In this post I riff on doing the work that you know how to do right now and remind all of us to keep showing up even when we aren’t sure.
I wrote most of this post in a fever dream during my two weeks of covid. When I reread it I wasn’t completely clear if what I’m trying to say comes across but I was so entertained by my writing being dialed to eleven that I decided to let it stand. May you find it as entertaining.
Do the work that is available now. What does this mean? Do the work you have right now. Keep a notebook of the other stuff that you can’t or don’t know how to work on yet. Keep making the thing you know how to make and iterate it. Try 15 variations of the one thing. Then take two of those and iterate 15 more times in different directions. Use a 5×7″ or an 8×10″ mat (like you’d frame a picture with) and use it as a viewfinder on the work you are doing. Find a handful of those smaller sizes that speak to you and take pictures. From those pictures, print you some sheets you can collage with or use them as backgrounds for other projects.
Just keep going. Whatever that looks like for you. Writing for 30 minutes a day or reading poetry from the 60s. Start with “Why I Am Not a Painter” and then go look at the painting “Sardines”. Drawing, painting, spinning, crocheting, knitting, making books, whatever it is you are doing, just keep going.
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I’m still trying to figure out how to shape my own artist story though my life events. My artwork is currently dryer than the Grand Canyon in June but here I am trying to scratch out some creative mojo with this keyboard. The work in front of you is any idea you are chasing that you don’t quite know how to execute so you just keep trying different versions until you make something work on you get tired and go take a nap. Right now my trying looks like a really long, weird prose/poem/blogpost/essay.
I look back on some of the things I’ve done over the years and I can’t believe some of that work came from my hands. I can sorta piece together how and why it turned out the way it did but there’s something magic about continuing to work a lot and just seeing what happens. Making something and then turning the page and making the next thing and not worrying about what you made yesterday or last week or last year. Then when you see it again, you say involuntarily “That’s niiiiiiiice. Did I do that?”
Do the work in front of you. I’m itching to go back to the studio. The summer has been long and full of so many activities that weren’t art but one kid is back and school and we are dropping the other off at college (barring additional Covid mishaps) and I may stay in the studio for a week and sleep on the floor just to get back into the groove. Maybe I need to turn on some Missy Elliott and paint until something interesting comes out the other end of my brush.
Another heading to make the SEO bots happy
I stuff my big plans and big dreams into the movements of my hands and fingers. Sometimes I whisper “Geronimo” when I start in with my pencil. I make tick marks on my pages to count the different things that matter to me. My age, my years making art, how many shows I’ve had, how many shows I want to have, the artist friends I’ve made, the works of theirs that I dig, how many times the dog grumbles in her sleep, the years I have left with my second kid at home, how many people say they liked what I made or what I wrote. When I’m finished with the piece I usually don’t remember what the tick marks were counting only that I counted something good.
Does any of this sound obsessive? Maybe. Ok, yeah. But you know what? There are many, many worse things that I could be obsessed with. Being obsessed with my own artwork seems tame compared to some of the things that I could be into. Also? Who cares if it’s obsessive? The work in front of me is mine and I want to be a little obsessed with it. I’m off to go look for some oranges.
Out here creating energy
Interest, deep valid interest, will create energy.Louise Nevelson
When the work is flowing, new ideas just show up like a dinner guest who brings hungry friends unannounced. I just keep moving to the next thing. I can see in my own work when flow is happening. There will be this run of progressively fleshed out ideas in a journal and I think, yeah, that was a train going FAST. Then immediately I wonder how to catch that train again. But the thing is you can’t set out to catch that particular train. You have to show up to work A LOT and just see that sometimes it happens. Just hope for the train. There’s that energy Mama Louise is talking about.
Keep working. Do the work you know how to do and then be willing to try the next thing and screw it up. Hope the idea train shows up and be willing to get flattened by it. Keep going and listen to that creative energy and follow where it leads. I say this to you because I need to hear it. I need the kick in the pants and I’m guessing you do as well. Good luck. Keep going.