Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Creativity Isn't for Wimps

If you're a creative, chances are you've spent time daydreaming about doing your art full time.

Maybe you imagine what it would be like to be a novelist: words flowing out of you and onto the screen for hours at a time as you sit, tucked in your perfectly designed office. Or perhaps you've dreamed of being a painter full time, stacking completed canvases against a wall in your studio, waiting for the next gallery to call you and offer yet another a solo show.

Quilters, mixed media and fiber artists, illustrators, screen printers, potters ... we all dream of "someday" when our work will make it out of our studio and into the world, changing it for the better, don't we?
Altered jean skirt--circa 2007 in a college art course

Here's something that came as a revelation to me recently: making art is scary.

I've always been a creative who works in starts and stops. For a long time I blamed this on my propensity for switching gears. I get bored easily so I need to make room to change my mind, try new things, experiment frequently. While this makes sense when you're first trying a new creative field--say metalworking (which I didn't enjoy), pottery (enjoyed but too much room/expense required), or mixed media (loved and still love) at some point you have to really delve in to get into something.

Recently I was listening to a podcast, "Live Creative Now," by Melissa Dinwiddie. In it, she talked about creatives like me, who like to switch gears a lot, try new things. So much of what she said in that episode resonated with me. But one thing that I realized as I went back to my creative space the next day is this: fear is a great liar.

I mentioned before that I'm applying to be part of STRUT! and fashion show held as part of Art Hop in Burlington, Vermont. When I accepted the creative challenge I was so excited to get started! I practically ran to my studio to start cranking out beautiful, unique upcycled clothes.

Something funny happened, though. I kept getting stuck. I couldn't get the sleeves of one garment to fit another and didn't know how to fix it. I started making a skirt from a pair of jeans and it ended up looking lumpy and strange around the rear end. The skirt I painted on and appliqued had a funny, twisted up hem, making it appear crooked when I tried it on. After several days of problematic sewing and designing a little voice started to remind me how much I enjoy 2-D mixed media, using paper and found objects.

"This isn't your medium. You don't know what you're doing, really. Why not go back to what you love?"


"Who do you think you are? You're no designer. Leave that to the professionals and go back to what you know."

The "who do you think you are," question was a sure sign that I was scared. That annoying little phrase always pops up when I'm trying something new and am freaking out because it's imperfect. So part of me was dying to toss in the towel and forget about upcycling clothes and making textile art. The other part of me dug in my heels and said, "no way. I'm not giving up on this again."

I've tried upcycling clothes and accessories in the past with mixed results. The "failures" always bothered me so much that I eventually packed up the clothes I'd collected and either set them aside or gave them back to the thrift store.

This time was different though because I recognized that voice of fear. It wasn't that I was bored, or disinterested (though another voice tried to convince me I was!). It was that I was afraid to be creative in a medium I'm not as comfortable with (fabric) and tempted to run back to one that I know much better (paper).

Creativity isn't for wimps. While "they" (whoever "they" are in your life--family members, co-workers, the corporate world at large) may think that being an artist is all airy-fairy and an easy cop out to "real work," it's not. It's challenging to learn new things, to let yourself make mistakes, to make flops. It's hard to put work that you love and have poured yourself into out in public for others to find fault with, critique and maybe even make fun of.

If you can let yourself experience the joy of creating--even the hard parts where the process doesn't feel joyful in the least--you'll be blessed with so much freedom, though. Freedom from fear, from normality, from trying to fit your square self into that round hole. Being what you're meant to be is so much more rewarding than any attempt to make yourself into someone you are not.

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