What life lessons have I learned from making art?

What have I learned from my art practice? How to practice patience, make the stuff I love, and find my people along the way.

I don’t think the life lessons I’ve learned from making art are exclusive to making art. I think there are many ways we can learn these things. It just so happens that in my life, I’ve learned them from my art practice. Some of them have uses and applications for all of life. Some of them are more specific to art making. Sometimes I’m able to apply them in different areas of my life and sometimes I struggle with applying them just to my art practice.

Go slow

Corollary: No, slower than that. Just slow down already.

I like for things to be done when I am finished thinking about them. I want instant gratification. I want it all right now. I want to imagine a thing and then hold it in my hand 20 minutes later. I blame Kinko’s for this permanent brain glitch of mine.

My first graphic design job was in the computer services department in a Kinko’s and everything there worked on a 24-hour turnaround. It was me and my coworkers Jim and Dave banging out the business cards and flyers and occasionally helping Business MenTM download printer drivers to their 1997 laptops so they could use our printers. We worked really long hours and put up with a lot of college kid shenanigans because we were parked in between the two Duke campuses. I never once had to give a job away for free because we didn’t meet the 24-hour turnaround guarantee.

Since then I’ve always believed that I could do anything in just a few hours regardless of any actual timelines I might trip over. The last ten years of my art practice have been learning in the hardest of ways almost every single day that art takes time. And it’s even harder to learn that taking my time might just possibly, maybe, kindasorta be, enjoyable?? Even as I know it in my head, my heart is not sold on it. Maybe by the time I die I will get it. Until then, I’ll just keep trying to figure out how to slow down.

Second Corollary: It’s always stop and go.

I’ve learned that having multiple projects to work on helps keep this annoyance at bay. Because there is always a wait for something. Glue and paint have to dry. I have to think of the next step. I have to do the 13 substeps before I can actually do the next step. I don’t have the right tool or color. I have to wait on my collaborator to get something back to me. I have to cook dinner or take someone to practice. Life just lifes it up sometimes and I have to leave the studio to go take care of it.

It takes a lot of patience for me for all of this waiting and I think learning that patience is probably my biggest Life Lesson from making art.

I make art that makes me happy

Corollary: Ignore the haters.

I make my art for myself. Few people get it or like it. That used to really bother me. Like there was a flaw in my art or process or existance or what have you. I think being 50 has helped with this a lot. I make what I make because it thrills me and I just don’t worry about what others are thinking or doing or saying about it.

I think it’s super easy to criticize things from the sidelines. I think it’s much harder to attempt to make things and fail a lot and succeed sometimes. I’d rather be in the game and encouraging others to get in here too. My biggest hope is someone thinking “Well Misty makes crap all the time and people still seem to like her so maybe I can make my crap too!” Just make your crap and have a good time doing it.

I have the capacity to try over and over…

I have a little sign on my computer that I wrote for myself during a journaling session. It’s a manifesto of sorts. Two sentences to remind myself that I have so much materially available and can keep going in the face of adversity. The emotional support shrompy helps too.

Stop scrolling

They are called infinity pools for a good reason. They are designed to keep us locked in and scrolling. I took them all off of my phone for a while to break my habit. If I am scrolling I am spending time I could be using to make art or writing another blog post for you to read. Same with mindlessly watching tv.

Do I scroll and watch tv? Of course I do! I am a full American and I know my rights and duties. But I also have dedicated blocks of time when I am making art or writing or brainstorming. I just leave my phone in the other room if I need to make space for creativity.

Go with friends

Corollary: If you don’t have the right friends for your craft, go find some.

Making art can be lonely. I like to be by myself a lot! I like to ponder things and noodle around and then glue a whole bunch of things together and then take them apart messily. But eventually, even I like chat with some like-minded folks. “What are you making? What’s working? What’s not working? What have you seen that inspired you today/this week?” It’s good to be with people who speak your language and want to grow in your shared community.

I got so lucky from the jump in this. I have a group of local friends who meet up at my kitchen table. We all do different kinds of crafts but we enjoy dedicating a night here and there to coming together and eating snacks and doing our projects. I also have a lovely group of online pals who gather on zoom to hangout and make things.

Without these friends I’m not sure I would have kept making all this time. They are the fuel for the long road and the daisies beside it. I am so thankful for each of them.

Save everything. Yes, even that weird thing you found on the side of the road.

Corollary: Use it up the first chance you get.

If you buy something cool or thrift something weird or pick up trash off the side of the road and think, “I might use it for something!” Follow that thread because it will likely take you somewhere amazing. I have a stash of things I think are cool that I’m always pondering what I might make with them. Old books I might turn into journals. Yarn I think is gorgeous. Mesh bags that my limes came in.

Right now I’m pondering a set of nesting dolls I want to paint. I’ve got a mood board of sorts going for this project but I haven’t yet started painting. I need to do some sketching and planning. It’s one of those stop and go projects. But I am dying to do something with these dolls.

I used to buy supplies and then not use them because I wasn’t “good enough” yet. Forget that. Use them before they ruin. Anything you make with the good stuff is at minimum, a treat for yourself. If you are lucky it will turn out amazing because you used the stuff you love.

This leads into another thing that I say to myself all the time:

Done is better than perfect

Could I have executed the thing better? Maybe. Maybe not. But the only perfect thing is the one you are imaging in your head. Having a finished thing is good. Really good. Having a lot of finished things makes you look like a rock star. If you are afraid your thing won’t turn out well, do it anyway. Keep making it until you are happy with it or you’ve learned what you needed to learn from it so you could make the next thing. Just keep making your things.

This loosely goes with:

Every small step counts

I started with making art for 20 minutes a day. It took me a while before it looked like I was making much of anything at all. But every small action you take counts toward your body of work.

I’ve just recently started applying this learning to exercise. I am not into what the kids call physical fitness. I am most definitely an indoor cat. But I’ve started applying the 20 minutes a day to my exercise and I have to say, it’s made it much more user friendly for me. Life lesson cross application: unlocked!

Lastly, and I’m terrible at this: Sometimes making art looks like loafing

Rest is important. Daydreaming is important. Being creative takes a lot of energy so building that energy back up needs to be a priority. Soaking up the sun in the hammock. Going for a walk. Browsing in a bookstore or art supply store. All of these good things fill up the well. I get caught on the same treadmill as everyone else: Be productive! Show your work! Stay in front of people!

But you can just hang out and chat and drink a lil’ Frappuccino too. The work will be waiting for you when you get back to it. Being fresh for it from your rest is a wonderful thing.

What life lessons have you learned from your creative practice? Are you able to cross apply them to other areas of your life? Tell me your secrets! Send me an email or tag me on socials.

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