I’ve only been creating art for about four years. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be making and selling art, I would probably have dismissed it.
I did not see this coming.
I grew up in a house with parents who were exacting. My father was an electrical engineer, my mother a nurse. Everything had a place, everything was very ordered and structured. There was a correct way to do things. There was an incorrect way to do things.
Growing up in this highly structured environment helped me become a successful professional writer. I can work under pressure, get things done, and meet deadlines.
Perhaps if my parents had been hippies who had actually let my true artist nature bounce around the backyard in bare feet with a butterfly net in hand*, I would not have grown into an adult able to hold a job. (I may be slightly exaggerating here. My parents did actually let me run around the backyard in my bare feet… but I did have to clean up afterwards.)
Chaos, Lurking Beneath
It turns out.. lurking beneath the surface of these learned skills of organization and structure, there was a natural tendency towards creativity.
When ‘creativity’ finally emerged for me in my early forties, I didn’t recognize it as such. It was more like learning to embrace chaos. Or maybe it was just a desire to take a bunch of seemingly unrelated and scattered items and bring them together in a new way.
I believe it emerged when it did, because I was actually in the process of destroying the life I had carefully built for myself... but that’s a whole other story… for another day.
Art gave me a way to take the scattered pieces of my life, rearrange them, and make something new.
This is what I did in my latest piece, Hibiscus in the Desert.
I usually work in encaustic, but was feeling bored and unwilling to go into my cold-as-Alaska basement studio in mid February to work on anything. So, I went to the art store and bought some water colors.
This is something I could do upstairs. I thought it might get me out of the art rut I had somehow fallen into.
I got my water and brushes ready and started playing around. But, I just couldn’t help myself. After experimenting with the water colors, I realized, I just wanted to add more stuff to the paper, so I added tissue paper, pieces of cut up dictionary pages, string… I glued them onto the paper.
The glue was messy and I was getting it all over my hands. The tiny bits of dictionary pages were getting stuck to my fingers. The tissue paper bubbled.
The project was in chaos, but I let it be. Somehow, that little bit of playing around in a completely foreign medium had loosened things up a bit. I was soon down in the basement heating up the wax. I put on an extra sweater and the pair of wool slippers from Nova Scotia to keep my feet warm.
The Riskiness of Art
The same day I was doing this, I talked to a friend of mine who is struggling with her aging parents. She talked about her father’s desire to drive while going blind and her mother’s dwindling mental capacity.
I said to her, “It’s an impossible situation. You’ve got to balance the need for their independence with your own concern that they might accidentally set themselves on fire because one of them forgot to turn off the stove.”
While she was talking about that, I was talking about getting out of my art rut.
“How did you do it?” she asked, about getting myself out of the rut.
“You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that got you into the problem… so I stepped outside my usual pattern and way of doing things. I mixed it up and tried something new. Once I did that, something broke free and creativity just started to flow,” I said.
Sometimes brilliant things just fly out of my mouth. This was not one of those times. This time I was just quoting Einstein.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Einstein was a creative genius.
Art, like living on your own at 87, is a slightly risky endeavor. It can break you open to new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking. And, that’s what I love about it.
While I still have to meet deadlines for work, I get to play in the realm of possibilities, dream of new ways of being in the world, and create my own piece of the world through my art.
It satisfies that part of myself that needs to rebel, to create something new, to dismantle the structures of things, throw them on a table, re-arrange them, and imagine something new.
Like a Hibiscus in the desert.
Intuition is a skill. Its sort of like being an animal tracker... following the trail of an animal that you can't physically see... but you know was in the space you now occupy. You can see the tracks they left behind... sometimes you see a few hairs or maybe some fur if you are lucky.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling very frustrated with the disjointed national response to the current pandemic. Before I became an artist, before I became a coach, and before I learned to hone my intuitive skills... I worked as a writer in public health.
"Where is the national public health campaign," I wondered? "Simple, consistent public health messaging could go a long way in curbing this outbreak," I thought to myself as my heart was breaking over rising case numbers.
My curiosity peaked. There was something here for me, I could feel it. So I started to follow the trail.
I did some internet sleuthing and searched for "successful public health campaigns." I found a few references to mass media campaigns.
And I remembered that egg in the frying pan from about 1986. Oooh, how that image seared into my brain. Needless to say, I didn't do drugs.
I stumbled upon an article by a small company. I read the article and I was totally hooked by plain, easy to understand writing. The tracks were interesting, so I sleuthed some more.
I poked around the company website. I liked their vibe. And then...there, right on the trail in front of me... they outlined their company values: we are empowered, curious, kind, and fun.
My heart skipped a beat. Oooooh. I like those values. I identify with those values.
I immediately submitted an application.
What was happening? I was excited about public health again? This had not occurred for over 10 years. It felt effortless to submit my application. Their vibe matched my vibe.
When I received an email from their VP of Talent a week later, I was over the top excited.
Even more excited as I signed a contract this week to be on their roster for freelance work.
And bonus, their company name reminds me of an image I had of myself several years ago when I started this adventure in intuition. I kept seeing myself as this gawky teenage girl, with a red cape and goggles on... flying her bike around the DC metro area.
Some of this is true. I do ride my bike around the DC metro area... but I do not wear a cape in real life. Though sometimes I like to pretend I have one on when I ride. The point is, the image of me on a bike with a cape and goggles on resonates with the feeling of the company. Another indicator that I'm on the right track.
Following my intuition is a skill that I have honed. I had to learn how to listen for, feel into, and be on the lookout for the clues on the trail. And, it's damn near fun, every time I do it. No matter what the outcome.
Looking at the world from above the fray. Houkje writes about following her intuition, observerations on the magic of the natural world, and navigating creativity and chaos in an uncertain world.
Like what I'm writing about? Keep me inspired and buy me a coffee.