Meditation and making marks

sketchbook page progress

I’ve spent the last several years making classes as a priority and art secondary. This was an important shift of focus for a couple of reasons, but mainly to create a sustainable income as a full-time artist.

With the focus on writing what I know as video chapters for my Skillshare classes, I fell out of the habit of being an artist for myself. I need to make it clear: I love making classes. The “but” after saying that is that I began an increasingly unhealthy relationship with my own art and my own discipline for making it. I – wrongly – built up an impossible standard that if I wasn’t learning, writing, and making examples for classes I was failing my path in some way. This unhealthy shift was a slow process, but came to a head over last winter, which, to be frank, was a really crap time for my mental health. I stopped creating everything, with few exceptional bursts of creative output. I didn’t even produce a class for six months. I was at a rock bottom.

In a way, it had to happen. I had to hit the wall to see the problem. I’ve recently been on a path toward energising what I do – both teaching and creating art – and it’s working, if slowly.

I have revisited what it is to keep a sketchbook, and am now making it a morning meditation of sorts. I know in my mind that no one will miss me if I take ten minutes or an hour first thing in the morning to fill a page or two in a little sketchbook. I know that keeping a sketchbook is a valuable tool for experimentation and learning. The “doing” is a little more challenging because of my guilt-centric thought processes, but I’m getting into it now.

I used to draw all the time. Drawing is my first love. It’s always been my conduit to the weirdness in my head, the outlet for expression and the wonderful (and, at times, frustrating) challenge of documenting what I observe. I love freaky drawing. I love realistic drawing. I love it all. So what the hell happened that I stopped filling sketchbooks?

Somewhere along the way – let’s just say, since art school – I programmed myself that art wasn’t going to be a viable living. I didn’t go to a traditional art school; I have an industrial design degree. I regret nothing, but something about that planted a toxic seed deep inside me that sprouted slowly into a full-blown “you’ll always be a hobbyist” mentality. I overcame this for a few years of genuine fine artist success a handful of years ago. I was represented by a couple of galleries. I sold expensive paintings around the world. I had large solo exhibitions. I grabbed the dream and made it work for a little while.

But art sales are difficult to count on and so I looked to establish a secondary income stream. Teaching on Skillshare has been the best thing for my confidence and income but also created a difficult situation: I found I had to really focus on one or the other – either class creation/teaching or fine artist, and so I chose to build my teaching career into a reliable income. I pay my bills with what I teach online and that’s fricking fantastic. What is not fantastic is that now I’m ready to balance the two areas of my art life and it is so hard.

I haven’t seriously, regularly painted canvases in several years. I haven’t drawn for the joy of drawing in sketchbooks for years. I don’t feel like a beginner, but rather like someone coming out of a coma and being very, very rusty at everything. Sure I can draw. Sure I can paint. I have been competently and successfully teaching others how to do that stuff for years. But, can I paint for me? For what’s in my head? Can I risk the weird stuff rising up and splatting onto pages and paintings? Of course, but it’s tricky, I won’t lie. I have been mostly creating examples for classes for years but rarely challenging myself. I’m in the process of changing that now.

I’m taking those 10-60 minutes in the morning to break down some barriers and tap back into the truly creative me. I’m beginning a journey of belief in my own work again and it’s already making a difference in how I feel about my art and being in my studio.

I’m in the middle of producing a new Skillshare class now, and it is taking longer than I’d like, but at least this time it’s because of allergy season issues preventing me from working rather than mental health reasons. I’m forging new, healthy work habits and the sketchbook work is one aspect of that. I’m pretty rubbish at traditional meditation, so the sketchbook time is my morning meditation. I meet myself at my desk, perhaps listen to an art world podcast, and draw. Today I added gouache to the drawings and love it. I actually enjoyed the process instead of feeling like I was wasting time or making crap. (Maybe it is crap, but I enjoyed it.)

I feel like I’ve turned a corner and perhaps I’m entering a new phase of my art life. It still involves teaching (I love teaching), but I am returning to the joy of making things for the sake of making them. Instead of rare or infrequent bursts of creativity that leave me exhausted, insecure and unhappy, I am making a daily effort to reconnect with my creative self. Feels good.