eyes front! on minding your own creative business

Eyes front! On minding your own creative business, and why blinkers can be a useful part of your artist's toolkit.

Something that is becoming ever clearer to me as I continue my artist journey is that the less attention I pay to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, the richer my experience {of pretty much everything} and the clearer and more ‘me’ everything I do becomes. Which then ripples back out into the world with a very different, and frankly much more effective and useful energy.

Instead of a kind of scattergun, wide and shallow approach of absorbing everything like an indiscriminate sponge {since even when I’m discriminating, the world slips other stuff in with it}, when I face forward I can go narrow and deep. This is not just because my attention is focused, but also because in doing so new insights and ideas can arise within the smaller – and paradoxically larger – space within which I’m working.

It’s not exactly ‘new information’ to say this, I realise. :) But I don’t think it’s ever about new information; it’s about understanding what we ‘know’ – often purely intellectually – in new ways. Of really getting it, all the way down, as a felt experience.

I ‘knew’ of course that poking around in what other people are doing – whether that’s painting, writing, online creative business, website design, or whatever else I’m currently looking at – is not the answer to finding my own path, my own artistic style, my own way of writing or creating. And that it can lead to comparisonitis and disheartenment. Which really should be a word if it isn’t already.

And there are definitely merits to seeing what other people are doing; it’s good to have an idea of what’s going on, it’s good to allow new perspectives and ways of doing things onto your radar, it’s good to find inspiration outside your personal sphere, it’s good to connect with others doing similar work in the world.

But generally, I’m starting to find, all that absolutely must be secondary to facing forward and doing my own thing.

How can I possibly find out what ‘my own thing’ even means if I’m not actually in it, narrow and deep, discovering it?

Case in point: the {non}planner I created at the start of the year as a free gift for anyone who wants it. First and foremost I created this planner for me. I tried doing it with ‘everyone else’ in mind and kept hitting brick walls and too much complexity. I’m not a structure person, so why would I create something with specific boxes to fill in or specific questions to answer if I’d never use it? Why would I offer something I wouldn’t use myself? True, someone else might love that, but if I’m creating something that doesn’t align with who I am, the energy is wrong, it lacks integrity. People can feel that. It’s why we can feel a bit icky when we see something that’s clearly a rip off of something else. And I’ve found that when I create with full integrity – not just 90%, or even 99% integrity – more people like whatever it is.

My best offerings, my most helpful offerings, come from a place in me that is purely and 100% me.

It can be a difficult balance to navigate. To me, connection is an integral and essential part of being a creative person. Connection online is my primary means of communicating with friends and peers, of sharing my art, teaching courses and so on; I value it very highly and have seen it generate rich friendships, exciting collaborations, laughter, abundance and learning.

I probably could create in a vacuum, but eventually I’d also go mad; I need to be able to share, to discuss, to receive encouragement and support and to send those things out. For me, connection is what completes the circle.

And if I’m going to make my own ‘pure’ work, something that has real depth and truth to it, I must also isolate myself and shut the doors on what’s ‘out there’.

I think perhaps what it comes down to is the quality of the attention and a very deep level of self knowledge. My best attention really ought by default to be going to my own work. That means knowing what part of the day and when in the month {and year} I’m most creative. It means really listening inside myself to intuitive nudges about when to step away from the computer, when exactly I need to go for walk to mull things over, when it’s the right moment to write because it’ll be the most clear and insightful, when it’s a good time to go to the studio and paint, when I’m on top of my game in terms of communicating, and when I need to rest and percolate.

I don’t know if it’s possible to be your most richly, rewardingly and originally creative self if you’re comfortable being a surface dweller, but all the active creatives I know and can think of who radiate uniqueness, are generally speaking naturally inclined to introspection, to solitude, to deep thinking and to questioning.

I find these qualities invaluable not just because they are part of who I am and need to be honoured, but also in identifying and developing my creative work.

I love to look at the work of other artists for inspiration, and I encourage it in others. It’s a totally valid means of finding inspiration. But I also know where to draw the line so that I am not copying when I take my inspiration to the studio, and so that I don’t become disheartened or self critical because I’ve started comparing. {Sidenote: Have you noticed how comparing is never a happy solution, whether you feel you come out ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than whatever/whomever you’re comparing yourself to? It’s utterly utterly pointless. And yet we still do it!} It’s taken me literally years to really get to grips with this, and of course there’s always room for more learning. I’m not immune to envy and self doubt.

I think that’s the essence of it really. Without taking the time – and not just sometimes, but as a way of life – to know ourselves deeply and intimately, to ferret around in our own business instead of anyone and everyone else’s, is the only way we can truly bring our richest, most powerful and completely unique work into the world.

What do you think? Is it more of a pleasing theory that your best, most original and whole creative work comes from taking an ‘eyes front’ stance, or is it an integrated truth for you at this point? Are you still finding it difficult to stop checking on everyone else and looking ‘out there’ for answers? I’d love to hear your experience around this sensitive balance – tell us in the comments!

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  • Elizabeth says:

    I love this post Tara – I spend far too much time checking out what others are doing and not enough time doing my own thing. It leads to overwhelm and paralysis and just plain panic. I like your line – How can I possibly find out what ‘my own thing’ even means if I’m not actually in it, narrow and deep, discovering it?

    The thought of going “narrow and deep” into a place of discovery feels good to me. I’ll try to remember this.
    Thank you :)

    • Tara says:

      It’s incredibly hard not to get caught up when everything so readily available at the click of a mouse! I love the narrow and deep thing too; it’s nice to have a visual. :) So glad this post was helpful to you Elizabeth.

  • Carmen says:

    So much YES! Sat nodding my head throughout this post Tara. As you know I am coming to the end of an Access course where I am 39 and am surrounded by 18/19 years olds just starting out on their journey. They are SO talented. Crazy talented – seemingly effortlessly. I cannot begin to tell you how many months I sat paralysed with “what am I doing here? I’m not up to this standard, I’m wasting my time” Then – I don’t know what it was, we had a certain workshop one day and I’m sat trying to paint realistically (because the girl behind me and the girl directly opposite are just so flipping brilliant at that) getting more and more frustrated. I think I actually said the words “F*** it” And I never swear. Ever. Squirted the paint on, got directly in there with my hands and was smooshing stuff around. When I finished it was probably one of my favourite things I did on this course. I came back from lunch and caught one of those girls standing with her friends going “look at that, it’s fantastic” one of my tutors said it reminded him of Tim Burton and I just couldn’t believe it – all coming from me stopping comparing and just being me.

    Can’t say I haven’t compared since then, I’d be lying through my teeth.BUT I started to realise that what other people do is NOT what I do. I can admire but don’t compare. I am trying so hard to hold on to and remember the feeling and the freedom and the joy of the day as it was like a lightbulb moment. I think there should be horse blinkers for artists you know :P

    • Tara says:

      What a great story Carmen! I love that you shared that here. So heartening, especially for anyone wanting to go to college as a mature student. And huge props to you for actually doing it! I’ve noticed that in my own painting, when I get to the fuck it point, right after that is when things really start getting interesting. So sometimes it’s worth getting frustrated and stuck!

  • Tara, first of all, you write beautifully, making reading such a pleasure.

    Second, I have so much to say about this post – basically yes to all of it! It’s a fine balance to look to others for insight and inspiration yet dance to the beat of our own drum and cultivate our individual authenticity.
    I highly recommend Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts. I found it so affirming from an authenticity point of view – and it echoes some of what you say here.

    Brilliant insight Tara, thank you.

    • Tara says:

      Thank you so much Vicki! I really appreciate that. It really is a fine balance, and not really one you can just set and forget in my experience! It’s alway a process. Thanks for the book rec too – will definitely check that out!

  • Katie says:

    Amazing post Tara! I definitely have comparisonitis and it sucks! I always seek inspiration online from others and it usually ends up as ‘whats the point’ thoughts and even bouts of depression. It helps me to think, there is always somebody ‘better’, whatever it is. Artistic expressions, fitness, health, family life, but usually the people we admire, are also unhappy themselves. It’s a vicious circle. I am really going to meditate on this post and make changes to my daily life which will result in more happiness…I’m sure! Thank you Tara for your insightful and very intelligent conclusions on life. Katie x

    • Tara says:

      I’m so glad it was helpful to you Katie. It’s so easy to say ‘oh yes we all get this’ but somehow when you’re seeing all the shiny happy stuff all the time {and I choose to share the positive because that’s what my work’s about – I consciously don’t talk about personal struggles unless they relate} it can be hard to really BELIEVE it. I think it’s just an ongoing process really; it’s not like you deal with it and you’re done forever! It probably doesn’t help that much to tell you I think your work is lovely and very distinctly ‘you’, but there, I said it anyway. :)

  • Patsy Cress says:

    Thanks for this post on creating your own style. I used to compare my work with others and get depressed because it was not like theirs. Now I enjoy looking at a variety of art work for inspiration but still have my own style. Because of family/life conflicts, I will not be very active in art for several months but I try to keep up with your posts.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Patsy, thanks for stopping by! So great to hear that you have made – and enjoy! – the distinction between what’s yours and what’s not. Not always easy!

  • Lisa Meyers says:

    Tara, after reading all the comments I have to agree with them all. Fear is always showing it’s ugly self in myself and I know this stops me from putting myself out there. I just bought a book by Emily Ball “drawing and painting people” that explains in detail about taking cues and using other artists creative works. It is definitely helpful, but I still struggle on……..as i want to make work I like but also will be sellable.

    • Tara says:

      Lisa that is one of my all time favourite art books! In my experience sellable work can be one of two things; it can be work you do that you know you can do but that doesn’t necessarily fill you up or challenge you, or it can be work that comes straight from your heart and soul. {I’m sure there are people out there who have found a way to combine both but I haven’t yet!} If you hit on something people love that’s easy for you to do, you could make lots of it while following your true passion in art making steadily ‘in the background’. All I know really is that the paintings I make that feel as though it wasn’t ‘me’ making them are often the ones that sell.

  • Elizabeth Winters says:

    This was such a great post, Tara. All my life I’ve felt like the little girl running after everyone else, calling, “Wait for me, I’m running as fast as I can!” (I’m 66 years old, btw!).. It’s time to stop that! But there are so many beautiful ideas, techniques to try, etc. My monkey mind loves the phrase, “Why didn’t we think of that? We can do that, too!”

    No, we can’t. I can do my own thing. Without Monkey Mind.

    • Tara says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it Elizabeth! Monkey mind can certainly confuse the issue! I think it’s great to use what we discover out there to inspire us, but that inward focus is essential to drawing out our own unique way of approaching it.

  • Vicky Paton says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I have recently started a blog. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I finally just jumped in. I also opened a page on FB. to feature my artwork. Through all of this I have been doing A LOT of research into how to be a great blogger, how to direct traffic to your pages, etc. It really just boils down to me being authentic and honoring MY artistic self. Realizing that I need to say and share what is important to me. This is the only way that I will be able to reach anyone. However, with that said I may find out that no one cares what I have to say or wants to look at my artwork. AND THAT IS OK.
    I love interacting with other artists it feeds my Creative soul to hear what other people are up to. So thanks for helping me feel grounded in this.

    • Tara says:

      Wow Vicky, congratulations on taking all these big steps! I’ve done all that research too, and it’s definitely helpful, but as you say, in the end we have to do what feels true to us – that’s what attracts the people who need to see or experience our work. They will come! I’m so glad you found the post helpful.

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