Last week I wrote about fear and how it may affect us when we make art. Fear is an emotion. It is there or it is not. With fear we can either accept the proverbial lion facing us or take action to change the outcome. That takes courage.
To find the strength to conquer our fears, we must want something bad enough. Courage takes passion. When you work on your art and you feel fear, its important to reflect on where the fear is coming from. Is it fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of succeeding, fear of change? Do you know?
When I face fear in my projects, I’m reminded of the children’s story, “The Little Engine that Could.” Do your remember? The little train engine pulled out all his courage and said, “I think I can!” — That’s faith.
Courage and faith go hand-in-hand. When I face my fears eye-to-eye, I think deeply. Do I have the passion? Do I want this bad enough? Am I willing to put in the time? Am I strong enough to stay focused to complete the project? I gain courage by deciding to have faith that no matter what the outcome, I WILL BE OK!!
When facing your art challenges, you must believe you will be OK. Don’t worry about what any else thinks or says. Drum up the courage and have faith in your dreams.
Fear. Why do we have fear? By definition: fear is a response to perceived danger that leads to a confrontation or escape from the threat we’re facing. In other words, what is approaching us is either something we must fight or flee.
Ok…makes perfect sense. However, I’ve been wondering why the sense of fear arises when making art? I don’t know that everyone has experienced fear while they are working on an art project, but many of us do.
I’ve definitely had times where I felt overwhelming fearful anxiety while creating. My over-thinking shouts at me, “What if, the very next step (process) you do on this piece ruins it?” It’s not like its a life or death situation. Is fear really necessary here?
Well, I guess what’s really happening is the next step in the process is unknown. It could all go wrong. But that’s life, isn’t it? We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’ve been thinking, I still have 2 choices; fight or flee. I can also chose to do nothing and see what happens.
If I’m facing an art challenge, the choice to do nothing means nothing happens to my artwork either. It will remain incomplete. If incompleteness is OK, the threat goes away to … or, maybe not. It may nag at me every time I look at it.
However, if I’m passionate about what I’m working on … that’s where I have to really make a choice. Am I ready to take a deep breath and get ready to battle the obstacles? This choice is about courage; aka the hero’s journey. I’m ready to fight for my vision. I know what it can be. I also know that if it defeats me and I’ve ruined what I was trying to make, that’s OK, because I tried. What I know is, if you want it bad it enough you have to keep trying.
I recently had some experiences that made me reflect on how artists compare themselves. We all frequently compare things. It’s an important tool when you go shopping for a new car. Even little kids are taught to compare things, like apples and oranges. It’s how they learn. We can easily list the qualities of something that make them different and a number of things that make them the same. But, all things are not the same.
I’ve thinking about all this, because I’m wondering about how we compare ourselves to other people. It’s not so much about the comparison itself. We definitely notice differences between ourselves and other people. It’s a natural human behavior. We look at what kind of car someone drives, how old they are, their body features, etc. And we compare how what we have is different. It’s normal, right?
What I’ve been thinking about is how sometimes we use the comparison as a personal self-judgement. Am I good enough? Good enough compared to what?
Among artists, I see this comparison going on all the time. Over the years, I’ve witness a lot of self-defeating behaviors. I’m not perfect. In high-school, I remember talking to a friend about going to college. I told her, “I’d like to go to college for art, but I’m not good enough. I’m going to major in science instead.” WOW!! Yes, I started young with this self-defeatist thinking.
While I was finding my artistic voice, I definitely had my share of “I am not good enough” moments. I still have them, but with much less frequency. It’s not that I think I’m “awesome” now — I have a lot of things I want to learn about my art and there is a whole list of ways I want to do to improve on my skills. What’s different is my mindset.
It’s easy to look at someone else’s talents and admire their skills. But, before I start comparing myself and thinking “I could never do that” … STOP! … let’s take the comparison a few steps deeper. I ask myself, “how long have they been doing this?,” “What education/training do they have?” Most likely its more than I have.
Now, think about it. It’s very rare to find someone naturally born with talent. They call those prodigies. Most artists have worked to refine their skills. So I tell myself, if I put in the same amount of time I could potentially be as good as they are. OR… I could learn the same skills and run with them in a totally unique way that makes them completely unique to me! Wouldn’t that be awesome?!! OR… I can learn this new skill and decide I don’t like doing it.
Defeatist comparisons can be crushing to finding our own joy. I can personally tell you it is more empowering to compare the differences as a source of inspiration and motivation. Your mindset shifts. Instead of “I could never do that,” I consider standing tall and saying, “I would love to do that! Let’s bring on the challenge.”
It’s almost September. The days are rushing by and I wish the cool weather was already here. I also wish things would slow down a little too. My September is going to be a busy month. It feels good to have deadlines to keep me focused, but there’s less room for dawdling.
Our lives go that way, don’t they? Sometimes we’re streaming through life at a rapid pace. Then there are the occasional pauses for quiet and contemplation. I try to keep a balance, but it’s been a crazy summer of attending to things outside my “work” life. Mental distractions.
Over the course of this year, I’ve been seeking down time to contemplate. What is my purpose?
It’s always a good thing to self-reflect. Are you feeding your soul?
I’ve had some recent “ah-ha” moments that were real revelations. And, soon afterward, affirmations appeared that confirmed I’m on the right track. There will be some changes as I take a few slight detours along my journey. We’ll see how this newest edition of my journey goes.
It’s ok to look at all the options. Think of it as picking thread for a stitching project. You have thousands of colors to choose. Which is the perfect option? Maybe you have to audition a few to see which one works best.
Imagine you’re driving down the road and you come across a barrier that keeps you from moving forward toward your destination. What would you do?
Life is full of road blocks where we suddenly have to change our plans. Sometimes these blocks are crushing to your character. That one “thing” we so looked forward to is cancelled. Sometimes these detours are like gut punches either sucking all the wind out of us or feel emotionally devastating us. [Hmm? I think we all can relate after this past year.]
So what do you do? The road is closed. You have to re-group and make decisions. Do you find a way around the obstacle? Turn around and go back the way you came? Or, just sit there waiting for the barrier to move? There are choices. You may not be able to change the situation, but you are in control of how you react.
Recently, I’ve felt a step (or 2) off my game. Summers in the south do that to me; even with air conditioning, the heat takes a lot of energy out of me. I’ve kept moving though. I kept showing up. I wasn’t at the pace that I’d like to travel and wasn’t on a road I originally planned. I tried to keep an open mind and I found new opportunities. I made gut decisions, just because I felt like it was the right thing to do. I put faith in myself and headed down paths that could be dead ends. Unexpectedly, I found new directions I never thought about. It’s been an interesting and rewarding few months.
Then, yesterday this lovely book arrived in the mail, “Creative Strength Training Member’s Exhibition”. Proudly standing guard on it’s pages is “The Messenger.” How is it possible that my work is published in a book produced by Jane Dunnewold? Because in January, I decided to sign up for her class. Then, when she opened up the call for entry, I submitted my work. My soul was telling me I needed a new direction. So instead of waiting for my life to change, I grabbed the wheel and I turned down a different road.
It’s clear to me that this new-normal is affecting many of us. I definitely feel a different level of anxiety. Things are clearly different than they were 2 years ago. It’s not just about my physical and mental health, there’s also external stressors like access to supplies. I can’t tell you how many things I normally use which have become difficult to find/purchase. Where I live, I frequently find empty shelves and it requires extra diligence to track down that thing I’m looking for. [Honestly, how many stores do I have to go to find my cat’s favorite food?]
Add to all this, the constantly changing procedures. As a teacher/artist, I regularly have to adapt to new policies. All the little things start to add up. Sometimes it’s easier to stay put, than venture out. For some (namely introverts), this might sound like a glorious opportunity to have more creative time alone.
Last week, I was battling this scenario. Do I cancel my trip and stay home or walk through the fire to travel. It took a lot of courage to convince myself that I must face the beast in my mind. I also had to make some modifications on what I was doing to allow myself some down time while I was away. It’s important to listen to what your body/mind needs.
I’m home now. While away, I put myself in situations that felt a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s been almost 2 years since I traveled out of state. I survived. In retrospect, being in a different environment was a healthy change for me. I was able to come home with a new perspective and appreciation. I saw what I could have had and realize the fortunes I’ve created by taking chances along my life’s journey.
I realized that sometimes you have to step out of the box to see the jewels inside. When you get stuck, go somewhere else. It doesn’t have to be far. When you get there, stop. Listen. Be. Observe. Take mental notes. Sometimes that’s all we need to find a new perspective.
Have you ever had a feeling that you foresaw the future? The word for this is prognosticate, meaning foretell or prophesying the future. Every so often I observe this connection in myself. It’s a bit of a crazy feeling because I don’t tend to go around predicting the future. Yet sometimes I look back on events to embrace that maybe I had some subconscious premonition. Let me explain by first sharing my artist statement for “The Messenger.”
“Hawks are considered messengers from deceased ancestors, deities, or other guides. Their intense gaze earns them great respect. I met this red-shouldered hawk at a hunting and fishing trade show. Once able to fly, the injured bird was now tethered to its handler’s gauntlet. With strong hollow bones, wings, and feathers, its large body (lighter than you would expect) is uniquely adapted for flight. Yet, there it perched, staring at me, unable to escape its captor. How would the courier continue with its dispatch while shackled in this auditorium? I took its memory home with me and decided to help it flee. When you are ready, courageous Messenger, fluff your feathers and spread your wings. It’s time to share your revelations; be free.” – Nanette S. Zeller (June 2021)
I realized a few years ago that I needed to take my own photographs to use as inspiration for my art quilts. I like using birds in my art, but lack the patience and equipment to take photos of them. So I “kinda” cheat, by visiting places that have birds who will be models for me.
In early 2020, I found this red-shouldered hawk (right) at hunting trade show. The bird was part of a local rescue which rehabilitates injured animals. It obviously was use to the attention of people and kindly (anthropomorphic) let me take it’s photo.
I wrote the artist statement after I completed the art quilt “The Messenger”. If you look at the photo, you could see what I was thinking about when I wrote the prose.
Flash forward nearly 2 months, I found myself at another event with a different rescue group (nc-claws.org). I was able to take plenty of new bird photos from this event (i.e., more art quilts coming soon). I learned that whenever possible this group returned the rehabilitated animals back into the wild. They were releasing a couple birds last Saturday and I was selected through a raffle to release (following some training) a red-shouldered hawk. Is that serendipitous, or what?
This is not the first time I’ve had precognition. I just don’t always understand why. What I do know this time is the red shouldered hawk is trying to tell me something because it once again is The Messenger.
Do you ever just lay on the ground and stare at the sky? Every now and then I lay on our deck and stare skyward. The decking is usually warm and feels good on my back. I relax. When I was a kid I use to play the game of trying to see objects within the cloud formations. Now I just like watching the clouds roll across the sky.
The simple act of looking at the world from a different angle can generate new ideas. When I look up from my yard, I am amazed at how many commercial aircraft fly overhead. Apparently, we live on a major bi-way for east coast air travel. I had no idea until I looked up at the sky. When I first noticed all the air traffic, I wondered why and researched it. My curiosity was spurred and I learned something new.
This fact was always above me, but I didn’t know until I looked at it. And not just glancing, but looking up with intention and stopping to pay attention.
If we want to be better at what we do, we have to seek new opportunities and listen to new stories. And above all be willing to learn. Learning new things can be as simple as looking at our world from a different angle. Look up. Walk slowly. Listen to the “silence” of the night. Peer close at the ground. Take a different road on your travels. When you change the angle of view, what will you see?
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
— Anais Nin
Today I was reminded of this small art quilt that I made in 2014. It was based on the prose by Anais Nin. I created it early in the journey of finding my artistic voice.
Although the design is nature-inspired, I don’t believe at that time I was so focused on that vision. It took making pieces like this that generated the “ah ha” moment of “THIS is what I want to create.”
It’s interesting reflecting on the journey. We’ve all traveled to get here. From childhood until this very moment, our lives have changed along small incremental stages. In the midst of the journey we feel like we are the same as we always have been. Yet, only by reflecting on the milestones can we comprehend the leaps and bounds we’ve made.
Each step along the journey, leads to the next step. It’s like climbing the mountain; one step at a time. If you keep at it you’ll eventually reach the top … or find the next mountain to climb.
What’s holding you back from taking the next step? Are you willing to take the risk to blossom?
Mid-July! We are definitely in the dog days of summer. I try to get out a little in the morning, but by mid-afternoon I prefer to find activities to do inside. The other day I spent a little time sorting things in my studio closet. I really need to do some heavy sorting. Over the years, I’ve collected enough supplies that I could create new things for a couple years and still not need to go shopping.
I find it a bit overwhelming sometimes. What do I work on? I have many work and personal projects to consider. I think setting priorities for these projects are some of my hardest decisions. I want to do something fun, but I need to do something for a class, gallery or upcoming exhibit. Oh, then there’s that project I just saw advertised in social media advertisement!! Wow … I would really love to do that too! Choices, choices.
The challenge is finding a balance between it all. It’s hard, but I’m doing my best to avoid shopping for new things. I have to really evaluate what I’m admiring. Is it a need or want? Will I use it? Should I save my money instead? [Uhm?? Did I actually just write that? Did I forget about the 60-tube set of gouache paints I bought during the Amazon Prime Day Sale — Sooo…Let’s just emphasize that I’m trying to be aware of what I buy.]
To me, unless there’s a specific need, acquiring new art supplies is another distraction.
But isn’t it fun to treat yourself to that pretty fabric, yarn or thread (or paints)? Yes! it is!!
What helps me rationalize my acquisitions is to lighten the load of things that no longer serve me.
Where I live, the schools face financial hardships. We’re fortunate to have a local arts council that supports music and art in the schools. So, on an on-going basis I cull my stash. Any art supplies I no longer need/want get put in a box that will be donated to the arts council for later distribution to the schools. I’ve met many creatively resourceful art teachers who love these grab bag style donations. And, I love the fact that I can lighten my stash and help enrich the life of a young student. If you feel burdened with your collection of things (or if you’re moving and need to down-size), maybe seek out charities in your community who would love to have the items you no longer find useful. Freeing up time to create, sometimes means freeing up space.