As I was ramping up to finish my BFA, I was having a lot of anxiety about whether I had made the right choice to invest so much time and energy into something that, at the time, felt very self-indulgent. I remember one particular phone conversation that I had with a friend around that time, probably fuelled by too many cups of Café X’s light roast coffee (I had undiagnosed iron deficiency and was constantly tired). I don’t remember which philosophical theories that I was obsessed with at the time but I do remember that I was speaking so quickly that she couldn’t get a word in edgewise and even though I could hear her quickly losing interest, I couldn’t stop my verbal masturbation. She was very kind and patient with me, which I will always be grateful for. I had made a lot of big decisions that year, and as often happens when one has finally MADE THE DECISION, I immediately started doubting them all. A lot of them had to do with my personal life, and as it would have been too painful to express my doubt in those decisions, I projected all of my self-doubt onto my art.
I think the main sticking point was my idea that all the time, energy and money that myself and others had invested in my craft, could have been devoted to helping other people more directly with basic needs like food, shelter and emotional support. I still believe that I’m not doing enough in those respects. I spent a lot of time online, researching the reasons that drive other people’s belief that being an artist isn’t selfish. I can’t say that I found one reason that convinced me that it was ok. Ultimately, my desperation to find that justification helped me find my reason: I love it. I could make a list of all of the reasons why I love it, but none of those reasons on their own is The Reason. The reason is that I love it, and I believe that doing this thing that I love, that I have always loved, keeps me connected to myself and makes me a better person.
When I’m regularly making art, or even regularly thinking about making art I’m: happier, more generous and open, more compassionate, more patient and more self-confident. The treasure is that I don’t have to force these things, they come naturally when I allow myself the time to do what I love.
I am very privileged to have been raised by people who always encouraged me to follow my heart, even or especially when it runs counter to the mainstream. I am also privileged that we had enough extra income to always have art supplies around the house. The primary school that I went to regularly had art teachers come in to teach special skills like watercolour painting. I don’t remember ever being discouraged or looked down upon by my peers or teachers for my interest in art. In fact, art was a way that I connected with my classmates (something that I often had trouble with growing up). I remember feeling proud when multiple people in my fifth or sixth grade class asked me to draw portraits of them. I am also very, very lucky that my great aunt was able to help me financially to attend university. I want to acknowledge all of these things here because many people haven’t had the same support that I have. Even having all of this, it is still a difficult thing to commit to trying to make a living in the arts. That’s where these next people come in…
If and when you decide to commit to your art, whether it be painting, drawing, writing, dancing, making music, cooking, baking, telling jokes, photography, taxidermy, videography etc., I highly recommend that you get to know the work of the following people.
Famous for: The Happiness Project, the Happier Podcast and The Four Tendencies
Why I love her: Listening to her podcast that she created with her sister, Liz Craft, taught me that changing your daily habits changes your life. The podcast espouses the idea that we are responsible for a certain percentage of our own happiness (that which lies outside of genetics and events beyond our control). Each episode includes a tip for a way to be a little happier in your day to day life.
None of these is life-changing on their own, but the theme that really got through to me was that we make so many small choices within the scope of a day, many of which we’ve never even thought about. They teach you to think about the daily things that make you (they place a lot of emphasis on self-knowledge here) happy and try to include more of them in your life, instead of waiting around and hoping to win the happiness lottery.
Famous for: Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic
Why I love her: She validates my need for financial security. In her book, Big Magic, she talks about the fact that she kept her “day job” up until Eat, Pray, Love became a success, even though she had already published 3 successful books. She says the reason that she did this is because she didn’t want to place the pressure of her basic needs being met onto her writing and make herself miserable in the process.
She writes a lot about taking the pressure off of writing; this also comes into play when she writes about the ancient Roman concept of the genius. The genius here is not a person, but something a person has if she is lucky. An external genius takes all the credit and all of the blame for whether your work turns out well or not, meaning that the pressure is off of the artist. Gilbert may have a somewhat whimsical belief system as to where creativity comes from, but she is very grounded when it comes to talking about the hard work that actually sitting down to make something entails. She writes a lot about dedication, persistence, and the fact that “done is better than perfect.”
Famous for: Gilmore Girls, Talking as Fast as I Can
Why I love her: I grew up watching Gilmore Girls with my mother and sister, and my sister bought me her second book as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. I was excited to read it for two reasons, the first being nostalgia for Gilmore Girls, the second being that I love to read stories about how people who work in creative fields got to where they are. I was really surprised by this book. I love that she wrote it in her authentic voice because reading it feels like you are having a conversation with her. I also love how honest she was about her struggle to find the time and motivation to stay committed to her writing. She even includes the writing strategy she uses in the pages. Though it is a strategy for writing, I found it very easy to apply to my own practice of painting.
Basically, the idea is that the day before you plan to work on a project, you decide how many hours you want to work on it. The day of, you set a kitchen timer for an hour and sit down to work. If you aren’t inspired to work on your project, you write in your journal instead. The main rule is that you keep the appointment that you made with yourself the day before. Each time an hour passes, you take a short break before the next. If an hour is too long to start out with, you don’t try to catch up the next day, instead you schedule a shorter appointment. The idea here is that big things are achieved in small steps over an extended period of time. I love the inspiration behind breaking a big thing down into smaller chunks and carving out space to work on meaningful projects in the middle of your normal busy schedule. (Check out the Pomodoro Technique as well.)
Famous for: her illustrations, her book Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist
Why I love her: I very luckily found her book, Art, Inc. in a used bookstore a year or two ago and have been gradually working my way through it. I have found it very useful as a sort of manual or handbook to building my own small creative business. I haven’t read through the whole thing yet because I am following along with the steps as I go. I also recently discovered her videos on CreativeLive.com and have fallen in love with the way that she demystifies the process of building a career as an artist. I am eternally grateful to her for her generosity in sharing her work tips and tricks. My life has improved because of my introduction to her workflow organization techniques.
In the past I have tended to carry a pretty heavy cognitive load in terms of trying to remember what needs to be done for which art projects and when, on top of staying organized at work. I had already adopted the practice of keeping Master & Daily to-do lists and time-blocking in my digital calendar, but this workflow chart was the missing piece of the puzzle. In the past two weeks since adopting this method of working, I have been able to notice a significant drop in my daily anxiety and an increase in the amount of work I am able to finish. The other thing that I love about Lisa’s writing is that she talks about the fact that she is now trying to work less so that she can enjoy life more. I think that is something that is often missing in the “creative entrepreneur” discourse. Just because you are working at something that you love doesn’t mean that it isn’t work. We all need to mind that work-life balance if we want to stay healthy and happy.
What about you? Who are your creative mentors or inspirations? I’m always looking for new things to read.
I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and a relaxing weekend!