I’m happy to say that April seemed to pass by at a normal pace for me; it didn’t drag but it also didn’t fly by and disappear into the Void, leaving me pondering relativity and the fleetness of life on Earth. There are two weeks until Tidewater Comicon, where I’ll be tabling with my sister Rebekah under our shared con-table name: Becca1 &Bekah2.
I am also going to be at the Riverview Village Days Farmer’s Market with my weird, cute, colorful stuff starting May 20. On top of that, I’ve got a bunch of other life altering experiences (hopefully) coming down the pipe this week and beyond as well. So, stay tuned!
Alright, so today, I would like to start talking about process. “Process” is a word that flies around in just about every kind of practice or experience, it seems. An age-old adage is, “Trust the process.” But what does that even mean? Here’s a little background on me, and how trusting the process came to have deep meaning for me and grew to be central to my practice in art and life (same thing!)
I do want to eventually talk about college art programs, especially the undergraduate art department environment, but I think those are deep waters that will have to be explored methodically over time, so I just want to say that my personal undergrad art experience was about 75% fear and competition-based. So I found myself in a place where I could no longer trust myself, or value my creativity. Graduate school is a whole other can of worms, that I will also dissect over time, and that was a crossroads experience for me where I had to choose if I wanted to do things my way or not. I think you might know what I chose.
Anyway, I struggled with a harsh inner critic. Let’s meet the inner critic briefly. He or she is usually an art snob and an expert. This critic barges into your mind and throws open your sketchbook and points out how bad your drawings are and tells you all about how much better other people are. It looks at your paintings and tears them to shreds, using words like “derivative,” “flat,” “bad technique,” “uninspired.” This critic undermines all trust and enjoyment of the act of making art. It got so bad for me that I honestly didn’t enjoy painting anymore and was asking myself if I had made some sort of egotistical mistake, thinking I was good enough to be an artist. I even started to wonder if I actually even liked making art anymore. So what was the problem? I was obsessed with the final product, the ultimate outcome. I wanted to control every aspect of the process, and I had this idea in my mind of what the perfect, ideal piece SHOULD look like. Every single brushstroke, pencil line, color choice, was carrying the burden of needing to be exactly “right,” so as to ultimately produce a masterpiece.
The pressure! And frankly, this sucked. No one is perfect. And making art is NOT about that single, perfectly executed piece. Everyone has a different style and way of viewing their work, and purpose for making it, but for me, when the joy of making the piece, the process, was removed, the whole thing felt dead, pointless, a miserable chore.
Part of my problem was being “over trained.” You may hear artists saying this, and it can sound obnoxious, like a humble brag for being just *too good* at what they do. But for me, being over trained meant every single decision I made was based on someone else’s ideal art technique. I SHOULD paint with oils because of the great masters, the warmth, the lifelike quality, the masterful tradition. Or maybe I SHOULD only draw in a classical, realistic style because realism has value and shows skill. Maybe I SHOULD NOT use watercolor because my painting professor didn’t consider it a real painting skill. And maybe I SHOULD NOT be inspired by the anime style and thus SHOULD manipulate and change my way of drawing because of stigma against that kind of “non art.” The point is, my instincts for my own likes and passions and enjoyment of artmaking were blunted and pruned because there was this abstract idea that there was a “right” and a “wrong” way to create.
What a burden. It wore deep down into my soul, and I was tired by it and tired of it. I knew I didn’t want to feel tethered to arbitrary external rules about art making anymore. My inner critic had become a monstrous amalgamation of toxic undergrad and grad school personalities, haranguing everything I did.
Everyone has a different way they can escape something like this, the burden of criticism and judgment from inside and out. For me, it came down to rejecting every medium I had ever felt pressure from. I turned to watercolor. I never took a class in it. Illustrators and comic artists, some of the types of arts that my colleges didn’t consider “Fine” enough art, use watercolor beautifully, and I felt like I needed to try something completely different if I was going to get back in touch with my own instincts. And WOW. I fell in love. Completely absent were the voices telling me how I “should” work. Instead was this amazing sensation of freedom. The flow and blending of the paint felt so real, like magic, like pure intuition coming from inside me onto the paper. I began to find meditation within repeated motifs, within loosening my grip on control. In watercolor I found a dance between precision and allowance.
During this time period, I found the book Brave Intuitive Painting by Flora Bowley, and I discovered yoga. These two events were absolutely pivotal to the beginning of my journey towards understanding that trusting the process is about personal exploration, and true trust in oneself, not what anyone else tells you, not about some perception of rules or idealism.
Flora Bowley’s book explores painting as part of a full mind-body-spirit connection. It talks in depth about gently allowing yourself the freedom to create; about non-judgment and experiencing your paintings and feelings about them as they happen, and not trying to control the outcome. I can’t recommend this book enough and want to write a post just about my experience with that book, and the sequel, Creative Revolution, soon.
Yoga came into my life because I was struggling with anxiety. Generalized anxiety is a tricky thing because it is rarely related to external cues or triggers. It latches onto anything it can to mutate your worldview into one of fear and discomfort. As a naturally anxious person, my issues with artmaking became even worse. It’s well known that physical activity can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, and I read something somewhere about yoga being good for that as well. I’d been interested in eastern philosophy and meditation since I was a young teen anyway, so yoga piqued my interest on many levels. I turned to dear old youtube, and found after trying a few different yoga channels, I stumbled across Yoga with Adriene. I found her bedtime yoga sequence and started doing it nightly and within DAYS I felt a difference, both physically and mentally. (The link to this video is at the bottom, go try it out!)
That was over two years ago, and now I practice yoga daily, least of all for the (not insubstantial) physical benefits. Yoga is deeply rooted in recognizing your life and actions as a process, which parallels my journey in art making in every way.
Wow, this blog is getting long. I think I need to explore more deeply all of the ways in which I focus on my process, so let’s make this part one of a process exploration series. This is an introduction to what brought me to recognition that for me, artmaking and creativity are not about a final product, about perfection. For me, the experience, the process, is where the fulfillment and beauty happen.
Below is a timelapse video of me working on an abstract watercolor this morning. I don’t plan what I will do, what colors I will use, or any aspect of the piece. I just work from my gut, feeling the colors and as Adriene Mischler of Yoga With Adriene says, “finding what feels good.” I am really looking forward to talking more about my own process driven journey. Please comment below, and I would like to start the discussion off by asking you to consider: What does process mean for you, and how have you found it? And if you are struggling with this, know that you are not alone, and maybe tell me what feels the hardest about trusting or finding that process? And this could refer to anything, not just art making. Yoga, your job, a relationship, or just life in general. I want to talk!
Thank you so much for listening and I can’t wait to discuss this more.
Yoga With Adriene Bedtime Yoga Sequence: https://youtu.be/XOTGz-1vizY