A quiet revolution has taken place in my office.
When I moved in a year and a half ago, I piled up my decade-old art supplies in a corner of my office, behind some other odds and ends. “One day” I said to myself. Which is something I had been saying to myself since I stopped making art a year or two after graduating art school.
School and pressure and perfectionism and anxiety make for a deadly brew.
Something inside me had been stirring for a while. I’m not sure where the unfounded optimism came from, but when a friend posted that she was selling a drafting table for cheap, I bought it. I put it in my office next to those unused art supplies. I sat facing it from my office desk, and it became a home for clutter.
I have been struggling with what feels like a chronic inability to do anything, make decisions, move my life forward (I believe this is called depression). I am also not great at expressing emotions, or even realizing I have emotions much less put words to them. When I had the opportunity to have some therapy a few years ago, I learned that with time and space, I can “see” what I’m feeling. I can tell a story about how it visually looks inside, in colorful, metaphoric detail. This fact has stayed with me for a long time, because I realized one of the reasons I’ve become so unable to identify my own feelings is that I stopped making art.
I came to a breaking point, and the only thing that made sense to me was to pull out those paints. But I needed a completely different approach from my art school days. I needed this to be about curiosity, play, experimentation, and unselfconscious expression. I didn’t want this to be about trying to become professional or make the most amazing, world-changing paintings or pander for likes on Instagram.
And so I bought a book, and at the time I bought it, I can’t really tell you why I wanted it. Find Your Artistic Voice by Lisa Congdon; I actually visited her studio in person and bought it there. She was wearing a red track suit and seemed really art cool. I had to push past feelings of jealousy/intimidation/jadedness/flashbacks to not feeling particularly cool. I have to admit, it was really tough. In those moments, I want to make fun of the person who is challenging me; part of me wanted to walk out of there making bad jokes about “oh doesn’t she thinks she’s so cool in her track suit”, but I decided instead to just embrace it and get past my own insecurities. And I am so glad I did.
This book has been utterly transformative for me; I’ve read it twice already in the last month. She has managed to pick out so many things that I struggled with in the past, about having to work through boredom, frustration, and fear. About feeling like you need your totally unique, never-before-been-done style before you can call yourself an artist and show up to the party. It’s not like I haven’t heard the advice “just get to work doing the thing”, but I guess this is the way I needed to hear it.
And so I set about it. I started painting again—in a medium completely new to me, forcing me not just to feel like a beginner, but to actually be a beginner, which takes the pressure off. Nothing is going to look good, so anything goes.
I redecorated and organized my office space, so now it feels more like a studio, and less like an attic with a desk in it. And I love being in this room (which is good because I work from home so I’m in here 8-11 hours a day!). I also hung two lovely prints I also bought from Congdon’s shop, which fills the space with fun and color.
I can’t even begin to tell you how happy it makes me to be spreading color around on paper again, to be drawing gestural portraits of my dogs, to paint something really terrible, force myself to stick with it, and actually turn the damn thing around. I’m sure one day I’ll feel like posting photos on the internet, but I only want to do it to share my own excitement, not to get approval or stroke my ego. Currently I’m on a complete social media black out, which has really opened up the space for me to have my own thoughts and the time I need to find my artistic flow again.