Lose Yourself In the Magic of Artistic Creation

I’ve previously written about my hard times completing my Bachelor of Education. Yet, there were also some beautiful times amidst the struggles that I experienced during that time.

One such ray of light was a class my cohort took together, a course on teaching art to kids. In this class we explored the basics of artistic composition and art history, as well as playing around with various mediums and styles.

The class was EXTREMELY polarizing- people either loved it or hated it. Happily, I was one of the ones who loved it. Our teacher, a wise young woman named Tessa, exuded an air of calm, whimsy, and a hint of rebellion. I looked forward to her classes very much- she was flown in from Edmonton regularly to our small northern municipality.

We did things like unrolling a giant roll of white paper, circling it like a group of witchy practitioners in a chant, loosely dripping black india- ink from large brushes. Later we ripped off pieces from the resulting scroll which we turned into landscapes filled with strange creatures and bugs. I kept an additional scrap and made this cat:

For the class, each of us had a large black sketchbook, and Tessa encouraged us to draw in it at least once a day. Again, for some of my classmates this was torturous, but for me it was the first hint that art was something I needed in my life. It had been a long time since I’d carried a sketchbook around or devoted myself to playing with art, and it turned out to be very cathartic and calming for me.

One project was to create our own personal emblems through a print stamping process- I was stuck on what to design for myself, but ended up creating something that incorporates hints of sun rays, book curvature, flower and pawprint.

At times many of the class, including myself, became caught up in the particulars of their art, feeling inadequate or not ‘good enough’. I now realize though that the act of creating something is its own reward.

Playing with colour, mixing and dabbing, moulding and sketching- you don’t have to hold yourself to some imaginary standard to enjoy making art. If anything, enjoy it as an opportunity to incorporate play into your life and let the colours awaken your sight and boost your mood, regardless of what the end result is.

^ I remember making this weird slapdash thing thinking ‘wtf am I making’ but I just went along for the ride and had fun with it. I’m not particularly fond of it, but nor do I dislike it.

Another approachable way to have fun with art is to reinterpret or play with parts of a work you admire. This piece, inspired by Munch’s ‘The Scream’ aims to portray the technological fears and intense panic attacks I was experiencing back in those days.

The entire course felt different from the rest of our studies. It stands out in my mind as colourful splash amidst an ocean of grey lecture rooms. We were so used to sitting at tables diligently discussing theories and studying facts that in contrast the freedoms of learning about art in that sunny room with Tessa felt like a spiritual journey.

One day she told us to find an elevated area like a table or counter and lie on our backs. I lay there, expectant. Tessa noticed me fidgeting and staring up at the industrial roof.

She asked ‘what do you see up there that is so interesting, Shauna?’

I replied ‘Im looking for an interesting angle. We’re painting the shapes on the roof today aren’t we?’

Tessa laughed and smiled at me, ‘Oh, no! Close your eyes. We are going to do a guided meditation’. It was lovely.

Something very strange happened as the course came to an end. We did a sculpture project in which Tessa directed us to create a mask that represents a different side of us- perhaps one that we don’t show to people, one that represents the monsters pulling at us each day.

My mask design, with pinhole eyes reminiscent of a Dave McKean creation, represented my anxiety and narrow focus, something that I was struggling with increasingly at that time.

This was before my “hell practicum”, but even then I was in a bad place mentally.

Tessa advised us to take our sculptures, which represented our anguish and pain, and take them into the woods, leaving them to succumb to the rain and return to the earth.

I thought it was a beautiful idea, so on a sunny day I took my dog Tegan with me for a walk on the nature trails.

I gave my sculpture to the earth, hiding it behind a memorable tree with a spray-painted face.

A mere couple of days later I returned to the spot, fully expecting to see my sculpture still there in the bush. It hadn’t rained, and I placed it somewhere out of the eyesight of a casual passerby.

Yet, it was gone…

Even more strangely, something was left in its place. Right in the very spot that my mask once lay was pile of…Lentils? Seeds? To this day I’m not really sure, but I keep thinking that fairies made off with my statue and left me a little gift in return.

Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

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^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

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Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

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I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

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She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

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