishing my workout. It is the same with painting, drawing, journaling, reading, and so many other things that enrich my life and my creativity. These life giving things went on the back burner whenever anyone wanted my attention. I changed this. I started treating my art like a job. And just like a job, I gave myself vacations, time off for moving to a different state, a day off to take care of my sick kiddo, a day off to spend with my husband. I also made sure that I showed up on time, did the work whether I felt like it or not, and so on.
I found other creative outlets besides painting. I had fun with other artistic pursuits. I let myself be bad at them and just play. I explored new ways of cooking and started to learn to bake. I started writing and started watching dance in my spare time. I intentionally made time to read. This fueled me and restored my creativity during my nonpainting time.
I got an art accountability buddy. She and I enter shows together, look over eachother’s submissions, and mourn/celebrate with each other depending on the outcome of our submissions.
I applied to art shows. In Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, she talks about how failure of nerve is the worst kind of failure. The failure where you don’t even try. For many years now, I have failed in this way. I failed to try. I failed to even submit my work to things that I wanted to. I failed to practice painting because I was afraid I wouldn’t be good. This year, I applied. I’ve applied to more shows in 2020 than I have in the last five years combined. I didn’t get into any of them, but I applied.
I took better photographs of my work. Sounds stupid easy. And it is stupid easy. I was just lazy and didn’t treat my work with respect to take extra time to photograph it well. It’s simple really- think about what you're photographing and make it look pretty. Make it look good with the proper lighting. Make it look nice with what’s around the object. Add things that amplify the object. Edit the photo well. It’s not hard… but I was being lazy before and not taking good photos of my work.
I changed (or I am trying to change, this one is hard for me), the way I talk about my work and myself as an artist. Artists (in my experience) love to make self deprecating remarks, “It’ll never sell…. I’m not any good at painting… I’ll never make money as an artist…” I need to stop this. There’s lots of reasons why this is poor for my creative health, negative self talk is damaging (we know this), but there are other reasons too. Talking poorly about myself as an artist and talking about my work poorly just isn’t professional. If you took your car to a mechanic, and the mechanic said, “I’m really not that good as a mechanic, and I’ll probably never make it as a mechanic, and the cars I work on don’t turn out well…” you would take your car to a different mechanic. This is something I’m working on. I don’t want to lie and say something I produced is good when it’s not. But… I need to respect my work. Just like with the photographs, I need to show respect to my work by talking about it in an uplifting way.
I changed the way I talk about other people’s work. I have been a part of the “the life of artist in an exclusive one”, but this year has changed my mind on that. I have been converted to the camp of “every human is creative and we’re happy people when we create”. There are a lot of people out there telling creative how their work sucks, and these comments are often unsolicited. I’ve been on the receiving end of these remarks and they’re not fun. Unless someone asks for help with a piece, I try to stick to the positive. If I’m talking about another artist’s work to someone else, I (try) to talk about the work in a balanced way. What’s working in the piece and what’s not working. There
I started writing about my art. When I started this blog and started writing for the Coffee and Creatives’ blog, it depended the way I thought about art. I started creating with more intention. It helped me develop my thoughts on why I created what I created. It helped me think deeper about the mediums I use, the way I have my space set up, the way I enter into my creative space.
I asked for help. When something isn’t working in a painting, drawing, or something I’ve written, I ask for help. When something needs editing, I have a list of people who I trust to check it for grammar and content. The same for my paintings. The people that check my work, they’re some of my closest friends. I know that they have my best interests at heart and want me to be the best I can be. They’ll push me even when I don’t want to be pushed. It might sting sometimes to be told I need to repaint an entire hand or face or rewrite a paragraph, but it is always said with love and the best intentions. I trust these people, therefore I ask for their help.
I change my phone usage. I’m not perfect at this either, but I’m trying. I want to use my phone as a tool to fuel my creativity, not starve it. I moved my social media apps so that they’re not the first thing I see when I open my phone. What I have right now when I first open my phone are my book apps, podcast apps, photo editing apps, and educational apps. Even though this doesn’t deter me completely from wasting sooooo much time on instagram, it does help reduce that time.
I’ve started taking art classes. I joined Emily Jefford’s Collective, purchased a gesture drawing class, and started a photography class (all online). I haven’t taken a drawing class in over five years, and it’s always good to be reminded of the basics; I’m especially enjoying the gesture drawing class.
I started intentionally taking my own reference photos. For anyone that paints figures or portraits, it can be difficult to gather reference materials for paintings. There’s always this looming question of whether or not you’re violating copyright if you’re working off of someone else’s photos. There’s all of these hacks to make sure that you’re within the copyright, but I found it extremely liberating to simply take my own photos. It takes some of the stress off. I know that the poses are what I want them to be, and it helps me get more intimate with the painting process.
I stopped whining and started working. Okay… I mostly stopped whining… okay I really WANT to stop whining. I’m a work in progress. This is what I’m trying to do, when I’m whining about art, I journal that crap out. Through the morning pages, I’ve discovered that most of whining really is just fear of failure. I don’t want to fail at art. I’m trying to change my mindset, and do it for the process. I have to keep reminding myself, that when I create, it pleases my Creator. I try to write this affirmation whenever I’m getting in my head. I’m not a painter because I want to be a painter. I am a painter because I love to paint. I have a podcast not because I want to be an influencer. I have a podcast because I love talking with my dear friends about art and find the discussion encouraging and uplifting. I share it through podcast form because I hope it does the same for others.