Last week – I took a week off to create art, learn new skills, and mostly play, play, play with paper and paint. In this blog post I reflect on the 5 days I played, and the main lesson I learned each day.
Four years ago, I journeyed to John C. Campbell Folk School and immersed myself in a week long adventure – a class on “Fearless Painting.” With other classmates and our instructor, Bradley Tyler Wilson, I worked in the art studio from the early morning hours to late in the evening everyday. It was a transformative experience, that I relived recently with Bradley, when we sat down and talked about the folk school, art, creativity and more.
This past year has been amazing for my creative and artistic life – perhaps because of the pandemic, forcing me to stay home, away from friends and family. I have started my own business, XOXOX Art Studio, where I have paintings for sale, individualized art classes, and offering coaching to creatives wanting to deep-dive into their own passion project.
That said, another blessing of the pandemic was that Bradley offered a class on paint and collage, a new medium he’s been exploring the past year or so. I signed up since the class affordable and I could do it at home. I was very happy to have another opportunity to learn with Bradley.
Everyday this past week, I joined Bradley and twelve others for a new adventure in art. We met each morning with Bradley giving a demo, and came together every evening to show off our work to one another and talk about our process that day. This special week was amazing fun – and in this blog post I share five things I learned taking time off to make art.
Day 1 – Learning new skills can actually make you doubt yourself.
Over the past few years, I’ve grown as an artist in mindset and skill. I’ve celebrated that growth with art show and sales and through creating a business. I am good at what I know and do. That said…
On Monday – Day 1 of our week together- Bradley shard some simple techniques to the collage art process. We were to tear random pieces of paper and glue them onto a canvas. That’s easy enough. The next step though, not so much – we were to look for images in the randomness and start pulling them out with paint.
My brain froze, and I was not able to do that. It sounded easy, but I found it really challenging. Even though I am an intuitive painter and I create order out of chaos all the time when I play with paint, color, shapes and texture, I wasn’t able to do this with the paper cutouts.
That afternoon, I felt pressure to perform and felt very self-conscience. I wanted to produce something totally amazing to share in class that night, but my mind was too tight and I was focusing on the end result. I couldn’t see anything in the shapes and colors on the canvas. I decided to stop stressing, and I started drawing out words on the canvas and painting them to help me to loosen up.
This was my work for Day 1:
We had a great evening check-in and I was a little jealous of what others had created that day. Going to bed that night, I doubted myself and had mixed feelings. While I really wanted to learn the skill and technique of collage making, I resigned myself that this might NOT be a creative path I would want to explore in the long run.
Day 2 – The key to mastering a new skill is giving yourself permission to play.
The morning of the 2nd Day, I woke up with an epiphany. “I am an artist. I have skills. I will play today and create things that I like.”
I deliberately and consciously decided to focus on three things – coyotes, yoga, and owls. These are subjects I love, and incorporate into my own art on a regular basis. I gave myself permission “to play, have fun, and do it my way!”
Luckily, when we met back up for class, the demonstration that day was about working from silhouettes instead of intuiting images from the cutouts. I felt I was on more solid ground. This was something I could handle, and not get too stuck in my head.
My work for Day included:
How simple and freeing it felt to go into class with totally different energy and mindset. I simply had fun, the result of giving myself permission to play.
Day 3 – Successfully changing mindset is a boost to self-confidence and energizing.
By Day 3, I was rocking and feeling the creative energy flow. We came together Wednesday morning and during Bradley’s demonstration he challenged us to think a bit bigger that day – by bringing multiple images into our work. I was also feeling quite energized that morning and posted the previous day’s work on Facebook and asked if anyone had a challenge for me to paint that day. My friend Melissa responded “Paint Millie!” – her beloved cat that she had recently re-homed to me. I said “okay, gotcha” and went to work.
I saw many directions I could go in each piece, but I felt more confident in the skill and simply cleared my mind and created. Millie wanted to help out by creating chaos often during the day, as well. With her modeling and posing for me, I was able to create a clever profile piece that felt authentic and real.
For Bradley’s challenge to have a bigger piece with more than one image, I returned to yoga. I’ve been wanting to capture a tree pose creatively for some time, and decided I was going to create a yoga class.
While not perfect, the piece is successful because I focused on the process, not the finished product. The process is where the conversation happens between the artist and the medium. It’s where the self-consciousness takes a back seat and the art happens.
Day 4 – Creative living is akin to the spiritual journey.
Day 4 – I’m on a roll. It’s also a day I spend thinking about the power of creativity as I work. I listen to the Start With This podcast, a podcast for creatives and writers. The episode I listen to is called Journey vs. Destination.
I think about creativity and the benefits of creativity in life, work, home, relationships, friendships and more. Creativity is life affirming and giving. It’s is my metaphor for the spiritual path. I feel these days that I’m drawing from a deep, deep well. Internally that well is endless.
There ISN’T too much creative reserve to draw from. It’s exciting to simply play and create and be open to what comes. This excitement carries through so much more than my artistic life. I feel it in the collaborative friendships and relationships that I’m building through the work I’m doing. As I draw from excitement, I feel as if I’m arriving home from a very long trek. I’m where I need to be. I’m doing the work I need to do.
I’m simply happy to be journeying. Right now, I’m not worried about the destination.
Day 5 – Fostering creativity in “Community” is a key to growth and learning and innovation of ideas.
On Day 5 – our last day – the best day and the saddest day. The technique Bradley shares on Friday is the climax of the week. I fall in love. I work on small pieces of wood. I create small coyotes, birds, and cactus on 4×6 blocks. These are my favorite of the week:
Our group meets in the morning and receives the technique and our assignment from Bradley. We go our separate ways for the afternoon. I work on these small pieces, and in my excitement I think about the other students and anticipate seeing their work at the end of the day.
That night, we share our day’s work with one another. This last night, everyone is sharing what they have learned. While we all learned the same technique, it’s easy to see that we’ve all played and experimented differently. Bradley says many times “I’m learning so much from y’all.”
We’ve come together – and we are a community. It’s exciting to see what everyone has created. It is beginning to feel like a community. We discuss what we are learning and experimenting with on our own. We are sharing our experiences, and where we learned from the day. There’s an endless well of creative ideas coming out of the group. At one point after another idea is thrown out, Bradley says “Stop, please, just stop.” We all laugh.
It’s sad to say goodbye.
Do you take time out of your life to create? Why or why not? Do you want to? I’d love to know how I can help you cultivate more creativity in your life. Let’s talk!
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