Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. “What would I create if I felt no fear?” This is number twelve in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.
One of my support mechanisms for writing this book has been an online journaling community called Joybook. I was an avid journaler during high school and college but one of the things that I left behind when I started working full time was journaling. I joined Joybook last fall and have been reenergized in my writing. I’ve been writing poetry again and decided that one of the things I would start doing on Joybook’s Make Progress Monday sessions is to write this series of articles in hopes of turning it into a book someday.
Elaine sends out a newsletter once a week with short videos and journaling prompts in them and one of her prompts really caught my eye a few weeks ago. And I’ve been pondering it ever since. It seemed like a great thing to talk about here because I know fear can hold us back in our art practice so often.
“What would I create if I felt no fear?”
In 2016 I submitted an application to have a solo art show at Lowe Mill here in Huntsville. I talk about the process of creating that show in a few different posts. You can grab a roundup of those posts here. It was an emotional experience and when it was over, I was very sure I’d never do it again. Then in 2018 I was recording a video talking about my artist story and in the process of talking about my experience, I realized that I probably would love to have another show. There’s no lightbulb over my head but you can tell by the look on my face that I’ve got the bug. That’s around the 7:40 mark.
I talk about my fears of going for that show in the video. At the time, it was the scariest thing I could think to do and then I just…set about doing it. That makes it sound like I just called someone and they said yes. In actual reality it was a really long process that involved months of me taking photos of my work and writing and rewriting the proposal and all of the supporting documents.
Doing anything for the first time takes longer than you can ever conceive of at the beginning of the process. The applications for submitting your work for a show falls squarely into that category. And the entire time I was doing it, I was very sure I’d never make it. Being sure that you will be rejected the entire time you are making plans for your thing is about the scariest activity I can think of. I still have a twinge of fear for past me and a bit of awe for having the guts to do it in the first place.
After the biggest, scariest goal is achieved
And then it was over. I knew there would be a season of post-show let down because that’s how I feel after any big event is over. And I planned for it. I planned for plenty of rest and down time. So I didn’t make plans to do anything big right away because I knew it might feel like my brain was oozing out of my ears. I didn’t make plans for the next show because I didn’t want to force myself into that box if I hated it. I just wanted to be for a while.
Also I was prepared to face the fact that just because I’d achieved the goal that I would still feel as if I hadn’t arrived. One of the scariest things about achieving goals is they never feel like they are supposed to. And you have to be prepared for that let down. You finish the thing and then you look around and say, “Now what?” Because you don’t feel any differently after the big thing is done.
Since then I’ve applied for seven or eight other shows. (I have an application out right now that I’m anxiously awaiting word from.) I’ve made it into more shows than not. The fear is still present every time. I suspect at this point it always will be but the fear doesn’t get to be in charge. When it shows up and chatters in my ear, I remind it how often it’s been wrong.
Some days though, it’s almost overwhelming. On those days I don’t do applications or look for shows to apply to or read their requirements. Instead, I retreat to my studio and make art. I sink into being with my paint and live in the moments of making. I spend time in my happy place to remind myself of my two most basic principles: 1. Make art. 2. Connect with people through my art. Whenever I am in the weeds, I go back to those two ideals.
You are probably thinking, “Sure, that’s a great story Misty but it would never work like that for me.” I get it. I really do. I don’t know what your creative dream is or what your fears are surrounding that dream. And I’m not here to tell you you are going to 100% succeed because none of us can know that. But what I can tell you is this: you can take the first step towards your dream.
Maybe that looks like breaking your task down into the smallest parts and step one is: “Make a list,” so you will for sure get to cross off that one thing. After “make a list” you can include “Breathe,” because you are for sure gonna get to mark that one off too. After those two, what else can go on your list that you can accomplish today? Make a phone call? Look up some info on the internet? Find a class? Take that step and then congratulate yourself for doing the next thing. Taking the time to celebrate each accomplishment is fuel for the trip.
Keep a gratitude list.
Nothing helps me remember where I started better than a gratitude list. I frame the things I do as “Get tos” not “Have tos” Get tos allow for gratitude. I get to make art. How lucky I am. How thankful I am to get that gift every day. I get to take my kids to what feels sometimes like 47 practices a week. How lucky I am to get to be there for them at this time. How thankful I am to get the gift of their excitement for life and their growing experience. I get to talk to you through this blog about my art. How lucky I am to have this venue. How thankful I am that you showed up and read this today.
You’ll need to rest along the way but get back up again and keep going. Just keep going. Every time I get discouraged I think about how many small things and events and choices have led me here and I keep going. Even if I just do one thing everyday, it all adds up. So please keep going.
Journal about it.
Nothing has helped me more or moved me along quicker than this. I journal every day and dream and plan and think in my book. It’s been the biggest reason I’ve written all of these words for “How to create an art practice”. Journaling has changed me in the best ways and has allowed me to lean into my authentic self.
Ask the “what if” questions. Both the bad and the good. Sometimes we “what if” all the bad scenarios but don’t talk about the positive things that could happen. Envisioning those positive things often gives me a path to take.
To me. To your community. Get support along this journey because we just can’t make it on our own. Nothing is more stifling for me creatively than feeling alone in this. So if that’s you, meet up with your creative friends and have a creative session together. It will be time well spent.
Back to the question
“What would I create if I felt no fear?” I know what a few of my answers are. I’ve got some things brewing and I have a plan for some and some are just experiments. But it’s all for the good of the practice. What about you? What are you working on? Where are you moving? What are you excited to try and to do?
What are your questions for this series?
Hopefully you’ve been reading along with my How to Create an Art Practice posts. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start or are you sagging in the middle? Do you have questions that you are hoping I’ll answer in this series? Send me an email and let me know what you are looking for or wondering about.