I have found myself in several completely separate and unrelated conversations lately and one theme keeps coming up.
Why do we do that thing we do in that way that we do it? Actually I’m not sure if that sums it up well. I might write on, and see if this all becomes clearer by the end.
Danielle LaPorte has recently written a new book called White Hot Truth. Her premise is something like this. You know all that self help reading, self-proclaimed-expert advice seeking, program signing up, soul searching, affirmation reciting, clairvoyant consulting, life coaching, Insta-guru worshipping, all of that? Yep, It’s probably all ensuring that you can’t actually get to what you already know you want to do or be or create. It’s all just telling you on repeat that you are not quite enough….but if you just do this course, or that retreat, or read that book, of repeat that mantra, or follow these secret 7 steps, or spill your guts in front of this seminar audience, then you might just get there. You might then be complete, you might then be ready….and if not, there’s always the premium program, or the invite only masterclass. There's always somewhere to defer your efforts and your better judgement.
Undoubtedly, there are some genuine and brilliant sources of guidance out there....but not many.
Danielle writes from experience, and I'm so glad that she has.
People often ask me where I sell my work and I feel a sudden urge to justify my existence. The expected answer consists of a list of art galleries. But that’s not my answer. I have exhibited in galleries and art shows fairly regularly over the last few years, but I’ve got to say I’ve often done it for all of the wrong reasons. There’s a lot about the experience that has felt in opposition to all of the reasons I do this work - for work rather than for a hobby.
I don’t mean to rule out exhibitions for the rest of my career, and when opportunities present I consider everything, because it’s a bit stoopid not to. What I would like to rule out is being the bunny at the end of the exhibition string. Exhibitions where artists have to pay actual money to be considered for entry (yes, that’s a real thing) are out. Exhibitions where the gallery staff “design” the art are also out (yes that’s a thing too).
Who am I, you may say, to be throwing stinky mud at the fine folks of the art world.
No one is the answer, I’m no one important.
But I am an independent artist and I’m allowed to say that certain aspects of the way art is marketed and sold are absolute bollocks, and as such I’m allowed to do it differently. To my friends operating in gallery world who are blissfully happy and fulfilled, I’m clearly not talking about you here.
So the actual answer to the question of where I sell most of my work, is directly to the people that love it. Most of my work has been sold directly to clients via word of mouth, social media or more commonly through my private online events. What I love about working this way is that I usually get to have an actual conversation with the person who is buying my work. The people who buy my work almost always want to know how I painted it, or where the idea came from, and why. And I’m happy to tell them. It isn’t art-speak rubbish, it’s a real human connection. It's also the reason I seem to do a lot of commissions - because conversations and human connections. It is special to me that someone appreciates what I’ve made so much that they want to part with their money, in exchange for living with the art. That’s quite a significant transaction. I know that people put a lot of thought and consideration into buying something from me, and that’s the way I like it. I want you to buy it only if you actually love it, and it has real meaning or feeling for you. So perhaps you can see that whacking paintings up on a wall among a bunch of other “pictures for sale” feels kind of lacking something.
People are frequently buying art to match the cushions, and it will all be junk when the next series of “The Block” begins and they realise the cushions and the art are no longer trending. It’s hard to know what you love when you are always looking to a tv show or a magazine or to Instagram to find out what it is you are supposed to love at moment, what the cool people love. People are buying art because it's trending, and mistaking that for discernment. I find that a bit hilarious and a bit disturbing.
Knowing what you don’t want in life is sometimes easier than putting your finger on exactly what you do want, and I don't want to be in next summer's garage sale.
The conversations I’ve been having lately revolve around this. What is it you actually want and how can you actually go about creating it?
Some of these chats I’ve been having are with friends who are right in full career change swing and entrepreneurs riding the waves of the journey. Some conversations are with the “you’re so lucky” crowd, some are with curious bystanders.
Here’s what I've learned and what I know. You just keep doing what feels right, what feels like you - not comfort zone you, but deep and true you, most excellent self you. No one else’s 7 step plan was made for me, and at some point you need to stop seeking guru advice and top 10 recommendations and guaranteed quick fixes from outside of yourself, and start answering your own questions. Then my friend, the rubber meets the road, you put your money where you mouth is, you start to walk your talk. Please insert your own favourite “get that shit done” metaphor.
In the past, I have walked away from careers when I’ve gotten in deep enough to see the cogs and ugly machinations at work. I’ve opted out and walked away feeling all noble for not being a part of it anymore (talking to you fashion world). But I can’t walk away from art because I’m not sure what of me would be left. So instead I’m working, and walking my less than traditional path in a career with no promises, and no limits, and of course no manual. I'll be over here doing what feels right and I'll put my fingers in my ears and sing la la la la if I hear the words "If you want to be a real artist you should......"
This is absolutely not an advice column, way too many of those already. But if you know someone who might find this useful, please share it with them via social media, or any other way you like.
Thanks for sticking it out to the end!! Let me know what you think, or if you can relate.
ps. I mentioned private online events (read exhibitions, studio sales, pop-up stores). They are for my mailing list buddies only and if you think you might to be there, then I’d love you to join me with the form below . I have something special to announce in about 48 hrs so don’t delay!!
About a month ago, I attached an end date to what was otherwise a very loose plan. I created a fabulous planner that contained every action that needed to be taken, every call that needed to be made, every item that needed to be purchased and every backup plan that may need to be called upon along the road to this launch day.
At this point I’d like to point out that this particular end date has not yet arrived, and also that this little piece of writing is not part of that well made plan.
My meticulous plan consisted of many sub-deadlines on the way to the big day. A series of little targets, which would ensure my arrow was properly aligned all the way to the big bullseye. A few of these I hit smack in the centre. What a winner, what a professional, what an effective human being. Obviously, some of these targets I missed by a gaping margin…actually yesterday.
At the end of what I’d imagined should have been an ecstatic week of flowing creativity, I found myself a fair way short of where I’d wanted to be, and feeling like a big old dud. This deadline was measured by paintings completed, so for an artist, just I little bit important. To be honest I’d been feeling pretty dud-like all week. Tired, heavy, encumbered, not sick but bleh (pronounced with a scowl and the tongue hanging out). I’d been painting like a bat out of hell and that part was going beautifully. I was productive and flowing while I had a brush in my hand but most other minutes of the day were flat and caveworthy (another story for another day).
And yet here I am, Monday morning. I’m not stressed, and what’s new and unusual is that I’m not beating myself over the head with my unfinished canvases or stabbing myself in the ear with the pointy end of the paint brush. I’m not feeling hopeless, or useless, or stupid. I don’t feel like a cheeseburger, or watching daytime tv. I don’t feel at all like quitting, despite the steep road in front of me. All this feels very unusual, and very powerful too. I feel like getting on with it. I feel like putting my head down and keeping on keeping on. I feel like looking at the calendar and deciding on a realistic timeframe in which to do what needs to be done.
So I didn’t get the work done this week, but it may not have been my lack of productivity, lack of commitment, tendency for distraction, inability to say no to other things, my family that insists on eating dinner every single damned night, or suppliers that deliver things a long time after they’re promised. Maybe the cause was that the deadline was defective right from the outset. Maybe meeting my expectations would have required a lesser quality of work. Worth it for a tick on my planner? No way. Fulfilling and rewarding? Nup. Maybe I just didn’t allow enough time in my perfect plan. Of the many ways there are of looking at it, this is the perspective I’m choosing. It’s kinder, and it lets my mindset remain productive, not destructive. There is no one true perspective. Any perspective becomes your truth if you believe it, buy in. So I’m choosing the self-lovin’ one. Why wouldn’t I? (except I usually don’t)
So today, without judgement, I work. I mother. I wife. I may even friend. I paint, and exercise, and meditate, and eat, and do the school run, and play with the dog, and endure the swimming lessons, and make dinner. Not in that order. I get on with doing all that I need to do. And today I do it with my inner heroine in charge. Onwards and upwards me…and sidewards, and upside downwards. Perspective
ps. Watch this space when I am actually finished. It’s going to be gorgeous.
Long long ago, my mum wandered into the studio and saw something she liked. That wouldn't seem so unusual, she is my mum after all. One may assume that being her daughter, she loves everything I do, but she doesn't.
Nor would anyone, surely.
But on this particular day long ago, she did. The two paintings she liked, and wanted, were just little experiments that had gone awry (as experiments happily can). They were paintings of the type that lean, face to the wall, in hiding, waiting to be painted over some day with the next experimental whim. Nothing that I even intended finishing, let alone allowing them onto someone else'e wall with my name squiggled into the corner. But Mum wanted them, and I said "Mmm maybe, ok, they're not finished, I need to just... when they' re done, I don't know, maybe next year?"
I meant No way. Never. How embarrassment.
A couple of house moves ago they were packed into boxes and somehow ended up in my parent's garage. Mum, being mum, unpacks boxes and found them, and reminded me of my half-semi-sort of promise to finish them for her. I entered her garage the next time I visited, with dread. I thought I was rid of those things. I had the same level of enthusiasm as you might have re-heating last Wednesday's dinner, knowing it wasn't even that good when it was fresh.
But fresh eyes are beautiful things. I'd forgotten what the failed experiment was meant to be and now I could see the colours and the shapes. I could see movement, and delicate plays between the spaces. I couldn't see any of this before of course, because I was busy searching for my amazing, miraculous experiment outcome, which wasn't there.
So the happy ending to this story is that I joyfully finished the paintings and they became something new. They are on Mum's wall now, and she loves them - she always did. She didn't know or care what I was trying to achieve with them in the first instance. She saw at the beginning what I couldn't. These once rejected beauties have now inspired a new little series that I'm working on right now. And I'm in artistic bliss. The other part to this happy ending is that I've changed my attitude to all of those old or unfinished paintings that lean, face to the wall, in my studio. Once libraries of embarrassment, shame, and self-torment, they are now paintings-in-waiting. Maybe started too soon, or ended prematurely, they now wait for my fresh eyes to catch up and see them again, minus their unmet expectations.
They're waiting for my mum. Still my best customer.
Habits are so hot right now aren’t they. Experts everywhere are talking about habits. How to break them, how to make them, wellness habits, business habits, parenting habits, habits to make you rich, and habits to help you sleep. Luckily for you, I’m rubbish at habits. Not as rubbish as I used to be, but still rubbish. Being bad at habits and therefore routine, you might assume that I’m all fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, spontaneous, floating along wherever the breeze may blow. I’m not that either, at all. I suppose I’m somewhere in the middle, like most people, probably like you. I’d like to be better though, and I think life could run more smoothly, just like the podcasts tell me, with a few tweaks here and there. I’m not going to give you any advice, but here’s the tip of the iceberg of changes I’d like to make. I’d love you to add your three in the comments below.
One to Break
Staying up late for no good reason. There are some good reasons to stay up late, but not many and they’re not at my house. Staying up late has definitely become a habit. When I go to bed late, I wake up late, I wake up tired, and I can’t be bothered starting the day in the way I’d like to - in a way that sets me up well for the rest of the day. Days are precious and like everyone else, I have a lot going on in life. Now more than ever I need to give myself the best chance of having a decent day, and it seems to start the night before. When I’m home, I’m going to bed by 10pm.
One to Make
Clean my brushes completely, immediately. I’m good at working right up until the last second and sticking my brushes in a glass of water when the clock strikes “school pickup”. What I’m terrible at is coming back to them in a timely fashion and finishing the clean up job. I’m ashamed to say that my beautiful, treasured, expensive paint brushes can sometimes stay in that glass of water for a couple of days. Bad artist, bad artist!! I must make a new habit of cleaning up completely, immediately. I am not silly enough to think I can achieve this in any other room of the house, but I’m going to do it in the studio. If I’m late for school pickup, you’ll know why.
One to Keep
Drawing every day. Every day. I started doing this a few years ago, and at first I was a little shaky. Sometimes I didn’t feel like drawing and sometimes I didn't know what to draw. Sometimes I didn’t have my proper drawing tools, the right sketchbook and my good pencil or pen. So sometimes I didn’t do it. I didn’t feel like I was “good enough” at it. But guess what? There’s no minimum standard required. Now drawing in the sand is enough, so is half a crayon on the back of an envelope. Daily drawing makes you an opportunist, a maverick, an adventurer. Now that I draw every day, I don’t get attached to the outcome and am less critical not just of my drawing but of everything.
I’d love to know what has worked for you, be it health, wealth, work, parenting, or just the general management of your crazy life. Add your breaker, maker and keeper in the comments below.
Yesterday my family departed for the last time, from a special little piece of the earth we’ve been blessed to call our own. This little piece of land has changed us all forever.
I confess that I enjoy procrasti-searching on real estate websites. It’s so easy to find yourself falling into real estate hypothetical la la land. It’s one of my favourite ways to avoid folding the washing or cleaning the bath. (I have many great strategies for this actually, but that’s another story.) Anyway, one fine clothes-pile-laden evening, I found a ripper. I’d been searching for pretty land in pretty places, but not because we were interested in buying. I was searching for fuel to feed the yogi, artist, earth mumma, nature lover, beautiful-thing-maker, creator-of-something-out-of-nothing show reel that I play in my head when I need direction and inspiration.
The photos of this property were oh so pretty, but that’s not unusual for real estate sites. We’ve walked through enough properties to know that you can’t expect an actual property to match its super-lens, digitally-enhanced marketing photos. We booked an inspection partly because the photos were incredible, but also because this property was just out of Marysville - a town that already had our hearts from many years prior, and also a town that maybe needed our love. We hadn’t visited since the Black Saturday bushfires, and a day trip felt overdue. We decided to arrange to visit this property just to see if the pictures were real. They were not just real, they barely did justice to the beauty and the magic, and the vastness, and the wildness. The scars were deep and still pretty fresh, but this land had us at “We’re here”. We were like a corny tv commercial. My husband and I walked in awe, glassy eyed around the land as the children squealed and ran and skipped from one new discovery to the next. They ran their little hands over the charred tree trunks and forged pathways through bushes that scratched their skin and they didn’t even notice. Big daughter hugged trees while little one collected “crystals”. As an artist, my mind was wild with possibilities, ideas, projects, potential. This fourteen acres of raw, wild bushland with a tragic past became ours 6 months later.
This is not the first time or the last time that a procrasti-search has ended in a purchase, but this was especially unexpected and could be filed under “Acts of Great Intent and Enormous Optimism”.
Should we name it? Suggestions from the back seat came fast “Friends Road!” from the older blue-sky girl. “Long-time-to!” from the little one who doesn’t like winding roads. “The Beech” the front seat agreed, still in awe of the ancient Beech Myrtles we’d wandered through on the last visit. We called it all of these things, and more.
As we spent time there over the years that followed, we made big plans and dreamed beautiful dreams of what this place could become. Our children made markets and cafes from sticks, rocks and found rusty things. They made billy teas from the plants they found and learned to recognise, and made perfume from whatever was around that particular season. They made a skink hospital. We met locals. We made friendships we intend to keep. We learned so much about our land. Camping with a tent, and no running water or power, we had to. We did endless research into the history of the land and the vegetation of the area. We found Indigenous land management philosophies that were worlds away from what our trusted authorities prescribe. No surprises there. We did our best to give back to the land what it needed, and what it once had, but we also stood still a lot and watched nature’s recovery processes taking place. All this, while every time we visited eagles soared above, watching us too. We didn’t do everything we’d planned, not even close.
Now we are handing it on to the next custodians and I know they’ll have big plans and dreams like we did - it’s that kind of place. We hope they spend many happy years watching and learning and growing as they too become a part of this special land.
So how has it changed us all forever? How did Marysville make us? I don’t yet know exactly what the special purpose of this whole exercise was in our lives. Along with the joy and adventure, there was also some stress, backache, and a bicycle cog through a little big toe. I do know though, that I will look back on all of this one day and see that it was transformative for all of us, and maybe I’ll even find the words to describe it. It’s not so obvious in the present moment to see the effects of any such journey but in the rear view mirror of life I’m sure it will be clear.
If not, that was some very expensive camping.
See you soon Marysville xo
I haven’t really done much. I’ve not done mountains of things. That’s why I’m perfectly qualified to write this piece about getting things done.
If you wanted to lose 10kg (by the way, you don’t need to), would you go and ask the metabolically-gifted, naturally and effortlessly reed-thin friend who is always complaining about the problems associated with not being able to fill out the back of her jeans? (Apparently these problems are real, don’t scoff) Or do you go to your other person you know, who has battled a bit with their health. Your friend who has made lots of attempts, and almost as many failures, but seems to be thriving with vibrant health and happiness right now will be a far greater source of wisdom. (Youdontneedtolose10kgsyoudon’tneedtolose10kgsyoudontneedtolose10kgs)
So that’s where I come in. I’ve not done lots of things and I have failed so many times in so many ways. But there are somethings I have done. Allow me to be your guru!!
Here’s how you do stuff.
1. Power Up
In order to get to the end of these 4.5 steps, you’ll need a some juice, some fuel. This is kind of like packing your bags for a holiday, gathering ingredients for a recipe, or packing the entire contents of your house into a nappy bag (yes, memories permanently burned in). Preparation is everything and you need to prepare your mind.
I power up with inspiration that will convince me that anything really is possible, I am an amazing human being, and that the universe is on my side. Podcasts, books, TedTalks, meditation, time spent with world-conquering friends. Any or all of these are great at getting your mind where it needs to be before you begin, and you must continue engaging in these mind-feeding activities. Forever.
There comes a time when you have to actually start doing your thing, whatever that is. At this point, you must tell someone that you have started and what your end game is. Not your dog. Tell your world-conquering friends, tell your cheer squad. Don’t have any world-conquering friends or a cheer squad? Tell someone who does stuff. It’s likely that at some point you’ll tell someone that will respond with something less than encouragement. When this happens, grab a permanent black marker and write “DON'T TELL ME BIG STUFF. MY MIND IS TEENY WEENY.” across their forehead. This will protect you or someone else from making the same mistake in the future. Return to Step 1 and re-fuel. Once you have told the right person, the person who will ask you how it’s going next time they see you, you will feel a little nervous buzzing feeling. That's just the cogs of good action starting to turn. Now it’s time to gather your resources, make list of what needs to be done, and in what order, and place a goal date beside each. And now do it.
I know you can't quite afford it yet, and you don't have all of the necessary expertise, and the timing isn't right, but just start anyway.
3. Have a Breakdown
You are going to have an emotional breakdown of some kind. Whether your thing is building a veggie garden, tracing your ancestry back to the beginning of time, getting a book published, or turning your little passion project into a multi-million dollar enterprise, you are going to have a breakdown or three.
What is important to realise is that it is just another step in the process. An important step. It’s not the end. It’s resilience-building. Have your breakdown, get a haircut, move on to the next stage. Perhaps you need to re-visit Step 1. You won’t have a cheer squad celebrating every time you cross an item off your to-do list. It will be lonely and tedious at times and you’ll find lots of excellent reasons to abandon ship. For goodness sake keep going. Have your breakdown, and then keep going.
I have two words for you. Self sabotage.
I know the things you do to that keep you small and safe. You say No to little opportunities because you’re too busy, not experienced enough, have other responsibilities. You refuse offers of help because you don’t want to inconvenience anyone, and you don’t put your hand up for help when you know you need it. You let due dates slide, because then you’ve missed out and that lets you off the hook. You listen to the naysayers on repeat in your mind, and you call them “voices of reason”. I’ve done them all, I’ve resigned from awesome jobs, and turned down perfect opportunities because I was scared of failure, and also scared of possible success and the unfamiliar territory that success may land me in.
I was in the audience for Missy Higgins’ first keynote speech where she spoke about her creative life and creative process. She was an amazing speaker, and had a great story to tell. Her advice for getting stuff done was “Don’t take any shit from yourself”. Call yourself on your own crap, and get it done. Keep going and don’t stop until it’s finished. UNTIL IT’S FINISHED.
The extra half a step accounts for the fact the you must keep returning to Step 1. Tell someone you’re starting, return to step one. Have a breakdown, return to step 1. Rescue yourself from self-sabotage, return to step 1. Finish you thing completely, return to step 1. There are so many resources out there
In the comments below, tell me how you do stuff. How do you Power Up? and tell me I'm not alone in my self-sabotaging ways....?
This time last year, I created this website!! Gosh I tussled with whether or not it was the right time, was I ready, does it align with my heart's true desires, and what about my root chakra?! Oh the procrastination, the excuses, the self talk. Anyway, in a moment of clarity or self-butt-kicking, I made it.
The first blog post I shared here was a personal Taking Stock post inspired, no copied from Pip Lincolne's Meet me at Mike's blog.
It's been a year now, so to celebrate the fact that I made this thing in the first place, and also the fact that I haven't yet pulled it down mid artistic perfectionism rage, I thought I'd do it again. It's part milestone-marking, part emotional therapy. You may want to go back and read the last one if you are interested in studying the progress/regress of my mental space.
I'd love to read your version of taking stock. Choose five categories and add yours in the comments.
Here it is, one year on.
Making : The jackpot green smoothie recipe that my vegophobe child loves. Lots of spinach, lots of blueberries, a little spirulina, a dessert spoon of RAW protein powder, a sprinkle of bee pollen, a little maple syrup, and enough water to blend to favourite consistency. She can't get enough of it.
Drinking : Liquorice tea. The pack says don't consume in excessive amounts. I don't know how much that is, but I think I'm giving it a nudge.
Reading: John Olsen, an artists life by Darleen Bungey. Also a Kurt Vonnergut number for my book club, but that one isn't going so well for me.
Wanting: Spring, that is all.
Looking: Westernport Bay. I can see a lot of it from my kitchen and lounge and if I counted the minutes I spend looking out there, I'd arrest myself for crimes against productivity. But I'm not going to count them.
Playing: Lego. Even when the kids aren't around. I'm hoping my fingers stay in good shape so that I can spend my geriatric years doing Lego.
Deciding: Whether to go to the footy on Friday night or not.
Wishing: That the political life attracted a higher calibre of person.
Enjoying: Living just footsteps from the beach. Laziness + inspiration.
Waiting: For a parcel or three in the mail. Weekend binge.
Liking: Celery. Obviously with peanut butter because they are just meant for each other.
Wondering: What I'll do next.
Loving: The salty seaweed smell every time I arrive home.
Pondering: Did my husband actually say the words this morning "When can we go shopping?" Um....WHAT?!
Considering: A MacBook Pro
Watching: Anything that involves Waleed Ali speaking his mind. Not The Batchelor.
Hoping: I can finish this before school assembly.
Marvelling: At someone's ability to keep their head under tantrum-worthy conditions, and come out sailing.
Needing: Less approval these days.
Smelling: Daffodils and jonquils that my gorgeous husband picked and brought home from his weekend camp. Awww.
Wearing: Things that are not as dirty as the other things.
Following: Bridget Beth Collins, also known as Flora.Forager on Instagram. My gosh she spends her days well.
Noticing: The shifting seasons, both outside and inside me.
Knowing: That I’m the luckiest person I know. Still.
Thinking: That this probably shouldn't take as long to complete as it is. But that's taking stock isn't it. You're meant to slow down, reflect, ponder and wonder and slowly move on will a new clearer perspective of where you are.
Feeling: I little bit proud. Me a few years ago would not even have considered holding a private studio sale. Too scary.
Admiring: My daughters.
Sorting: Nothing. Nothing last year, still nothing this year.
Buying: As little as possible, especially in the fluffy-toy-cat-with-colourful-tail genre, despite my youngest's admirable campaign. Obviously the weekend splurge doesn't count.
Getting: My lunch, which looks much more like breakfast.
Bookmarking: Brain Pickings on Facebook! I can't get enough of Maria Popovas interestingness and neither it seems, can 3.6 million others. I might be a late comer to this party....
Disliking: My dog losing every single ball down the same hole in the deck. Under the house there is a bonanza of colourful balls waiting to be discovered by a critter smaller than him. Thought kelpies were smart...?
Opening: My eyes a little earlier, a little easier thanks to the darling sun and her early rising ways. It is inhumane to require people to wake up in the dark.
Coveting: A MacBook Pro
Helping: My dog to learn that balls dropped down holes do not come back.
Hearing: Clare Bowditch's sweet encouragement in "The Winter I Chose Happiness". She speaks in a language I really understand.
Learning: That I can go my own way, and that there is no other.
Long, long ago in a life I can hardly remember, I worked in the fashion industry. Designer, Fashion Buyer and Visual Merchandiser were all badges I once proudly wore. When someone asked me what I did, I was very happy be able to tell them something that seemed cool, creative and interesting. (Actually back in those days, no one knew what a Visual Merchandiser was.) I was bored, frustrated and unstimulated in these jobs, but I felt compensated by the “cool” factor. I thought that creative sounding careers were just that – careers that sound creative. I didn’t know anyone who was actually satisfied in their creative career. I was creatively numb, but I felt safe and accepted. My concept for the spring store layout and window display was approved by my boss before it was rolled out to 100 stores. My men’s knitwear range was discussed and tweaked and fine tuned by a team of people who knew their stuff before 1000s of units were shipped from faraway lands and distributed around the country. I confidently showed the product of my labour, it fit the brief, and everyone smiled. I’m not saying that the rag trade is all easy, but at that time for me, I was in a comfort zone with padded walls. I couldn’t lose.
These days I’ve swapped the safety, security and straight-jacket of those jobs, for the Tarzan swing of independent art (let’s be real – I swapped it for full-time motherhood and I wedge art into the spaces). I don’t have a senior colleague to run things past before I make a big move, there is no team to collaborate with on the next collection, no manual to consult over how things should be done.
There are a million different ways to work as an artist. My way right now is as a one-girl-band. I leap from assured self-confidence, sometimes swinging all the way across to trembling fear, often swaying somewhere in the middle known as vulnerability.
We hear from all corners lately that vulnerability is powerful, important, and the key to human connection. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk articulates this beautifully and if you haven’t heard it I highly recommend you do. My paintings are not finished until I am supremely happy with them, and once I’ve reach that point it I don’t really mind what anyone else’s reaction to them is because I’ve already spent hours and hours listening to my own inner critic and cheer squad. I’ve already heard it all, good and bad. That process is my work, and I love it.
One of my favourite quotes is from American artist Georgia O’Keefe who said in regards to her work:
“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free”.
I really relate to this now, but years ago....not so much.
I used to be very reluctant to show my work to anyone in case they didn’t like it. I knew they wouldn’t say so, but I’d “just know” they didn’t like it and that would be awful. I was so reluctant that I would hide pieces when people came over. If no one thought badly of my work then there was still a chance that I was a talented artist with a bright future right? I know it sounds ridiculous now, and I a teeny bit embarrassed writing it here (vulnerability right?). In reality, my efforts to avoid certain judgement, shame, disappointment and embarrassment, were also ensuring I never experienced the joy, satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, and deep pleasure of embracing the truth of who I am and what I do. In avoiding the downsides, I was ripping myself off of the upsides and not just in my art, but in everything. The risk of showing who I truly was, was so great to me then, because if I failed at being me, then what else was there?
Clearly, the risk of not showing up as myself was so much greater.
I don’t expect everyone to rave about my work, nor to even mildly like it. When I exhibit new paintings, I’ve already had the tussle for hours on end in creating it, and enjoyed every minute of the tussle because it’s me. The idea was me, the painting is me, the imperfections are me. It’s my expression of who I was and what I felt during those hours. Each time I exhibit a painting, or snap a page of my sketchbook for Instagram, or spill my guts in a blog I'm reminded that now I get to be me. I’m not a fashion puppet anymore (no offense). There a little celebration going on inside every time, and it has nothing to do with how many “likes” I got. This is me being completely me, and the more me I am, the better I feel, the better I paint, the better I write, parent, connect, love. I feel vulnerable for sure, and occasionally it’s excruciating but it doesn't stop me from allowing people to see me, not anymore.
The fact is, we all spend our lives swinging on the rope of vulnerability. Being open to possibility means open to every possibility and if you are not willing to be vulnerable to the feelings you don’t want (fear, shame, embarrassment, disappointment) then you also won’t be there for the elation, excitement, the bliss. The pendulum (and the Tarzan swing) swings both left and right, or not at all.
I once lamented that I 'd never be able to paint or draw like the artists I admired. But I've realised that they also can't paint or draw like me. That's the whole point! We don't expect to be "as good as" someone else, just as good as we can be every time we apply ourselves to the practise.
I don’t expect to ever make a painting that will be loved and celebrated by all; in fact I don’t think anyone ever has.
This has been a few months coming, but I can wait no longer, nor should you have to.
The little critter you see below is the Sand Bubbler Crab, and I met him and his squillion relatives late last year on a family holiday up north, way north.
I have much to say about this encounter and I'm not sure that I'll get it all out today, so might be just a meet and greet.
It wasn't the crabs we encountered first but, but the work of the crabs. We had spent most of our first day travelling and taking care of logistics, such as making sure we had enough tropical produce and watercolour paper for the week we'd spend deep in the Daintree Rainforest. On day two, we were ready to expel any remnant funk of our long Peninsula winter and to immerse ourselves in sweet tropical happiness.
After an early morning session on the deck, and second stop is obviously the beach, and here is where the wonder and amazement began.
As we walked on the the beach, it was clearly low tide and our isolation was apparent. It was one of those beaches where you think there's a chance you might be the first person to step onto it - except that the was a stick tied to a rope, tied to a tree, so the discovery wasn't ours but at least the'd left us a swing. Once I'd tested out the swing and then been kicked off by my littl'ns, I noticed an uneven texture to the sand right across the whole beach. We had all day, actually we had all week, so I went for a little wander. I cannot think of a word that adequately conveys my delight at discovering what this "texture" on the sand was. Part thrill, part enchantment, part David Attenborough curiosity. I think it was the thrill component (certainly high pitched) that came out of my mouth as I insisted everyone else stop what they're doing and get their eyes to this magic right now!!!!
My family were suitably impressed which meant that I didn't need to spend the following days trying to put my awe into words for them. They got it. At this point we still didn't know how these tiny pearls of sand came to be, and we had no mobile coverage for googling. There weren't even any locals to ask for a few days.
Of the week we spent in the Daintree, not a day went by that I didn't gaze into these mini creations and marvel. Marvel at their number, their precision, the incredible shapes they were laid in and the sheer work ethic of the thing that put them there. Wandering along the beach at Cape Tribulation a few days later we saw our first Sand Bubbler Crab. The teeniest little creatures, only visible when they moved, cover the beaches in these little spheres every low tide. Watch the vid up top for an explanation from Sir Attenborough himself.
What has this holiday brag got to do with drawing and painting and whatever else it is artists do? Well everything now. My creative life is now divided clearly into the Pre-Bubbler Crab period and now the Post-Bubbler period. Crouching down, studying the little gems in their arrangements I first thought "Wow, Mother Nature must be pissing her pants at the slop that us two-legged hacks call art". Compared to this, how was anything I created going to be a thing of "beauty".
A few days later, I changed my attitude. There was a reason I was so taken with this. A reason why I couldn't get enough. People are drawn to different things at different times. Not everyone was as obsessed with these forms on the beach as I was. (Equally, I was not as "into" the roadhouse-style chicken and chips on offer as some others were.) Some people are moved by birds in formation, others by the drama of a thunderstorm. I think that marvels of nature like this are placed on the earth for the joy and inspiration of those who "see" them. They challenge us to look closer, sit more quietly, for longer, and see what happens, see what's possible.
Rather than laughing at me, I think Mother Nature has issued me a challenge. Sand Bubbler crabs create from instinct, from their source, from their truth. They're not trying to out do each other, or or imitate, or impress. They get up out of their burrows and do what they do because that's what they do and the rhythm of the turning tide is their deadline. That I happen to stand around, take notice and indeed be moved by the results of their actions is irrelevant. They're doing it whether I'm there gushing or not.
The challenge afoot is for me to do the same. To work and create from my truest, deepest me. To work on, regardless of the opinions of those around me good or bad. And to let myself be guided by the natural rhythms that are around me.
In essence - get out of my own way and let the art emerge.
Last week I wrote about the sweet and sometimes spiky meandering path I’ve walked over the past decade or so to arrive at the little clearing I’m at now – the clearing where the big scary monster-trees have all taken three steps back, and settled into their armchairs where they smile, patiently watching the slow-bubbling potential before them, and ready to assist. It’s quite Lord of the Rings huh. If you haven’t read last week’s instalment, then maybe go read that first HERE. What I was planning to write last week quickly turned into something else, so I’m back today to try again.
Yoga has become so much a part of me now that it’s less a practice I “do”, and more a skin I live in. And if I’m likening it to skin, then I admit that occasionally it’s clear and peachy smooth like a newborn babe (but not my eczema-ish babes), but mostly my “yoga skin” is a little blemished and scarred. Imperfect. My asana practice (physical poses) will always be important because I enjoy feeling strong and straight and light, but my yoga these days is more off the mat than on.
It’s some of the lesser taught aspects of yoga that now as an artist, I practise constantly. You may have heard the Yamas and Niyamas mentioned in your yoga class, but probably not. They are just as important to yoga as Downward Dog or Warrior pose; actually I think they are more important. If you are after a full explanation of the Yamas and Niyamas then you'll find it HERE. In short, they are guiding principles for how we may live our lives in a way that is optimal for mind, body and spirit. In loose terms the yamas and niyamas discuss things such as non-stealing, non-violence, contentment, and perseverance. Common sense, but not very common.
These days, I apply Ahimsa (non-violence) to my inner critic. An inner verbal bashing is not helpful to my work today, and it won’t be tomorrow either. Harsh words have an energy that hangs around, a kind of stink. Ahimsa doesn’t suppress violence, be it in words or actions, it extends kindness and love. And my once brutal inner critic can’t get a word in.
I apply Saucha (Purity/Cleanliness) to myself and my space. To tidy up my studio from time to time and a quick shower each morning is just basic maintenance right, but Saucha is not quite so “do a job-tick a box” as that. I do de-clutter the studio at least weekly, but for me Saucha is more internal. It’s clearing out the cobwebs in my head as well as the studio ceiling. It’s putting good, clean, pure things into my body (most of the time), because I know that’s how good things flow out, for me. It’s indoor plants. Its drinking enough water to make up for the coffee and putting my pencil sharpenings in the bin.
And then there’s Tapas. Not the small morsels of chorizo-spiked deliciousness. Tapas is the generating of heat, the concentrated practise, the perseverance. In other words, it’s getting the damned work done. Just getting on with it. No excuses, no whinging, just getting on with it. Tapas is rolling out your mat and getting started even though you don’t really feel like it and you probably haven’t got time. Tapas is picking up the pencil/brush/camera, whether inspiration has rained upon you today or not. Tapas is the opposite of procrastination.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the things yoga has taught me that make me a better artist. Not better than another artist, just a better artist than I otherwise may be. But honestly, I don’t think I’d be doing this at all, this that I’ve always dreamed of. Thanks yoga. You’re awesome.