For the last year and a half I’ve been painting sporadically in my spare time. That sounds less intentional than how I want it to come across, but it’s also partially reflective of how I’ve been feel about my work. And being honest, I’ve struggled to sometimes take my ‘side-hustle’ seriously, because I haven’t quite known whether I want to commit to it and in what form.
However, after a lot of thinking and reflection, I’ve come to a much better place in terms of knowing what I want from myself and from my business. And today I wanted to share some small but important things I’ve learned along the way:
Sometimes it’s time to do the work
I’ll be the first to admit, I am a planner; not a do-er.
I naturally lean towards overthinking and over-planning and overanalysing. I love predicting outcomes and my brain craves certainty (if not about guaranteeing an outcome, then at least anticipating it!). But you know it, and I know it; life doesn’t work that way. No matter how powerful your brain is, you can’t predict the future. You can only gather data to help you make a more informed decision. And to gather the data, you need to put in the work.
In this case the work looked like sitting down for a year and making art; making a lot of bad art and bad paintings and stuff I didn’t really like or always enjoy. But that’s what needed to be done. I needed to make a lot of bad art before I could make even mediocre art, and then maybe eventually some work I was actually proud of.
I needed to ‘get over myself’ (as one of my friends so eloquently puts it) and face the fears of being and looking crap, and just do it. I needed that feedback. I needed to know what I felt about my art. I needed to know whether I enjoyed the process (if not always the result!). I needed to know whether I could stick with this and see it out, and the only way to do that was to live it.
And what I learned was this:
I do enjoy making art. I love it. I find it excruciating and painful and just plain frustrating at times, but I still love it. I love the feeling of flow I get into when I’m sweeping paint across the expanse of the canvas. I love the feeling of creating texture out of nothing; from building and layering, to taking it all down again with crude sandpaper scraping. I love the unpredictability of the marks I make, and I love the sense of movement that comes when you’re patient and build up and take away and build up and take away again.
But I also learned that I don’t want this to be my job. I don’t want to rely on my art as my main source of income; at least not for now. I can’t do that to my art. I feel like it’s too early for that. I don’t feel ready to place that pressure on myself or my artwork. Once I realised this, it felt like a burden of its own had lifted. I suddenly felt much lighter and freer.
Listen to yourself
This sounds crazy, but a part of me had been operating under the idea that I had to sell my work, or else it wasn’t worth doing. When I first started painting again, I had already known for ages beforehand that it was something I wanted to do. But something was stopping me. Sadly, I don’t think I believed in myself or my creativity to take it seriously on its own merit - so I made a pact with myself. I would give it the time and attention it deserved, if I was going to sell my work and make some sort of living from it. Quite what that living was going to look like, I hadn’t made up in my mind, but this decision was enough for me to start committing to it.
At the time, I think I kind of needed to make that promise to myself. I believed that I needed to make income for my work to be worthy of my time and attention. Up until that point, I’d almost written painting off as not worth considering. Deep down I knew I wanted to. My heart ached to do it - I just didn’t take it seriously! I considered it frivolous!
Something important I learned: you have an innate wisdom and it knows what you want. Trust it. Even if you don’t always give it the respect you should. In my case, I could hear myself quite clearly; I knew I wanted to paint. But it took a lot of cajoling with my conscious mind and attaching an outside worthiness factor to convince me to do it. In the end, I did what I needed to do to move forward. If I knew then what I know now, I might have approached it differently.
Question your self-beliefs
I eventually dropped the belief that work is only worthy if you’re making money from it. I realised that it was no longer serving me, and it was actually stopping me from making progress. I had a mental block on selling my work, and it took a lot of digging to understand it was connected with my beliefs about money and making a living. As soon as I realised that’s where my resistance was coming from, the burden was lifted.
By this point, I no longer needed that old commitment I’d made to myself. I’d spent a year and a half doing the work. I could finally see the value of the work standing on its own. I now have the beginnings of a beautiful art practice that I’m looking forward to developing further, and I’ve gained the self-knowledge and self-belief to pursue other creative projects. I would never have known what I do now if I hadn’t started that journey, and picked up the paintbrush and started painting.
One thing I’ve learned from this journey is that you don’t have to attach a pre-conceived idea or outcome to the end of the process - or if you do, I’d encourage you to let go of it, if you find it’s no longer serving its purpose.
Trust in the process
I started making art because I could no longer bear the thought of not doing it. And it still took me promising myself I would do something with it (i.e. make money) before I would even consider giving it a go. But once I started, I suddenly remembered the feelings of sheer joy that comes with the experience of it. Taking the time to respect my desires and my interests and my curiosities has led me to the path I'm on now, where I understand that creativity is fundamental to my life. But if I'd dismissed it half way through my journey (oh, well, it's not going to be my full time career, so I may as well drop it), I wouldn't have gone on a long and winding journey of re-discovering my creative voice.
For anyone starting on a similar journey, I’d encourage you to listen well. Give your curiosity the respect it deserves, because it knows what's good for you.
So here I am now, knowing that I want my art to be as free as possible and I want to feel as free as possible when I make it. I will be selling my work in small releases, with delight and wonder and gratitude for whoever takes it into their home and their heart. Art can be part of my life, and a big part of my life - but it doesn’t have to sustain my income. It can simply be what it wants to be, and I’m okay with that. I am so grateful to have taken this journey, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.
A further note:
I might have saved myself some angst if I had read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic a bit sooner! I would wholeheartedly recommend her book to anyone curious about living a creative life.