Becoming a happy artist

becoming a happy artist

I’m about to do something very out of character. Two things actually. I’m going to talk about my experience of depression in detail, and I’m going to step onto a platform where I can be seen. {Sounds  anxious making fun!}

I have a lifetime behind me of wanting to go unnoticed. I avoid the spotlight at all costs. I’m an introvert recluse who doesn’t want to go to parties {or even leave the house most days}, has a phobia of group meals, and will almost certainly {and very politely} turn down your invitation to… well, anything.

But something has been growing in me and it just gets louder and more insistent, and now it wants to be Real. It wants to be a movement {apparently}. Let me just back up a minute first though.

A bit of back story

For a long time I was what you might call a non practising artist. I’ve always loved art, and actively made it, from wielding crayons at Montessori to spending a year on a foundation course after dropping out of university where I was supposed to be studying English Lit. {And I did, for a year and a term.} I loved that year of total art immersion.

Then, I don’t know what happened.

Well actually I do, I just don’t remember how or when the art started not being part of my life. I was battling to stay on the planet, fighting {or mostly not fighting} waves of depression that had started around age eleven, and didn’t leave till almost twenty years later.

Art took a back seat. A lot of the time it got out of the car and went meandering off into the fields. I think maybe I did do art sometimes; quite honestly my memory of much of that period is shot. Depression and antidepressants will do that. I worked in a Montessori school for several years and did a lot of kid art. Not really the same.

I wasn’t self expressed. At all. Unless you count the stacks of journals, which I don’t. They’re not art. They’re mostly a tangle of distress and despair, not so much creation as expulsion.

Anyway.

I still loved art, deep down, in theory, but I wasn’t making any. I don’t think I can say I missed it, because as I said, survival was the main thing. {Or fighting the desire not to.} But I do remember the day I stepped back into my art.

The turning point {probably}

I was living with my parents, who had rescued me and were helping me recuperate from a particularly epic breakdown, during which I spent months in bed, staring at the wall, crying because even the blank wall was painful to look at, because being awake was painful. Switching between intense pain and utter indifferent numbness. And guilt, because I was so minimally functioning my mum had basically become my carer.

I remember sitting on the floor at the end of the bed one day, with a small canvas and some paints and brushes {no idea where they came from}, and I painted a tree.

It was a really bad, awkward, childlike tree. It was dark blue on a yellowy orange background, and the branches ended in curls and dots. I knew it was shit, and I didn’t care. It was a painting, and I loved it because it came out of me, and I was so used to only pain, or nothing at all, coming out of me.

I don’t even remember what happened after that. My memory then jumps to the flat I moved into in a new city on my own shortly after, where my life started looking like this:

Dining Table Studio

I went from being a non practising artist to an absolutely obsessed {and still not very creatively articulate} artist. Not overnight, but it happened. That was when I started getting well. {Helped also by energy work.}

Maybe the awkward tree painting was the turning point. Maybe when I’m famous {which, by the way, will never happen, because see paragraph two}, they’ll write about the tree painting as the pivotal moment in my outstanding life and career. Ha.

Why yes, there is a point to this long story. Patience, grasshopper.

{That might be not the phrase, but anyway.}

For the past eight or so years, I’ve been making art, incessantly. About three years ago I started teaching. Not teaching art, per se, but teaching people how to return to and reclaim their artist selves, because I knew what happened if you didn’t, I knew how to do it, and I knew what happened if you did.

And most of all, because I wanted to live in a world where people were expressing themselves through art {if that was what called to them; if you want to express yourself through opera singing I can’t help you}. People who want to make art and then also make it, are the kind of people the world needs.

Lately that calling has only got louder; it’s actually pretty much all I hear.

I have ideas pouring through me of things to make to help you make your art.

My private Facebook group is filling up with people who take my courses and then start making their art on the regular. {They’re such happy, kind, supportive, expressive people!}

I talk obsessively about my process on Instagram, because I want you to know that whatever you’re experiencing is valid.

My daily life is all about art and creativity. I live, breathe, talk about, think about, write about, and make, art.

My sofa revelation

I’ve been turning over words and phrases in my mind for weeks now, trying to find a nugget that would express my mission succinctly. {As you may know, or will have now gathered if you’ve got this far, that is not my forté.}

I wanted to somehow distill the essence of what I do so that people who found me would know straight away if this was for them or not, and so I could create the absolute most helpful, useful things in a focused and efficient way.

I have about 794 pieces of paper surrounding me right now, covered in scrawled ideas, half baked thoughts, ideas, question marks and diagrams.

As I sat on the sofa this evening with yet another piece of paper in front of me, I kept thinking, what is this really about? If I had to create a hashtag {which by nature has to be succinct} for why I’m here, what would it be?

And then I heard it.

#happyartistmovement

It’s not that mind blowing really. But these three words sum up everything I do, everything I offer, everything I create, the way I live my life, what I believe in. And more to the point, what you can be.

It encompasses the artist experience in all the ways that are most important:

  • that self knowledge and deep internal clarity enable you to paint like the glorious one of a kind person you are {Abstractify, Touchstone, most of my blog posts} ie. freedom in self expression = happiness
  • that you can cultivate the artist lifestyle that fits you, your needs, your desires, and your current life, and still be fulfilled {Touchstone, more blog posts}
  • that you can learn the basics in terms of techniques and skills to make art that satisfies and delights you in both process and outcome {Creative Spark, Touchstone, blog posts}
  • the need for encouragement, feedback and support {Facebook group, email}
  • freedom from the paralysing chokehold the demons often have on us when we want to make our art {pretty much everything I make}

I don’t think pain is necessary to be an artist. I will never suggest that making art is a continually happy experience – sometimes it’s excruciating! – but when you’re making your art consistently and with integrity, that’s a very good and reliable way to up the happiness quotient in your life.

Not only that, but it will teach you everything you need to know about life and being human. Lessons learned in the studio will always work outside it in some form or another. Making art will teach you who you are, and people who know who they are always want to serve a greater purpose in some way, however small.

That’s the world I want to live in. A world where we get to be exactly who we are, which means we’re generating and radiating the pure healing energy of love.

What makes a happy artist?

In my experience, clarity, consistency, encouragement, and a few tools are enough to make a happy artist. I can help you with those. That’s why I am thinking of my work now as a movement for happy artists.

Even though the thought of saying I’m starting something as grandiose as a movement makes me want to crawl into a small hole where no one will see me. Even though I’m afraid that standing for something so ‘oversimplifying’ will incite criticism or misunderstanding. Even though I’m weirdly simultaneously afraid that no one will care. {Can’t win in this game!}

I want to invite you to join the movement, in whatever way works for you. Maybe you’ll take a course with me. Maybe you’ll sign up for my Artnotes. {Both those things come with an invitation to the Facebook group.} Maybe you’ll add my blog to your reading list. Maybe you’ll follow me on Instagram, or Facebook.

Maybe you’ll just make more art. {That would be awesome.}

These days I am a happy artist. I don’t make art every day, I don’t love everything I make, and I don’t have fun every single second of making art. I still experience the demons; procrastination, self doubt, fear, imposter syndrome, artist’s block, frustration, stuckness, ruts. {Not perfectionism; that’s the only one that seems to have actually gone away. I think.}

But I’m making my art. I’m self expressed, and it only expands and becomes ever clearer.

Because I’m a happy artist, my life is better. It really is that simple. Art doesn’t fix everything, but it makes a fundamental and significant difference. I want that for you. I’d love you to join me.

***

PS. Since the hashtag was in fact available, I’ve decided to adopt it. Feel free to use it on Instagram on any photo you share that demonstrates your taking action as, or towards being, a happy artist. Use it for any art you make as part of one of my courses. Use it to show the world what kind of energy a happy artist brings.

Touchstone course

PPS. My newest happy artist endeavour is Touchstone. It’s a brand new four week course designed to help you find clarity and purpose as you cultivate the artist lifestyle that’s going to suit you best, whether that’s making art now and then for pleasure, developing it into a career, or anything in between. Click the image to find out more and sign up for updates.

 

31 Comments

  • Stephanie says:

    Wow, what a powerful story. Thanks for sharing! While I never sunk to such depths (my heart goes out to you for all the pain you went through!) I knew that I was heading in that direction unless I started making art and creativity more of a focus in my life. Thanks for putting your message so clearly into words, and for being a constant inspiration. I’ll definitely be using the hashtag!

    • Tara says:

      Thank you Stephanie. I don’t usually go into such detail, but it felt appropriate, especially because I know that so many people who read my blog have been through or are going through similar, and because it is what led to what I do now. I love to hear that you course corrected by bringing more creativity and art into your life. :)

  • Lisa says:

    You, you glorious woman, have become a bit of a life-raft in my life. No responsibilities there, so don’t worry. :-) You (through your website and posts) came into my life in the middle of my own depression (the 3rd major one in my life and the most difficult to get out of… I’m still not completely back to my old self… may never be). Thank you for sharing your personal story. I remember thinking, when I first started following your site, that I could feel the openness, the desire to help others grow into themselves as artists and just as people. And I could tell that you understood that journey. I so appreciate your FB page where people are encouraged to share their art, whatever level, and it’s appreciated by others as part of their journey. (….and I totally get how you feel about publishing then hiding. I’m going to do that now…gaaaahhhh)

    • Tara says:

      Ah Lisa that’s so sweet! I’m so happy to have been able to be part of your support system, and very touched by your kind words. It’s so good to hear that the intention comes through as well. See you in the group soon! <3

    • Maggie Barker says:

      I agree Lisa :)

  • David Raison says:

    A lot of people will not understand how much depression can impact a life. I haven’t been affected but have worked in Mental Health and with colleagues suffering with the black dog. So often, depression is a hidden illness. Well done for finding a way forward. And yes, making art can be extraordinarily hard.

    • Tara says:

      It does still seem to be a bit shrouded in mystery, despite the fact that I have yet to come across a human being who hasn’t either experienced it or known someone close who has. Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts David. {Love your boat paintings by the way!}

  • Maggie Barker says:

    Heart felt thanks for expressing so accurately what many of us out here in the Creatasphere recognise and possibly have struggled alone in. Too few feel able to share with such honesty ♥️. Art is literally a life saver and your blogs, Fb group and creative energy and motivation have helped me more that you will know. So, I am definitely for the cause!
    #happyartistmovement 🎉

    • Tara says:

      I do love that word creatasphere! Maggie I’m so happy that my work has been helping you; it’s a pleasure to have you in the happy artist movement! :)

  • Brigitte says:

    Woo hoo! I love it. Thank you so much for taking the time and courage to tell your story. It’s wonderful. I can relate. Not to depression (although I’ve seen a lot of it around me) but the times when I didn’t paint and haven’t been able to paint for some reason or another. I’m at a turning point from not doing much for the last 5 or so years leading up to and since having my 4.5 year old. Little snippets but no way enough for my liking. And I’m with you. I have a lot of art journals and sketches but that just isn’t enough for me. I want more. I want my studio filled with works on the go. That won’t happen for a little while so I have to suffice with the moments I have for now. Since coming across your blog, I’m on a mission to try and do some kind of painting or drawing everyday. I’m going to add that hashtag now to all my Instagram pieces. I’ve downloaded your freebie courses but haven’t started any of them yet and look forward to the one coming up in September. School holidays here at the moment and have been away so I’m catching little snippets every day and will do more when my daughter goes back to kindy. You’ve been an absolute inspiration. Thank you from out in the creatasphere from one happy artist to another in this #happyartistmovement :)

    • Tara says:

      Yay! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experiences Brigitte. I think you make a great point – there are times in life when our art cannot take precedence in the way we might dream of, but there are ways and means! Kudos for doing daily art as well, especially during summer holidays. :) So happy to hear from you and wishing you substantial pockets of art time!

      • Brigitte says:

        Thank you Tara. I’m on the opposite side of the world – Perth, Australia – so I’m in Winter here. It kind of makes it easier to shut myself away instead of being at the beach, and when it’s hot, I don’t want to do anything. It gets REALLY hot here so I find myself working more during Winter so it’s all good. I haven’t done anything (art wise) for the last couple of days but I hope to next week as we’re heading south to house sit in the middle of the bush close to the beach – Margaret River. It’s an inspirational area so what I might do is stick all the course outlines I’ve been sent from you, onto my phone or print them out as inspiration. Looking forward to some down time and therefore sketching time!

        • Tara says:

          I can relate to the heat thing; since summer finally kicked in here work has suddenly become very unappealing! Even though I love it! The house sit sounds lovely!

          • Brigitte says:

            Especially if you’re near the ocean. I’m drawn to the ocean!!! Mind you, the ocean brings inspiration as well. Yes, the house (and dog) sit will be glorious!!! It would be even more glorious if it was just me but I’m looking forward to a little “family” get together. My partner, 4.5 year old daughter and me.

  • Louise says:

    What a great idea Tara! All your thoughts and endeavours regarding art come at a time when I am reading two excellent books about the whole process of becoming and growing as an artist. Like you, art was a part of my life when I was a teenager and then life got in the way and it took retirement to bring it back. Now art seems to be mostly all I think about.

    I most appreciate the online community of artists like you who are so supportive and encouraging, something that wasn’t possible to even imagine when I was a teen long ago. I am still finding my way to being an artist and your blog posts are very helpful to me in that whole process. Thank you so much for being so candid and sharing your personal stories here with us. ❤️🇨🇦

  • Bev Otto says:

    Hello Tara. I have just read your story and all the time I was reading it I could relate to it as my story. Because you see that was me about 7years ago and likwe you thats all I ever wanted to do ART. I entered as competition when I was a child and won it. I then had to telll my parents what I had been up to. Well my bubble got shot down,
    tramped on and ground into the dirt. My ego was shot to pieces so
    nothing was ever done about it,
    .but I always said to myself if I ever
    got the chance to do my art I
    would. I dont look after sick people
    any more just myself. So I am
    going to take that chance with
    both hands and hold on to it tight
    I am now in U3A enjoying what I have always wanted to do. Thank you so much for reading my story and sharing yours. God bless and taked care.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Bev – sadly such a common occurrence for so many. But then always a triumph to bring your art back! Thank you for sharing your experience here. :)

  • Ilona says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! As I was reading it was almost like I was reading my own story. I went to college for a while, dropped out due to mental health issues, stopped making art, and was miserable. Once I started making art again I regained so much of myself!

    I’m so glad I found your post. I love finding people with the same purpose. 😊

    • Tara says:

      It’s a common theme for sure, evident even from what’s coming up in the comments! Your site is lovely!

  • Pauline says:

    What a beautiful post Tara! it’s brought a big smile to my face on a day when I was having the ‘excruciating’ moment in the painting process, and feeling disheartened. So lovely to watch you blossom as an artist over the past few years, and the wonderful ways you are creatively engaging with your art calling to help others. ‘Proceed with confidence’ :))))) xoxoxo

  • Gina Sismilich says:

    Wow – you have blessed many by sharing your insides! I am more an extrovert although as I get older (how did that happen) I find I need down time more. You have really touched my heart and I’m sending a virtual hug. I came to art late in life and it makes me see the beauty of the world amidst all the crap.

  • dal says:

    Hail the revolution Tara! My fist is in the air! Passion, power, energy and blistering honesty. I love this so much and can certainly identify with some of your story from a writer’s perspective (and you’re also very brilliant at that too). I feel fired up by your post in terms of my writing. All the very best with the movement. xo

  • Cheryl says:

    Oh crumbs I don’t know how I missed this post, but I’m so glad you mentioned it in your latest newsletter. While I’ve never been that depressed, on a scale of 1-10 I was probably a 5) I do hide, I don’t like to mix and while I work in places with lots of people, it’s nerve wrecking:) I do art because it is an internal way of dealing with my life, and you’ve just explained it all so well. I’m glad you’ve been brave and shared your story. I have gained strength just by reading it. I’m so glad you’re a happy artist!!! :)

    • Tara says:

      I love your description of why you make art Cheryl – I don’t consciously use it to process things, but I suspect it happens anyway! Thank you for the kind words; it’s so heartening to hear that something I wrote can help others feel stronger.

  • Melanie says:

    Hello. I have saved this article and have come back and read it several times, so I felt it was time I spoke up. I came to art later in life, and only recently. I can’t say how I arrived where I am with paint brush in hand, I only know I am here and I suddenly paint. It saves/creates/reveals me in no other way. I sometimes feel like the water I use to swirl my paint has somehow washed away those things that got stuck on. I’m not terribly eloquent when it comes to describing what art is for me, I just know it’s something important, a piece of me I didn’t know existed. I do love what you’ve written here and identify with wanting to be that happy artist for myself (and for my Self). Thank you for the bravery you’ve shown by sharing such personal stories, it’s so incredibly helpful and inspiring.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Melanie, I’m so touched that you’ve returned to the post. I don’t think it’s necessary to describe what art means to us really; it’s tempting because we like to label things, but I’m always so aware that everything I write and teach can only go so far, and beyond that it’s something words can’t reach. If it feels like a necessity, that’s enough, I think. :) I’m so happy to hear you found your art.

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