Providence: It’s Unreliable, So Get to Work

Some days, painting just happens. I sit down in front of a canvas, and pull out a brush or a palate knife. I reach for color after color, mixing and blending in a trance until I have a hue that perfectly expresses my mood. I can see the image I am aiming for emblazoned clearly at the top of my mind. I might stop to create a sketch to be sure I can render it accurately on canvas the first go-round (that stuff ain’t cheap!), but mostly I just lay down line after line, shape after shape, smoothing and blending as needed. Eventually I come to in a burst of suddenly conscious thoughts, often worrying and aesthetically analyzing, only to find myself staring at a viable newly created painting, sometimes a beginning and sometimes a complete image, created without hesitation as though compelled.

I freaking love those days. The sense of something moving through me, of giving up anxiety and control to the self-fulfilling process of just making something. Those instances are moments of freedom from the otherwise incessant chatter of my mind, the litany of hopes and wants and worries and doubts and dreams. They’re great.

On the other hand, they suck. They don’t come often and they sure don’t come at will. Knowing that creation can be like that– effortless, fearless, and clear– I work myself up worrying whether or not I’ll be able to reach that state of calm, whether I’ll be able to make anything good, and thus destroy even the possibility of getting close. Often, I make myself so stressed that I don’t paint at all because I know everything I create will be unsuccessful and out-of-balance: a mirror of the state-of-mind that created it.

Unfortunately, harboring fear while waiting anxiously for providential calm and inspiration to hit is not an effective way to be a happy, healthy, expressed artist– or person in general, for that matter. So I’m taking a new tactic: work. Just work, all the damn time, with discipline, with structure, whether I feel like an artistic genius or a worthless hack. I’m not telling myself to “paint” or “make something” because even those phrases fill me with anticipatory  overwhelm-tion that I must create a big, meaningful, powerful, finished thing of incredible awesomeness.

Instead, I’m co-opting a method from my sister, the writer, an early-adopter of the creative life and a life-saver to this frequently-flailing artist. Pick a time of day and a volume of time that you feel you can stick to EVERY DAY. Take that time every day, and just work. In any way, on anything. As a writer, she started with ten minutes of free-writing, allowing herself the space to create even a single sentence or a single word, anything that meant she was writing. Within six months, she had scaled up to a minimum hour of work on her first novel. I’m starting with ten minutes a day of drawing, in the morning, every morning. Some days, there may be providence and clarity. And some days, there may be this:

Angry plant days. Either way, there will be pictures.

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