The truth is, most days I feel like a fraud, an imposter in the world of creativity, a real phony, and there is nothing I despise more than a lack of authenticity. Holden Caulfield would hate me. Sometimes I think I’ve shown up to the party uninvited and keep ducking behind corners, hiding in shadows and behind masks in order to remain undetected. I don’t want my cover to be blown! I really do like this little artsy party. I belong here, right?
I don’t like that I feel like a fake most days because I’m certain that it prevents me from ever really accepting any accomplishment as authentic and worth celebrating. I felt the same way in academia. I swear I tricked my professors into giving me good grades and those three degrees on my wall, total fluke! And the teaching job I’m about to commence in the fall? Witchcraft! Unfortunately, the excitement that accompanies each new conquest quickly vanishes the second my mind considers and questions my worthiness of them. Did I deserve that opportunity? I’m sure there are so many more qualified artists and educators out there who should be standing on the small platform I currently occupy. Sometimes I feel the urge to jump off and make space for those who lack phoniness and possess real talent. Then again, I like my little space I’ve carved out and I should very much like to stay here.
Do you ever feel like that as well? I don’t think I’m the only one.
It’s a vicious cycle whose frequency has thankfully diminished, replaced by more positive thinking. I’m obsessed with the happiness advantage and addicted to all of the benefits that come with a positive growth mindset. The main advantage being I’m now a little more comfortable accepting good things when they come. The road to happiness is not so hard to find after all, as long as our pursuit for success isn’t rooted in finding happiness attached to said success. Happiness comes before any reward, not the other way around. Crazy concept, I know, but it’s the truth. I’ve placed my faith in positive thinking and haven’t looked back. I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself as I often question why and how I am standing here right now, but those questions lead to answers that confirm that my existence and my purpose in the world of art and education is no fluke. Every moment in my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly, have placed me here and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
I so much want everyone to feel that way as well. I want you to feel like you’re enough the way that you are, that you have purpose even if you feel as though you haven’t found it yet, that your life is worth living to the fullest. This is all coming from a genuine place. Hopefully I don’t sound trite, but seize your day before there are no days left. Get up with the sun and bask in its glory, tell your family and friends you love them, cuddle your cat or dog (or stuffed animal), work hard on your passion projects, don’t sweat the small stuff. I fear too many of us wait for tragedy to enter our circle of life before we reflect and make a change. You don’t need death to remind you that your heart is beating and your lungs are breathing.
Don’t wait for a new month or a new year.
Don’t put it off until tomorrow.
What are you doing today?
Today is what matters.
Being happy in this moment.
Not caught up in the what ifs of the unknown.
When we’re kids we think that nothing can stop us. We are essentially invincible to the perils of life and we carry that proudly on our shoulders. We can run and jump and stay up all night and then play in a basketball tournament with 5 games on a Saturday and still have the strength and energy to run around all day Sunday getting kicked in the shins on a soccer field. Unfortunately, my untouchable cloak has been lost somewhere and I’m trying to adjust to this slow recovery and accident prone reality I’m currently existing in.
I hurt my back painting. It was a slow gradual progression to a herniated disc, but still it was my paint posture that broke this camel's back. It’s hard to explain back pain if you’re never experienced it, so I won’t focus on the pain, but every simple action I took for granted on a daily basis and now no longer will.
Being able to put on anything below the belt like socks, shoes, pants, I just couldn’t do it without help.
Being able to sit.
Being able to stand.
Being able to walk (without holding onto a wall for support).
Being able to quickly move without thoroughly calculating my movements (getting out of bed felt like a chore).
Being able to laugh without crying from actual pain.
Having a shower wasn’t really an option for the first week.
Not being able to make my own food or drink copious amounts of coffee because I didn’t want to have to deal with going to the bathroom.
Having to eat while resting on my stomach.
Not being able to socialize because it involved sitting/standing/general movement.
I could not reach my cat's food to feed her and I couldn’t bend down to get her water dish.
Overall, just very dependent on others.
and I couldn’t paint.
I COULD NOT PAINT because all of my material was on the ground and I couldn’t bend to reach it.
I couldn’t paint because it required me to stand/sit/move.
I couldn’t paint because I’d need to get water and paper towels and paper and a paint palette and then I’d have to open my paints and mix them and put them on paper and then eventually clean my brushes which meant going back to the kitchen and standing there even longer hoping everything would clean themselves.
Suddenly this simple process of setting up and creating felt like torture. I went through these movements without second thought before and now suddenly it felt like a lengthy list of boxes I had to work through and check-off.
Once I accepted this as my reality until I healed, I had to prevent myself from falling into a bit of despair and self-pity. I would view this injury as a positive. I would manipulate it into something good while I rested in bed. But how? How could I hold on to that positive energy?
If I couldn’t paint then I could write, right? If I couldn’t paint, then I could plan out new ideas to work on once I was physically capable. I could read...oh so much reading.
Our bodies have limits, and sometimes our desires to push past them get the best of us. Pushing those limits can be fruitful, but there is also the risk of permanent damage if you keep pushing without properly healing.
What happens when we are physically held back from doing what we love? How do we adjust and not let our positive energy get flushed down into a negative dark tunnel.
I have to wrestle with this reality a few times a year when my body decides it can no longer sustain the wear and tear of everyday life. When I try to keep pushing, I risk irreparable damage, which ultimately puts any chances of a career at risk.
Without our health, it can sometimes feel like we have nothing. Even with a strong support system, our injuries can be isolating and inconsolable at times. Suddenly we are no longer invincible the way we felt as kids.
But do you know what does make me feel invincible?
Creating a world on paper and canvas that is authentically me.
Because as the wise Theodor Seuss Geisel once wrote:
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
I wouldn’t trade my beaten body for another. I wouldn’t want to be anyone but myself.
And no one can touch that. Invincible once more.
I had a moment a few years ago, an epiphany if you would, where I suddenly came to the realization that I didn’t want to be forgettable anymore. I mean, being forgotten is inevitable for most people in the course of history, but as we live, I imagine we strive to be remembered and not disregarded while there is still air in our lungs.
I think I’ve spent a good deal of my life trying to disappear, to avoid as much human interaction as possible and hide behind books and screens. I didn’t care if people remembered me. It wasn’t a notion that floated into the extremely narrow vision I had for my life, which was basically to hide and if someone found me I’d proceed to run far away and hide again. Obviously this tactic sounds unrealistic.
Running away is only a temporary fix, and then we see our reflection and think dang, you’re still here, you’re still this way, can’t run much further.
Hiding can only do so much until we must tighten our metaphorical belts and do something about it.
The moment came during a teaching placement. I had to go into a high school every Wednesday for a few months as part of my community service learning and unfortunately during this first placement I was bedridden for a handful of the Wednesday’s, and I questioned my desire to teach. If it felt like a chore to get there every Wednesday, how on earth would I survive two months straight? On a day that I made it into the classroom, my associate teacher was shocked to see my face in her office and said, “oh my, I’d forgotten about you! What’s your name again?”
Crushed. Absolutely devastated.
I know she was not being mean. It wasn’t her fault. She was making a remark because it had been a while since I’d seen her. But how could she forget me so soon? Did I really not leave any sort of lasting impression in our first few interactions?
What a realization.
I know this sounds trite, like it isn’t a big deal, but it was a big deal to me. I didn’t like the idea of being forgotten so quickly.
Now, even though I still might be shy or hyper-conscious of what people might be thinking or saying about me after we’ve met (so many lingering insecurities), what I’m most concerned with now is leaving a lasting mark with my paint brushes.
Each stroke is a stamp symbolizing permanence, my permanence. I want the colours to speak for me. I’m driven by this extravagant idea that people will remember my work, not what it looks like necessarily, but what it made them feel. In the end, when time goes by, we often don’t remember what it is exactly that someone said, but what they made us feel? Shame, sadness, anger (happiness, too!), those are the lasting impressions. That is permanent. I hope my paintings can someday sink in the same way words do, leaving their unforgettable mark.
My favourite thing about painting, besides painting (duh!), is that it demands me to be present. I know a lot of artists, myself included, who refer to their work as a practice. More so because of the sense of ritual it creates and less focus is placed on “if I paint today, I will improve, and if I don't then there are people getting better than me”. Perhaps after my years on the basketball court, everything I do on a daily basis is considered practice, only I’m not competing against anyone but myself now because comparing my practice to anyone else's in a pointless exercise. My beautiful ritual of creating arises from the habit of applying layers of acrylic each day and doing it everyday, whenever I can, even if I’m physically incapable. If I’m stuck in bed with an injury, then I’ll draw or colour or take some weird pictures of my surroundings or plot out my dreams, but just knowing that I can create something new each day is essential to me remaining faithful to my practice.
In the past month I've discovered the power of being injured. Injuries are a great way of forcing us to be present (and grateful for our health when we have it). I needed to spin something positive out of my herniated disc because being confined to a limited space and being so dependent on others can take a toll on your psyche. So in a way it has pushed me to be even more present, not just in painting but in my day to day life. When you’re focused on the act of healing, looking to plans that are past the span of a 24 hour period is not essential. I’m in each minute and I can feel my back slowly healing while I chip away at art projects that aren’t too physically demanding.
Being present is hard. There is no denying it. But it’s better than making yourself miserable longing for something so far away. It's a very impractical use of time, right? It’s time to be present in our journey instead of looking to the milestones. We’ll get there eventually, but let’s get through today first and enjoy every minute of it.
Whatever your rituals are, practice being present. Be in the moment 100%, soak up the glory of your journey, be grateful, and don't think ahead too much (at least this is what I like to do!). Stress levels rise the second I have to think too far ahead, so I'm just going to stand here and paint.
What are you going to do to be present today?
P.S. Take care of your backs!
I’ve had this mantra rolling around in my mind for a while now but couldn’t quite determine what it meant to me, or possibly others. Paint Positive. How can I (we) transform negative thinking into something meaningful through art?
It doesn’t mean you have to paint something beautiful or positive, but it suggests having an outlet where you work until you no longer feel all that bubbling negativity (which sometimes feels out of control). How can we maneuver the uncontrollable? Sometimes those negative feelings are hard to steer and manipulate into something productive. That being said, the simple act of dipping a brush in paint and pushing it around on a canvas or piece of paper, layering colours and textures, is so calming that it feels surreal. It transports me momentarily from a place of anxiety and grief to a euphoric destination, and I didn’t even have to leave my room (that's the best part!). I know that working out has the same effect, but sometimes we are just incapable of moving (literally or figuratively), so what then?
It sounds crazy, but then when others inform me that they’ve been inspired to take up painting and feel their own version of euphoria, then my nonsensical painting explorations are infused with more meaning and the paint positive mantra expands. And suddenly I feel less crazy for isolating myself in a room full of paint tubes.
Painting to help more than just yourself, that’s what it’s all about.
When I got the opportunity to paint my first custom piece of artwork, I was nervous. My process for so long had been very personal and I’d never considered someone else’s interpretation. In a way I felt that painting something specific for someone took away from the organic experience of creating that I’d become accustomed to and I feared that it would make me a fraud. A fake artist, trying to please others. That is what I felt in my core. I believed that doing a commission would ruin the purity of expression. It sounds silly because I think there is this perception that everything is made to be consumed in our culture (especially art), but I’d never considered it until people started to reach out and inquire about purchasing.
Maybe in the beginning I was just scared. For too long I was overly insecure about my work (ability) and that held me back from considering selling anything I made. Who would even want them?
Finally, I had to confront this hurdle and climb over it (if only I could jump) because I loved the idea of creating for someone other than myself. The next step was to create something meaningful and true to myself, while simultaneously meeting the needs and desires of my customers. How would I avoid feeling like an art fraud?
Trusting my gut instincts and riding out my chaotic waves of emotion.
I've created a system now that seems to be bulletproof when it comes to painting for someone else.
To get the seed of inspiration going, I now always fall back on feelings.
1. What do you want to feel when you look at your painting?
2. What emotion(s) do you want it to exude?
3. What colours do you want to represent these feelings?
4. What colour(s) do you despise?
5. What quote or adjective(s) do you want the painting to symbolize?
Seemingly simple questions to guide a not so straightforward painting process.
Commission painting is a practice in patience, empathy, and understanding. Every customer is seeking something different, and in that I’ve felt incredible pride knowing that I am trusted in helping them realize this abstract emotion. It is such a gift and nothing feels better than delivering the painting (usually in person) and seeing their reactions. It's like Christmas day in a way. Watching someone open a gift you've put so much effort and thought into.
Abstracts are unpredictable and so I had to find the few ingredients that seemed to have been consistent in my personal artistic expressions to make each work feel authentic rather than contrived.
The formula is reliable and the results, well, I haven’t messed up yet (paint brushes crossed).
If only all of our habits were good ones. I mean, I could probably survive without ripping my nails on a daily basis or consuming an eight cup pot of coffee (by myself) before noon (nine), but what’s the fun in that? Now breaking these bad habits can be quite difficult. I’ve broken many terrible life consuming habits, but haven’t quite kicked my desire to rip nails or chug caffeine, and I don’t feel too guilty about it. Habits take a while to form and an even longer time to break. I’ll kick those habits eventually, but until that day comes I’m going to focus on the routines that are more feasible to defeat (hopefully).
Habits also exist in our work and I greet my comfortable patterns daily with a smile. I wouldn’t consider painting everyday is a terrible habit (in fact quite the opposite), but what I’m painting or where/how/on what...that’s what needs to be challenged. I think we can get into creative ruts where we create the same thing over and over again, not just because it becomes a habit and we’re good at it, but also because others enjoy what we’re creating. Kind of like musicians whose music we love. We get so accustomed to a certain sound that the second they make a new album where they experiment and go in a new direction, well, it’s hard for us as consumers to adapt to that change! As artists, we respect the courage it takes to makes changes because you risk disconnecting with some of your audience. But if we don’t challenge ourselves, if we keep producing the same thing over and over and over again, well, I think the art loses its lustre, and the artist misplaces their passion.
The changes don’t even have to be monumental. Small, incremental changes are so significant and not terribly painful to execute and commit to. If I compare what I was creating last year to right now, the change is evident, but it didn’t happen overnight. Those slow daily changes and risks have guided me here. It’s patience. It’s trusting the process. It’s breaking the habit slowly but surely. We get so comfortable in our daily lives that the thought of change sounds horrific and detrimental to our way of living, but maybe our comfort is equally detrimental?
Some food for thought.
HOW AM I SO LATE to the Spotify game. Goodness, what a game changer! It makes my music game so much stronger and all I have to do it click some buttons. Lazy music discoveries means more time for the real work: eating, reading, and of course painting!
My favourite feature is the “Discover Weekly” function where it introduces you to a list of songs that the algorithm assumes (correctly) that you’ll like. This week I fell in love with Sofia de la Torre’s song “Flex Your Way Out of Here”, Jessie Reyez’s “Figures” and FLETCHER’s “Wasted Youth” plus so so SO many more. I’m overwhelmed. These jams (plus many other newly discovered anthems) have definitely guided my work these past few weeks. Smooth application, bold colours, chaotic organic shapes. The playlist kind of served as dual purpose: one as art inspiration and the other as real life distraction/avoider of powerful April into May showers. The results are some of my favourites and they are this beautiful little snap shot summary of my week with this mucky transition to spring.
I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend and I’ll just leave you here with some lyrics to carry you into Saturday.
FLETCHER “Wasted Youth”
“It's my life
If I'm gonna waste it
Gonna waste it on you.”
Interpret as you will.
Milestone. Both figurative and literal. One marking a factual mile, the other representing a significant change in one's personal development. Now, where the latter takes place depends on the individual and those actions or events signify the culmination of a hard fought battle. You didn’t walk to this particular milestone, you ran hard at times, slow at others, and you fell down (so much falling, mostly on your face) and tears were shed and sweat stained your clothes, and you never thought you’d get here. You never thought you’d trudge through those miles and after all that, smile at the finish line. Such fortitude. Such relief. And yet the moment is fleeting. You let the emotions hug you tightly, you take pictures to try and capture this milestone for eternity. You hug everyone. You thank as many people as you can, because you’re not here without them. You feel so much of everything all at once, until the hugs loosen their grip and the voices fade and the pictures are part of the past. You arrived and then just like that, it’s gone. Someone picked up that stone and threw it ahead again. This time a little bit further. But hey, you did it before, you can do it again, right?
Today is my small, momentary, somewhat significant milestone. A stone I didn’t think existed on this day last year. This place felt mythical. On May 10th, 2016 I had an idea that had been lingering since January. I thought I’d try, try being an artist, whatever that meant. I’d finally give it a shot and I had no more excuses. Even with school I didn’t think that was a good enough excuse to not at least try.. I had nothing to lose! If it didn’t work out, if my website gained no traction, if people hated my work, then I could just fold it up and pack it away. Simple as that.
And off I went working on something that has no immediate end, that truth be told might never have an end date. It's hard to determine your goals or the number of miles that you wish to walk before you feel like you've achieved a little bit of something in a world that is utterly abstract.
And here we are. A true anniversary of sorts. An anniversary that symbolizes more than my worn out paint brushes and stained floors and unthinkable goals reached. This past year was a true metamorphosis. I am me, but different. My path is clearer than ever before and I greet each day with an out of tune singsong voice. What joy!
I've finally come to cross some kind of invisible line and arrived at a place that I never thought I'd find. Interestingly enough, my arrival feels somewhat confusing and at times undeserved. It's an unfamiliar place. It's a place where endless internal dialogue and innocent dreaming has led me. Those sleepless nights that were once interrupted by smudged future images are now clear as day. My stone is now placed safely in my purse.
I hope to continue along this path (and other paths that may entice me) and to one day reach new milestones that I can share with everyone. Well, I don’t hope. I will continue. I will continue to build and grow and give back to all of the beautiful souls who have held me up when I could not stand (literally) and lit a candle when darkness surrounded me (I have many candles).
Thank you, endlessly, for your support. I’m not here without you. Art is very much a shared experience and to say that I’ve officially shared it for a year feels like magic.
Stay tuned for all of the exciting things ahead. I've got some plans and collaborations in the works that I can't wait to share with all of you!
Why do I paint? Actually, better question. Why do we (I) do anything for that matter? What motivates us or gives us purpose when we wake up in the morning? As much as I'd love to live my cats life (naps all day, food sometimes, someone else always taking care of me), it's nice to think that my purpose in life is a little greater than hanging out in bed all day watching Netflix.
But seriously, why do you do what you do everyday? What's your purpose? Where do you find meaning?
Once upon a time the morning greeted me with this seemingly infinite block of time in which I could do anything, but chose to do nothing, or at least nothing that felt truly meaningful. Those pointless mornings turned into sad afternoons, and quiet evenings. It all seemed to lack meaning as I just continued to roam aimlessly through the motions society has carefully curated for myself and others (or just sit and do nothing, contemplating how I could be doing something).
Then you light a candle and realize I think I might do something today. Really do something. I chose to go back to school and made an effort to socialize more (so hard sometimes!), started pursuing my dream of teaching, and ultimately realized that there was part of me that needed to connect and communicate. In these actions there was this newly discovered sense of happiness and above all else, meaning. But I wanted to continue to communicate not just in person (that can be kind of exhausting for an introvert), but through a creative outlet. And so painting entered my peripherals.
Humans are by nature social animals and though by nature art is a very individual and isolated process, there is still this inherent desire to connect to others through our work. Though my process starts by painting for myself, I now feel drawn to this desire to feel connected, to know that someone, somewhere felt something, anything, when looking at my work. Even if they think “EW GROSS WHY DOES SHE EVEN PAINT”, I think WOW I made someone feel so frustrated and angry! I’m happy I could give them that outlet to really express their feelings, so ultimately, lucky me!
To make someone feel, to really identify and connect to those inner emotions, what a gift.
That is my purpose. That gives me meaning.
What about you?