Almost exactly 1 year ago, I started a new job.
Also about 1 year ago, I all-but-stopped sketching after having been going at a fairly consistent clip.
Honestly it felt a bit embarrassing after having kicked things up a notch in 2019. Teaching sketching classes at St. Louis Art Supply, going to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Amsterdam, starting a website and spending an obnoxious amount of time making it look just so. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t confess to an embarrassing amount of money spent on art supplies in the lead up to those things mentioned above.
I felt embarrassed because to have stopped, paused, or gone on break felt like a referendum on both my artwork itself as well as my position as an artist itself. When it came time to renew my domain name and hosting subscription for another year, I stopped and asked myself if there was a point. I’d posted a few things here and there, but was hardly establishing myself as some sort of preeminent urban sketcher. Eventually, I decided to renew the site for another year and tried not to overthink it.
If you follow me on instagram, you’ll have noticed that I recently started existing again in the online world! Toward the end of August, I found that Something had shifted internally. I pulled out an Etchr sketchbook I’d had sitting in a box with the rest of my unused sketchbooks, put my spritzer, brushes, and watercolor palette into a bag, and did my first watercolor sketch in almost a year. Since then I’ve kept up a moderately consistent pace of 1-3 sketches a week, and am now about halfway through the sketchbook I started on August 20.
It feels incredible to be back at my art. I feel absurdly happy, and it’s been good to get back to that ‘flow’ state where the world seems to fall away while I have a pen or brush in my hand. It feels impossible, absurd even, that I had stopped at all.
I feel about the same right now, typing this out after a similarly-embarrassing long break from writing. Writing about this on my little foldable keyboard and iPad mini feels great, and it seems somehow unfathomable that I stopped doing so.
Almost as absurdly, I can’t tell you why I stopped. It’s easy to align it with the new job, and I had a number of other life changes that popped up last Fall/Winter that brought their own complexities. I spent a significant deal of energy and personal focus deciding I was going to Become a Runner and started training for my first 5k in December (I’m now running about 45 miles a month, which is up from 0 miles total over the past 10+ years). I had a breakup. I started a new relationship. I had a major surgery. Eventually, personal upheaval just melded with the worldwide upheaval more generally with the pandemic, and you certainly don’t need me to write yet another thinkpiece about productivity/creativity in the time of COVID.
But looking back, I think the reason I stopped was because I had begun to expect or require more out of my art than my art had to give to me.
Attending the USk Symposium in Amsterdam was life-changing and art-challenging. I experienced tremendous growth as an artist, and could not possibly miss that trip more than I do now. But after returning, I felt frustrated when my progress seemed to level off a bit. I wasn’t improving as much, or as fast, and putting time and effort into my art felt like it was delivering diminishing returns.
So as I am returning to my art and maybe even to writing, I’m trying to simply be open. Open to whatever those practices have to give me at this time of my life and at this tumultuous time in the world.
Because I think I forgot something else too: Breaks aren’t anything new and they aren’t anything definitive either. I’ve been on a creative hiatus before and it wasn’t the end of artistic expression in my life. The fact that I was on a streak last summer was evidence of that, because I was hardly on the same streak 18 months before that.
And yet… I started up again. And I’m starting up now.
It would be nice to be more consistent, but not being perfectly consistent in my last 12 years or so of artistic pursuits hasn’t disqualified me yet.
So I think I’m going to truck on from where I’m at and try not to ask more of my art than it’s willing to give me right now. That will probably mean more listening, but I have a hunch it will also mean more writing.
For those of you who have stuck around, still remember me, and/or are reading this now, I will write again soon.
And if you’ve missed sketching with me, I plan on being at the Urban Sketchers St. Louis/StL Watercolor Society sketch outing this coming Saturday, 10/10 9:00am-11:15am, at The Piazza on The Hill (2109 Marconi Avenue). Email Carla at firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP and ask to be added to the USk St. Louis if you aren’t already on it.
- On 7 October, 2020
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