Here I am, lying in bed, looking like a robed hairball and contemplating the challenges ahead in 2018. This is where I do my best thinking, and maybe I’m currently thinking that if I force a revelation I can justify my unwillingness to leave this warm cocoon of comfort.
Before I let you into my brainspace, though, I do need to note this: I’m not someone who thinks that starting a new year means you have a blank slate to completely reinvent yourself, and I wouldn’t advocate trying. The calendar’s arbitrary, and that’s too much pressure!
Still, I like to be intentional, and I love achieving goals.
So the current topic on my brain is a mixture of art, identity, and business. . .
For the last few years I’ve tried to periodically reflect on the themes behind my creative work and the commonalities that tie my various creative interests together. Why? I think it helps me benefit from the art-making process, understand myself and my relationships, relate to the world around me, and work toward more successful business practices. I like to cover all the bases.
For some people, it helps to sum up these themes and connections with a chosen “word of the year”. For me: I’m trying to revisit how best to specifically communicate my creative identity to other people. It has evolved over time, and I’ve benefited from a variety of related efforts, but one approach I haven’t explored in much depth until now is this:
Turning points. Defining moments. Big or small.
Think about it. Are there events or choices in your past that altered your path in life? Did a particular experience lead you to new career aspirations? Did that one awful friend in high school make you a stronger and more communicative person? Did you stuff yourself with a life-changing plate of nachos yesterday?
I’ve had to dig deep for those defining moments and experiences in my own life. What might seem like a Big Deal to others doesn’t automatically register that way in my mind, and I’ve been very fortunate in life up to this point. The thing is— these don’t have to be earth-shattering experiences! Sometimes the little things have far-reaching effects.
I hope that sharing my “turning points” with you will help you discover your own and better understand my artwork. I hope that helps you enjoy and find value in your own creative process, and I would be thrilled if it helps you connect with my work.
Here are The Big Three:
1. Becoming the “Titanium Woman”: Spinal Fusion
At the age of twelve, I underwent spinal fusion surgery to correct scoliosis I never knew I had. It turns out you might have a twisty spine and still stand up perfectly straight— go figure! Anywho: The surgery took me out of school for a month, and the full recovery time was 1 year. As you can imagine, there was pain involved. I can no longer move most of my spine, and I have an epic scar.
You might be expecting me to drone on about how terrifying or upsetting this was, but I can’t say it really bothered 12-year-old me. Therein lies a valuable lesson I’ve learned: This experience revealed my own resilience and strength to me. It showed me how easily I could take charge of my attitude and respond to challenging circumstances.
If I could never dance ballet again or play any sports— so be it! I would invest in art and other creative hobbies.
I’m not sure I would be leading the life I have now if this hadn’t caused me to shift my focus and develop pride in my tenacity.
2. Painting in Italy
As you probably know, I studied painting in Italy during one summer in college. It was a magical experience— easily the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
This school trip (for a summer course) was made possible by the generosity of a bunch of different people. It started with my parents lending me a little cash for a non-refundable deposit that would secure me a spot for the trip while I tried to figure out how I could finance it. If I couldn’t go, I’d just have to pay my parents back.
The plan was to get a job through the school to make it all work. Unfortunately none of the applications led to a job for me (a story for another time). As soon as I figured out that I wouldn’t be able to afford the trip, I contacted the appropriate person.
By the next afternoon, it was a done deal— I was going to Italy. I don’t want to share the full details, but I will say that the support of my family and the art department at my college made this possible for me. My gratitude will always be through the roof.
A word to the wise: Always be kind and work hard— even when you think it doesn’t matter. There might come a time when those little things add up to something life-changing.
The view from my apartment in Ascoli Piceno- I used to perch on the window and draw/paint looking down at this piazza.
My time painting in Italy was the first time I had traveled overseas. I saw the paintings and sculptures I had been studying for years. I spoke Italian with the natives and ate some holy-cow-that’s-good gelato. I spent weeks in an apartment in the region that my family originally came from. It was a magical opportunity to be more adventurous and courageous than I had ever been, with a bunch of people I hardly knew.
This taught me how incredibly important it is to take some chances and go on adventures in life. I still battle with being a risk-averse, responsible introvert, but daring to try to make this trip happen led me to an amazing place and showed me how to make these things happen.
3. Goodbye NH, Hello LA
This is a recent one! In May of 2017 I quit my job. Three days later I hopped on a plane to LA with two suitcases and a one-way ticket. For the last 7 months I’ve been a Los Angeles resident. Heck— I have my California license and everything!
The funny thing is: I was preparing to buy a house in my hometown before I made the move. I was setting up to finish doing the responsible (boring) thing: Go to college, get a job, save money, buy a house. I was 4 courses away from my Masters degree. I was set. . . and I decided to relocate by myself to the other side of the country.
(I do realize that the school>saving>mortgage thing is perfect for some people. It wasn't right for me, but high-five to anyone who has managed that path. It's a big accomplishment!)
I had only ever visited LA for a few days. I had never lived in an off-campus apartment. I knew a small handful of people in LA from college, and I didn’t have a job waiting for me.
Yet responsible, risk-averse, introverted me got on that plane and started one heck of an adventure. Goodbye, house dreams! Hello, sunshine and creative awesomeness.
I’m still figuring things out in LA, but I already see that this is one of the best decisions I have made in life. This was a choice to make the most of my time and money and invest in myself by leading a life in which I pursue what I want instead of settling for what I’m “supposed” to do.
On that topic, please let me recommend the book The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Creative Passion by Elle Luna. It was recommended to me by my now-roommate Shaylie, and it was an encouraging read when I needed it most.
That stable job I had? I could have lost it at any moment. My home could have caught fire. I could have gotten sick. I would have regretted settling at home for the rest of my life if I didn’t take this opportunity to explore something new.
What do all of these things have in common?
These are some very different experiences, though two involve travel. There are certain threads that are easy to see: The need to seize the moment, self-discovery, etc. What does that have to do with my art, though? How does this manifest in paintings and my writing?
I think I've figure it out! When I consider these moments/experiences alongside some others, I see this:
Connection and Disconnection
Everything that stands out to me at this point in my life involves connections:
- Connections between past experiences and new challenges.
- Connections with other people.
- Connections between creative projects.
- Connections between short term goals and long term goals.
- Connections between the little things we do every day and the big moments in our lives.
A big part of making these connections and learning from them is understanding that disconnecting is just as important.
- Disconnecting from goals and projects that don't suit you anymore.
- Disconnecting from negative people or friends you've outgrown.
- Disconnecting from expectations, pressure, and the fears that hold you back.
- Disconnecting from anything else in your life that doesn't serve you.
How often do you see figures breaking apart or collaged with other forms in my work? So many of my personal projects from the last 4-5 years involve people literally transforming through connection and disconnection.
This comes up in my writing in some form or another, too! Most of the stories I write include a group of people who create a family of choice, break away from their pasts, and make big choices that bring them closer to others and change the world around them.
As we move forward with this new year . . .
I hope you can take some time to think about how the turning points in your life have shaped you and what you contribute to the world, in art or otherwise. Instead of focusing on trying to completely reinvent yourself, perhaps you can start to better understand who you are now and what you can do with your strengths and perspective.
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