Do you remember the first time you sold something made with your hands? Or maybe you’re dreaming of the day it will happen. It happened to me three decades ago, and I can still remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It was intoxicating and affirmed I could make money in the arts and quite possibly make art the center of my life. And an art career I did pursue. I grew a wholesale business while traveling the art show circuit, owned four art galleries all while raising my son. I loved making whimsical and empowering plaques and tiles. I loved meeting the women who were buying them and sharing our life’s stories. And with all these accomplishments, there was something missing in my art. There was a deep creative wellspring I hadn’t even begun to tap.
Twenty years into my art making career I took an art class at the most magnificent Esalen Institute on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. I learned about the two different ways of doing art…making art for a product or a desired outcome and creating art as a process. A light bulb went off. I had spent decades making art with a product in mind. I conceived of an idea and then acted on it, creating from a place of predictability, safety, and comfort. But I knew I wasn’t pushing my limits and really didn’t know how to until being introduced to creativity as a process. Process creating bubbles forth from a spontaneous, magical place deep within our gut, not art conceived in our mind. When we are free from control and expectation, we tap into our intuition and a place of self-discovery and flow. Creating art as a fluid process quiets the mind and lets the language of the heart and soul speak.
Recently I moved from north Florida to central Florida. Moving my art studio was daunting…excavating 23 years of collected art supplies and artworks. What the process forced me to do was to put my hands on everything I owned and make a decision to keep it, donate it or pitch it. I also came face to face with decades of original work and witnessed the evolution of my art.
I was about to donate lots of work when a light bulb went off. What if I take art that had been made with a product in mind…which looked tired and dated…and revamped it using a more instinctual process? When creating I have a tendency to get overwhelmed with too many supply choices. With these revamped items I made a simple rule to follow…only use supplies within my arms reach in my studio.
Gone was my thoughtful way of tearing paper, laying it out and rearranging it. Working on all six pieces created ten years ago simultaneously, I’d tear a piece of paper and glue it down immediately, covering up all the writing on my original art. I got to a place where with a few added words and embellishments the art could have been complete. After a gut check, I felt the desire to keep going…to push past my comfort zone. White paint became a great eraser. There was no rhythm or reason to my method of application. My paint brush had a mind of its own. I moved spontaneously with no attachment to the outcome and no judgment about liking or disliking what I was creating.
When creating mixed media art, we have to vacillate between the two ways of creating, either with a product or outcome in mind or creating from an intuitive process. With an outcome in mind, we learn a lot of texturing techniques, ways to apply papers and embellishments, color and design theory and get familiar with the properties of varnishes and gels. As we become comfortable with our techniques, we begin to transcend them. We can get into a flow and find ourselves delightfully in the present moment.
There is no right or wrong way to create, but I do find the more intuitive the process, the richer the experience. No matter where we are on our artistic journey we are all on an expedition of discovery. The process of playfulness and self-exploration are innate qualities easily fostered in everyone. Our wellspring of creative expression is infinite and always accessible. Alan Alda summed up the creative process quite concisely, “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” My revamp exercise certainly took me out of the city, and I sure enjoyed the trip!