Last week, on a rainy afternoon, I drove to the local art shop and bought a set of gouache paints, fresh paintbrushes, and new colored pencils. And now they are sitting, wide open, on my desk and staring directly at me. On Monday evening, I lay in Shavasana in yoga (the only one of my fall resolutions that I’ve been able to stick to so far!) and as I lay still, five words came to float before my eyes.
“I am scared to paint.”
It was meant to be so easy right? I just buy the paints, open them up and tah dah! I’m painting again. Surely it’s like riding a bike, but what I had forgotten was that it has been nearly three years since I last exercised my own creative muscle. Yes, I love knitting and sewing and ink drawing, but those are my happy places routed in repetition, comfort and process: my “meditative making”.
Whilst I was cleaning out my bedroom earlier this summer, I rediscovered a mixed media sketchbook from when I was living in London. I was blown away by what I was able to manifest and could hardly believe that it was mine.
Looking at that old sketchbook, I saw playfulness and lack of inhibition, but in that moment had forgotten that this, too, was born in a time of struggle. Deeply, deeply alone and living in the heart of a wet winter in London, I was in a version of my own ‘creative winter’ after having dropped out of art school over two years prior. I felt like I was missing a huge part of myself. So I signed up for a six-week evening class in painting for textile design at the local art school… (does any of that sound ‘familiar’ to you?)
As I entered the class, I was extremely guarded. My vulnerable, creative self had built an impenetrable wall from being bashed around in art school. I was cynical and apprehensive and beyond all I was scared to start peeling down those walls… (still sounding familiar?)
Needless to say, out of these classes developed a completely freeing body of work. As a teenager I mostly painted realism portraits, so the perfectionism that had often haunted me had no place in mixed media. Sure, my pages were still curated and thought-out, but I was certainly pushing my edges. Then, as I was turning the pages and immensely proud whilst revisiting this body of work, suddenly this anvil of expectation dropped squarely on my head. I drew a comparison to how I feel now, currently living in another ‘creative winter’… only now I have another voice to contend with, leaning in close and whispering:
“How can you be a leader of art workshops
if you still can’t even break down your own walls?”
Yes, Imposter Syndrome (ever the antagonist of the creative spirit!) had reared its head. Lucky for me, I am now wiser than that teenage self and can see that voice for what it is: fear. And, I can see that by facing this obstacle head-on, I am doing precisely what we each of us must do to claim our creative life; whether that’s during a normal weekend or an art retreat. Hopefully, by identifying the fear and working through it, I will have more to offer in terms of compassion and understanding for someone else who experiences the same struggle during one of our retreats… that I will be able to hold space for them from a place of authenticity, a place of knowing how much it completely sucks when we hit that ‘impenetrable wall’ of fear.
When I reflect, I’m pretty sad for these current limitations upon my creativity, as some of them have been purely because of circumstance. Having lived nomadically (between parents’ and friends’ houses) for the last two years, that sort of lifestyle can prove difficult to create an environment for growth and play. But, as I’m sure you know, a creative person can’t escape being a creative person.
Try as you might to express yourself in other ways,
it will always be most freeing and raw through art.
And at this moment, I feel as though I’m brimming and brimming and boiling inside, a pressure cooker letting off the occasional pipe of steam, but soon the whole lid will shoot off up into the sky!
Perhaps the other scary part is that I don’t know what that eruption is going to look like, and maybe it’s not painting and it’s not drawing nor knitting nor paper-cutting nor sewing. And that’s okay, because maybe it’s a mandala with the fallen leaves during my favorite walk.
Or maybe it’s leaning back into that scary voice and whispering back: