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.

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.

 

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