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If It Doesn't Serve You

I have a friend who’s an amazing artist and every day she gets up, makes a cup of coffee, and practices figure drawing for half an hour. This serves her so well. It feeds her soul and nourishes her art. It helps her start her day off positively so that she can care for her family and do her job well. I admire her so much and have adopted many of her artistic habits, so I thought I’d adopt this one too… but instead of nourishing my art, it felt strangely like starvation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but for me, drawing first thing in the morning demotivated me. I found myself less likely to make time for painting or drawing later in the day. When I spent a little time in the morning practicing figures, I had a hard time working on actual projects. Instead of working on a painting, I spent most of my time doing other things rather than working on my art, satisfied that my morning doodling was enough. I stumbled through this morning madness for a month or so, putting in the dawn hours and energy into trying to do gestures – racing against the clock before my one year old woke up and other things needed to be done. Even though I was technically drawing every day, the time and my patience with this practice decreased steadily. Eventually my thirty minutes of drawing in the morning dwindled down to a consistent ten. So I let it go. The practice of morning gestures didn’t serve me or my family. It wasn’t helpful for some reason; it was hurtful. I’m not sure why? I wish I did. But starting my day drawing decreased my desire to create throughout the day.

While studying Julia Cameron’s The Artist's Way, I began taking morning walks/runs with my daughter Joy. As soon as Joy got up, I’d give her a bottle while I drank my cup of coffee, and then we were out the door. She would tottle along for a while, then climb into the stroller. Then I might run, I might walk. Either way though, it was time spent outside with my baby girl. We’d listen to the bird songs, wave at the dogs we’d see, and wake up our bodies through movement. Now this wasn’t completely due to The Artist's Way: my husband has been working from home due to the quarantine and his morning meetings were difficult enough without Joy and I hanging around. But perhaps this is the synchronicity that Cameron often writes about. For some reason, the morning walks/runs fueled me for the rest of the day, so this routine stays. While my feet pound pavement, the back of my brain works on my art problems. How am I going to paint that cat? What is the right shade of red to use on that portrait? Why shouldn’t I paint a portrait of my friend’s dog as Darth Vader? Why can’t I create a dang website?

Getting outside in the sunshine feeds my soul. I’m not sure why. For some reason, my creativity and my level of exercise are intrinsically tied. When I look back at when I was creating the most art, I was also the most fit I’ve ever been. Pushing my body to do hard things, helps me to do hard things like sitting down in front of a canvas. Isn’t that strange?

I’ve been practicing more and more yoga recently. It’s become part of my routine, after we walk, Joy and I eat breakfast together and read. Then she goes down for her nap and I do yoga on my porch. One of the instructors continuously says, “if you have any thoughts that don’t serve you, let them go” or “If this pose isn’t serving you, try this modification”.

And I’m trying to adopt this with the rest of my life. Modify what isn’t working for me. If it’s not serving me or my family or my God, I need to adjust it. Gesture drawings in the morning made me a grump and an art sloth, so I needed to change that. Running in the morning helps me create. Don’t get me wrong, I loathed running for months. It wasn’t until I noticed how running benefitted the rest of my life, that I was able to cultivate a love for this new practice. I had to stick with it for a while. I think this is one of the things that Cameron is emphasizing in The Artist’s Way, you have to figure out how YOU can be an artist. Not how you want to be an artist, but how you can. I would much rather start my day drawing than running. I think it sounds much cooler and arty-er. But that’s not how I work. Although I admire my friend greatly, I needed to follow the spirit of her work ethic, not copy/paste her routines. I catch myself trying to copy/paste great artist’s routines in my own life all the time. Frida Kahlo had a fraught marriage, I admire her work and wish to be like her, therefore my marriage needs to be like her’s? No. I can admire her and follow her example in many ways but not in all of them. Michelangelo created great art, moving art. His sculpture of the Pieta is a masterpiece. I want to create like how he created. Michelangelo was also famous for not taking off his shoes for an entire year! Seriously, he would sleep in them. Once a year, his stinking shoes would have to be cut off his feet. I can long to create emotionally moving art like Michelangelo, but I can also change my shoes daily.

The Michelangelo example is silly, but I catch myself thinking ridiculous things like this all the time. Cameron writes extensively about this, how we often have these toxic thoughts.

“To be a REAL artist, I must work from a place of pain.”

“To be a REAL artist, I must be heartbroken.”

“To be a REAL artist, I must have a substance abuse problem.”

“To be a REAL artist, I can’t have a day job.”

“To be a real artist, I must draw before I do anything else”

So I’m striving to study, learn about other artists. How do they start their mornings? How do they create? How do they figure out balancing creative work with the other parts of life? And then I need to learn more and more about myself… Okay running in the morning helps me create. Will yoga help me create even more? Yoga inside? Doesn’t help. Yoga outside? Helps me greatly. I strive to be curious. Curious about how others live their creative lives, and about myself.


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