Since the idea of the #happyartistmovement came to me on the sofa a few months ago, it’s become an integrated part of how I operate, a yardstick for what I create for you, and a manifesto of sorts. I talked about my own story with it here, but what’s much more important is what it could mean for you.

What even is a happy artist, really? And more importantly, how can we each become one in ways that suit us as individuals?

I’ve compiled a list, which I imagine might grow as I explore this terrain further, of all the things I experience as contributing to being a truly happy artist.

You’ll notice they’re all internal. While exhibitions, sales and recognition can be a wonderful part of being an artist, I prefer to lay the responsibility of my happiness within myself. Leaning on something external and uncertain as a source of happiness is precarious at best! This way we maintain autonomy around our experience.

And yes, I am using myself as the gauge here, because I do consider myself an actual happy artist. ;) However this list is not personal; it’s full of things we can all have and choose. It’s simply a case of finding out what that means and looks like for each of us.

So when I say happy, I mean: fulfilled, joyful, peaceful, curious, resilient, focused, and confident in your own unique mode{s} of creative self expression.

But – and let’s be very clear about this – all of this won’t be true all the time. You can be a happy artist and still have sucky days in the studio, paintings that go wrong, dry spells, self doubt, and all the rest.

Being a happy artist doesn’t exempt you from the shit {just like being enlightened doesn’t mean you don’t experience crappy life things}, it just means you have a solid base that never goes away. Which means quicker bounce back and easier access to trust. It means that your relationship with your art is not affected by outside influence.

Caveat

This isn’t the kind of list you can skim through and think yeah, yeah I know all this {with my brain}. Well, you can, but that’s not going to get you any closer to happy artistville.

Some of these feel reeeeaaaally hard to achieve. Which is not the same as saying they can’t be done. :) I’ve been through all of them at some time or other, and some I’m still not quite done with, so I know this is challenging and I’m right there in the trenches with you.

I find it helps to see it as an ongoing process, just like painting, rather than something you’re supposed to nail with ease or just can’t seem to get past. It’s pretty much always ‘both, and’, not either/or.

But on the other side of the challenges – in fact, on the other side of any one of the following points – is freedom and lightness and ease around your art you haven’t known was possible before.

That’s why it’s worth chipping away at each one until you’ve cleared it, made it your own, or whatever is most appropriate to do with it. And that’s why I’m framing them as actionable and positive, because yes, many of them are hard and take time to unravel or find our way with, so we need doable ways to help that along.

If you can activate just one of these today, you’ll start to gain immediate benefits. Promise!

1. Focus on process

This will SAVE you on every level. No exaggeration.

From dealing with a painting that’s going awry, to going through a painfully long dry patch, to what it will teach you about how to live in the way that’s most aligned with who you actually are, focusing on process is forgiving, ongoing, and where all the rich deliciousness lives.

If you put all the rich deliciousness into the final product, or how your work is received, you’re setting yourself up for a precarious time. This way, you’re always rooted in the how and the why, not the what or the who.

2. Let go of the artist label

Like this. For many of us, particularly in the early days, being able to call ourselves artists feels scary and fraudy, if not downright preposterous.

In my experience, and from my observations over the past eight years or so, the most common route to freedom from this is to get to a point where you do feel able to call yourself an artist, {by making a lot of art and getting a lot of support}, and then drop it and just make your art.

The label is useful for some things, but not for defining who you are. No label can – or should be allowed to – do that.

Related: This Artnote where I talked about the difference between being an artist and making art.

3. Make it for you, first

If there was ever a time to be ‘selfish’, this would be it. Make the art that makes YOU happy, not the art you think you should be or wish you were making, or that someone else thinks you should make.

When you are satisfied, it radiates from both you and the work, and that’s when we all benefit from your selfishness. ;)

4. Let go of ALL feedback

That means compliments AND criticism. Attaching to either is the road to disappointment, shame, self doubt, and in far too many cases, giving up altogether, sometimes for decades.

We didn’t know any better when we were kids and the teacher was mean, but now we’re adults we can activate numbers 1, 7, 10 and 11 and move past it. And the best way to do that is to keep going, to keep making the art.

5. Follow your fascinations

They are tugging at your attention for a reason, and it’s often not the reason you think, but something much deeper and more interesting. The thing is, you have to keep going to find out.

Brene Brown’s much quoted comment about unused creativity not being benign resonates for pretty much everyone because most of us have been there and know it’s true from experience. So stop ignoring what won’t go away.

6. Expect to make paintings you don’t love/you are horrified by/that make you cry

Go back to 1, because that’s what will get you through these. And try not to let these responses mean something negative about your art, and especially not about you as an artist or person.

They are part of the process – an important part. It never feels like it at the time, but later it often becomes apparent.

7. Invest in some effective blinkers

Because even though we all know this already, comparison is one of the best ways to kill confidence, and dying confidence leads to other fun things like procrastination, envy, overwhelm, and not doing what we really want to do. It also stops us being able to uncover and develop the art that’s truly our own.

8. Be in it for the long haul

If you want to be ‘good’, where good means greater understanding and depth in the work, it’s going to take practice, and that means repeatedly doing it, even when you hate it and think it’s shit and you’ve had to say no to people who weren’t pleased about it and what the hell were you thinking and now look you’ve wasted time, money, and materials and guiltfrustrationsadness.

Things that come from the deepest parts of who we are are not hobbies, they’re callings. They’re messages from your soul guiding you to your truest self expression in this life, and that means we feel magnetized to them, irrespective of whether we feel capable or up to the task.

{Tip: If you’re magnetized, then you are capable. And you’ll almost certainly not feel up to the task, at least initially, as a lovely signing on bonus. ;)}

9. Carve out a space for your art

Whether that’s a basket of supplies you keep under the coffee table or a whole room dedicated to your creativity, you and your art need a place to hang out together and work on your relationship. :)

And don’t forget time and mindset are spaces too. If you don’t have a studio you can create a container for making your art by bracketing it with intention and a candle, or making a cup of tea, or putting on an apron and taking it off when you’re done, or whatever feels right to you.

10. Learn to be kinder to yourself than you think is possible

Art will teach you this incredibly important life lesson, if you let it. It will offer you endless opportunities to NOT beat yourself up about being shit, being inconsistent, being a procrastinator, being derivative, being slow to learn, or failing in some other perceived way.

Kindness creates a space around things, a little breathing room, and we can fill that space with creating. Which makes it easier to be kind. :) #deliciouscycle

11. Learn to share

Because although it’s not compulsory – and if you’re not already – sharing {some of} what you make will enrich your creative life more than you can possibly imagine right now, in the form of friends, encouragement, support, confidence and growth, perhaps even sales and recognition, if you want those things.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s online or off, but find a supportive environment and participate in it. Give and receive. {You’ll find that one doesn’t come without the other.} I offer just such a thing when you sign up for any of my courses or Artnotes by the way. :)

12. Honour your bandwidth

There will be times when you feel so dried up and unmotivated you are Absolutely Certain you’ll never make art again. This will happen repeatedly. Let it, so you can start to see the pattern and understand your own cycles of creativity.

Resistance is painful and prolongs it. So just walk away and do something else entirely and really immerse in that, even if it takes longer than you thought/hoped/expected to return. It feels hard to do but it works, because as soon as you let go, space is created for new inspiration to come in.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the muse. Give her space to show up and she will. But don’t try and force her because she really doesn’t like it. {Does anyone?!}

13. Use the supplies!

Even if they were expensive and you’re afraid to waste them. {And in my experience, most things last much longer than you think they will.} Ask for advice from other artists, look them up on YouTube for people using them in ways that spark you, and Use Them!

If you’ve bought something that turns out not to be for you, swap it with a friend, sell it on Ebay, give it away, and/or activate number 10.

14. Explore everything.

Think of it as feeding the kid in you – she/he’s still there and needs nurturing as much as all your other parts. Think of it as filling all parts of you so you’re complete. Think of it however will stop the guilts, and take that workshop, try those pastels, ask that person for advice, Google that technique, borrow all those books from the library about the thing that keeps tugging at your attention.

Play until you’re done playing, {and you’ll know when – you’ll just feel done, or full}, and then move on. No drama.

***

This list is not exhaustive, but every single point has been something I’ve experienced to be profoundly necessary and true on my own path to becoming – and remaining – a happy artist. Is there anything you would add? Anything you’re stuck on? Please share in the comments!

If you’re at a point where you  want to progress with your art in ways that feel true to you but are not sure how, Abstractify is a deep and playful dive into YOU as an artist – a means of uncovering what you’re truly excited about, and cultivating that in a way that allows your natural style to emerge without forcing or copying anyone. Click the image for all the info and to register.

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