After the excitement of a new idea and before the work is expertly hung on the wall, placed upon the gallery pedestal, or lovingly packaged and shipped to it’s new home, there comes a point of real struggle. You may not know which direction to go, and several false starts will likely occur. It may end up not working at all.
This is an uncomfortable place fraught with self-doubt and disappointment.
All summer I was itching to be in the studio on a regular basis. Unfortunately I never managed to align my various obligations in order to attain that goal.
Creatively, I had to be content with constantly rolling ideas around in my head, imagining one thing, then swapping it out for another, then storing it away for when my family’s routine shifted and we were all back at our work again.
That end-of-summer moment finally came for me and my boys, who are in the 5th grade and 7th grade respectively, when they started back at school three weeks ago.
After sending the boys off with paper towels, Ziplock bags and plenty of hand sanitizer, I piled the random bags and small boxes of supplies I had scraped by with over the summer into my car. I drove to the studio with a silly grin plastered across my face and a Yeti mug filled to the brim with delicious coffee clutched in my hand.
I was finally alone with my Audible books and Spotify playlists, materials at the ready, apron draped over my shoulders.
The rush of being back in the studio, was quickly followed by the blow of dissatisfaction.
The ideas, having roamed around in my head for months, felt solved. But the materials bucked at my insistence that they function a certain way.
The wax muddied the collage. A layer of handmade paper disappeared into the texture and color behind it instead of standing out and blending in the way I imagined it would. Compositions and layouts didn’t work. Elements merged instead of contrasting, bringing forth a puddle for the viewer to sit in and wonder, “what the heck?” instead of following a journey of discovery and imagination.
Hours would go by and I’d get ready to leave the studio by peeling away the protective newsprint and throwing it in the recycle bin, scraping the dried wax off the table, collecting the towels I would need to wash at home - looking at my progress from the day, the work felt depressingly unfinished.
I realized I had two choices; give up or accept that it is going to require a difficult push to get the work where I want it to be. So I began a practice of reviewing my progress each night, preparing and planning for the next day.
I always photograph my work in progress at the end of a session in the studio. After I’ve gotten my kids fed, helped with homework, walked the dog - you know, lived my evening life - I sit down to look at the pictures.
Occasionally my husband interrupts my ritual to make sure I’m ok. I think he might worry that I’ve fallen asleep sitting up or possibly had a small stroke, because I don’t move. I just sit, thinking. Once in a while I reach for my wine glass as I swipe to the next picture on my phone. When I confirm that I’m just full on in what I lovingly refer to as my “mind palace”, visualizing what steps could be taken next, he smiles and leaves me to it.
This past week those evening moments have been clouded with frustration. My physical work wasn’t aligning with the vision in my mind and I couldn’t come up with a plan other than to keep experimenting. So that’s what I’m currently doing: allowing myself to experiment, to sink into and fully embrace the process.
On top of the reality check that making art is painful and sometimes slow, my vision of ramping up my social media presence came crashing down with each experiment or unsuccessful attempt at a new process.
I feel a strong urge to be finished before sharing with the rest of the world. I want to say smart things. I want to show well crafted thoughtful work. Showing works in progress, works that are maybe leaning toward the failure side rather than the finished side is an extremely vulnerable place to willingly put myself in. Despite the fact that I know that success is often born from failure.
Sitting by myself each night and returning to the studio the next day is essential, but so is community. Hearing feedback, sometimes even just hearing my thoughts out loud, sparks different ideas, solutions, perspectives.
A well thought out comment or even an out-of-the-box remark is often the nudge an artist needs, the push that might just lead to the other side of this messy middle.
So...all wishful thinking and ego aside, welcome to my mess, welcome to my process.