One of the most frequent questions I get asked in my art booth is some version of “Why all the swirls?” I love this question! I’ve always sketched and doodled swirls, spirals, waves and circles. My notebooks/diaries/journals have been full of spirals since a young age. I even have my childhood Spirograph sitting in my studio. However, it wasn’t until several years ago when I was exploring creating a body of work involving spirals, that I began to connect the dots in my own visual language journey. I started to research the deep symbolism of the spiral (and by “research” I mean standing in the Minneapolis Institute of Art book store browsing a book on symbolism in art) where I discovered two interesting things. First, the spiral is the most commonly found form in nature-I had NO IDEA!?! Really, the most common??? I also read that for centuries the spiral has been the visual symbol for growth and transformation.
This idea connected with me- it made sense at very deep personal level. I have a background in education and art. For years, I’ve been teaching and encouraging the processes of growth and change. I love to read books about the creative process and how it helps to facilitate openness to change. I discovered in that moment for the first time that these things that I was creating intuitively, made sense to me on intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels as well. Basically, my head was catching up with my heart.
I also think on some level this research somehow internally gave validity to my visual pursuit of this series of work. It makes me feel so “human” to admit that I had to wrestle internally and for years to find the value in my own creative processes. I’m still on this growth curve, but I have learned to be more aware of what my art is teaching me about my own life and moving through life with those around me.
We are all swirling and spiraling through stages and phases. Some are more colorful that others. Some come with more pain, some with more joy and they are all a part of this process called life. So, I paint the spirals and loops and movement capturing bits of emotion and life experiences on the canvas as I go. Each stroke a brief glimpse into this human experience- full of movement, transitions, transformations, and change.
Noticing the colors,
the deepening layers
This summer we joined our extended family on a day trip to the local amusement park. Of course, the older kids wanted to head to the brand new roller coaster the minute they entered the park. As they sprinted across the park to be first in line to try out the multiple upside down twisting “Monster”, so aptly named, I somehow thought I should be the “adult” and safely accompany them on the roller coaster ride. The line was short early in the morning, but once safely strapped in the ride…the anticipation was long…what was I thinking?!? Trying to booster the enthusiasm of my fellow riders, I was all confidence, but inside…I was seriously wondering if I was thinking straight by putting myself in such a situation. The ride took us straight up-and then straight down and head long into a series of upside down twists which resulted in us hanging in mid air only secured in place by the heavy lap brace.
The sense of weightlessness, which seemed to hang on and on, is what got to me the most, a sense of such powerlessness while being flung through the air- really wondering if we were going to be hanging like that for a lifetime. I survived the ride. I even kind of liked it, but to be honest, I let the kids take another aunt along for the next ride and decided to keep my feet on the ground for the rest of the day.
Here in the studio, I just finished a couple of BIG creative goals. The kind of goals that were totally out of my comfort zone with possibly big ramifications for my creative work. They were “next level commitment” kinds of goals-incredible opportunities, but each one took me for its own internal emotional and creative roller coaster ride through the waiting to start, fretting, and repeatedly putting myself physically in the seat in front of my computer. Completing the goals meant multiple times at my studio work space over a series of months- battling out individual steps that were uncomfortable, forcing me to make creative decisions, causing me to ask for help, and making me commit in specific directions.
If you asked me if I was glad I did it, the answer would be YES on all accounts (riding the Monster and completing my creative goals), but they weren’t comfortable processes and they pushed my limits. The process of creativity can throw us for a loop-sending us through a roller coaster of emotions as we complete our creative goals-causing us to face the unknown, our numerous fears and our own perfectionism. I’m quite sure my finished projects aren’t perfect. I’m quite sure they could even be a bit stronger, but this is where I am today and for today all that is required is that I took the ride and said YES to the next step in this adventure called life.
Maybe if there were bright orange blinking lights right ahead of us we would take notice, but that doesn’t usually happen with our creative work. No, we usually don’t pay close enough attention and then we fall smack dab in the middle of one of the most deadly creative pitfalls-wanting to have it all figured out RIGHT NOW! Yes, we want to know how our creative projects are going to turn out. We want to know that customers are going to purchase our work before we offer it for sale. We want to be guaranteed that other people are going to love our work before we even make the work. We want to know a new technique we long to experiment with is going to “work” before we buy the art supplies to try it. Oh, there is just so much uncertainty in this whole creative thing!
I wish I could tell you it is all going to work out. I wish I could tell you that you will sell out the first print run of your new book or sell everything at your first art show. I wish I could guarantee you that the new technique you long to try is really going to work, but I can’t. I would hate for you not to have the practice of growing your own creative muscles. We don’t grow many muscles the first time we lift weights-it is the continual repetition that produces strength.
One of the biggest roadblocks to developing an ongoing creative practice is that most artists give up. We have a hard time dealing with uncertainty. We don’t give ourselves time for work to develop, to learn new techniques, or to take the long view. We want it all and we think we want it NOW. But, our creativity shouldn’t be at the service of our instant gratification needs. Our creative practice is one thing that may help us to counteract our “need to have it now” mentality. It may be the thing that develops our inner fortitude to keep going when things aren’t clear-when the path isn’t known. It is a skill and a muscle we all need to have as we traverse real life. We don’t get everything we want, when we want it. Everything doesn’t always work out perfectly. Not everyone is going to like your work or “get” your work, but there are people out there who will. Sometimes starting a new technique will lead you to new directions you couldn’t have imagined before.
When the resistance builds,
when you have a set back,
when things don’t go exactly as you planned,
that is not the time to give up.
You don’t need to have it all figured out. It is a journey and there are going to be switch backs and missed turns.
Why dear creative heart would you go on an adventure if you knew everything before you ever left home?
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