I am an extremely sensitive artist type person. Fear, anxiety and self doubt can cause stagnation in my abstract art practice, and life in general.
But thankfully, I have found tools to help get past these times of sluggishness. One of these tools is surfing. There is nothing that puts me in the moment and shows me my place within the universe quite like being in the waves.
Thank you to TinyBuddha.com for publishing yet another one of my essays, How Surfing Helped Me Turn My Fear and Anxiety into Confidence. Take a read and comment below and/or share if it resonates with you.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! Don't forget to get outside and play after all that turkey and pie!
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After 18 years of working in restaurants, hotels and busy offices, suddenly I find myself able to pursue my passion of abstract painting…working all alone in my kitchen studio and home office and well...loneliness happens.
Sometimes I talk to myself more in one day than I speak to other people. I’m not kidding. I talk to myself out loud throughout my work day because, frankly, I get tired of the quiet. I listen to music pretty much constantly, but sometimes I just want to hear other people’s voices. I’m not quite desperate enough to have the TV on all day but man, do I yearn for humans sometimes.
Before jumping full time into my career as a West Coast abstract painter, I worked in many different environments. Happening restaurants, bustling offices, full Yoga studios…I’ve had so many different careers but they all had one thing in common: I was always around people.
While I'm in the studio, I often day dream about being outside. Loneliness can make me wish to be anywhere but where I am.
Now I find myself alone in my house all day. Sometimes I relish in the quiet. Sometimes I feel the silence is WAY too loud. As a person who battles anxiety and depression, that quiet can sometimes feel utterly stifling and although I have a loving family and many friends, I can begin to feel pretty darn lonely.
Compound the physical loneliness with the fact that my daughter just turned 16, now has a car to get herself around and a very busy school and social life…well...I’ll just say that this year has been full of more transition than I was really ready for or expecting to deal with. Transitions are always harder than I think they will be. I knew that working from home and being self-employed was going to be challenging to begin with. But throw in early empty nest syndrome and suddenly I find myself alone in my work AND in my role as a Mom.
Just me...alone and thinking away.
Oddly enough, the loneliness can make it hard for me to motivate to be around people. Weird, huh? It’s like the sadness can wrap itself around me and I just don’t want to have to talk to anyone, even though all I really want are for people to be around. I also find that when my friends reach out to me, it’s always at inopportune moments…like in the middle of my work day. I vacillate between irritation when my friends call to wondering “why is no one calling me?!” Oh Lord…
I started working with a marketing firm who tells me that I should be posting pictures of me doing fun things with my friends once a week. I guess potential collectors also like to know that they’re buying from a well-rounded popular artist. Well guess what…I have lots of photos of me making art alone in my studio but very few of me doing fun things with friends. Queue violins here.
Oh me oh my! Whatever should a lonely artist do? Well, having good cries every couple of days is a release, but does that really help me battle the loneliness? Now, don’t feel too sorry for me. My life really is great. I have a loving and supportive family, amazing friends, and an incredible opportunity to follow my dreams. Unfortunately, knowing this only makes me feel guilty in my loneliness. So now I’m lonely, sad, AND riddled with guilt. Oy.
I am an extremely goal oriented, organized, efficient person. My social life has never needed managing. I used to have dinners, parties, coffees and live music dates multiple times a week. It used to be effortless, but life has changed. I’m older, not drinking anymore and immersed in my art work. Now, 9 months into my new business venture, I am realizing that perhaps I need to apply new strategies when it comes to being around people on a regular basis.
When THIS is what I'm thinking about while I'm working, it's time to go outside and play.
5 Ways Artists Can Battle Loneliness:
- Schedule a coffee, a hike, a dinner, an anything – Duh. This is so obvious that I’m not sure why it took me so long to do. I schedule everything from exercise to social media posts so why it took me so long to realize this is beyond me. I now try to schedule time with a friend at least once a week even if I have to do it a few weeks out. It’s good just to get dates on the calendar.
- Allow social media to boss me around– I mean, I already do. I have to post to social media every day and to do that I have to have content to post. So, I’d better be getting in my studio to make art every day or else my followers are going to get bored with me. Since I have been told that I need a friend post once a week, that means that I actually have to be physically next to a friend at least once a week in order to have photographic proof that I’m not an isolated hermit.
- Talk to my family when they get home – This is harder than it sounds. The 16-year-old, while she still seems to like me ok, doesn’t want to be bombarded with me talking at her as soon as she walks in…or at all really. My husband gets an ear full when he comes home. It continuously surprises me how many words come out of my mouth when I’ve been alone for a whole day or two. He’s a very patient and kind man and gives me ample time to vomit words before we surrender to exhaustion, fall down and go boom. Bless him.
- Talk to a therapist – Yeah yeah yeah. I went back to her this week after not going for about three years. I’ve gone on and off since I was 13. I won’t go way into this except to say that if therapy works for you, as it does for me, every couple of years a check in is a good thing. And let’s face it, talking to a therapist is different than talking to friends or family. I don’t have to censor myself at all, which can feel really liberating.
- Get outside and play – I know…this is on every single one of my “How to cope with _______” lists. But it’s true. Being outside helps with just about everything. Sometimes, I get up and go for a morning walk before anyone else in my family is up. Oddly enough, it’s alone time that I feel is really good for me. I don’t have to think about work, or anything in particular at all. I just get outside and get some exercise while the sun is coming up. I suppose when I’m in tune with nature, I feel I’m closer to something bigger than me and that is very comforting.
So yeah…I get lonely working by myself. I am getting better at applying old strategies to my loneliness, which is merely a new problem that old solutions will work for. I’ve just never in my life been in tune with this particular issue as much as I am now. As I’m typing this, new solutions are presenting themselves: I’ve just been invited to a meeting with 6 other professional artists this evening. So, I can now add to my list of strategies: “Get involved with local artist community.”
It makes sense…I mean…anyone who works alone is familiar with this particular struggle. Why should we have to struggle alone? So, I’m going to motivate and reach out more so I freak out less. Because even though I’m living my dream I’m also going through new experiences and transitions. Change is hard and loneliness can happen, even in noisy, crowded rooms.
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Through the practice of Abstract Expressionism, my inner control freak has loosened her grip on my life and my loved ones.
Thank you to TinyBuddha.com for publishing my article titled How Expectations Can Drive People Away and How to Let Go of Control.
I once was my own worst enemy when it came to being fixated on outcomes. Being so focused on what I thought "should" happen all the time led to constant disappointment and a feeling of isolation. Through the practice of my art I have found that stress truly is optional.
Once again, I am completely humbled by the response to my writing. I have received emails, DMs and comments from people who know and struggle with the constant disappointment of expectations never being met. Please take a read, and if it resonates with you, feel free to share.
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My inner critic has a loud, booming voice. Sometimes it can drown everything else out.
Thankfully I have identified my Critic and have learned how to manage her so that she doesn't control my decisions and how I feel about myself.
I want to thank selfdevelopshop.com for publishing my article titled When Feelings are Fiction - 5 Ways to Know if I'm Telling Myself the Truth.
Please share or comment if this resonates with you. If the response from this tells me anything, it's that I am not the only one feeling this way. We must learn to be kinder to ourselves.
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I'm a West Coast Abstract Artist who struggles with anxiety and negative thinking.
Thankfully I'm not alone. I wanted to thank Tiny Buddha for including my article, "My Proactive 8-Part Plan For Beating Anxiety and Negativity".
The response to this has been overwhelming. Thank you all for commenting, sending messages, emails, etc. I am truly humbled.
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When sitting on the sofa, eating crappy food and feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t improve your mood, it’s time to take a different approach to attitude adjusting.
I have just come off a week-long gloom binge. I wasn’t feeling well at all. My work wasn’t satisfying, my home life irritated me, exercise was an unattainable motivation and food…well…if it wasn’t made from sugar or high levels of sodium, I wasn’t interested.
As a sensitive and moody artist who is prone to anxiety and depression, it can be hard at times to pull myself from the depths of my own head. Once I’m there, the darkness can wrap around me like a blanket which, oddly enough, can feel rather comforting. Instead of craving things that would improve the situation, I hunker down, binge on television, cry in the shower, eat ice cream for dinner and procrastinate doing anything that could possibly be good for me. It affects my productivity in EVERYTHING.
Last week, while in the midst of a down-swing, I continued working on a painting and although I worked on it every day, I didn’t make much progress. That is kind of indicative of how my mood affects my day-to-day. When I’m in a negative head space, everything seems to take longer and my actions don’t seem as productive as I know they can be. It’s like everything is done in vain which depresses me even more…OH THE DRAMA OF IT ALL!
On Friday, after my 12th biscotti, 7th grilled cheese sandwich and 4th failed attempt to get to the gym, I had to do something. I chose to take the same attitude towards my day-to-day that I take when I’m stuck on a painting. JUST DO ANYTHING. Seriously. The more different, the better.
Just as in abstract painting, contrast can also be the solution to depressive moods. Trying something opposite to instinct can help.
I decided to approve my teenage daughter’s proposed 8-person sleepover. I know what you’re thinking: “WTF?! You’re fighting the doldrums by inviting a slew of crazed teenagers over?!” Yes, that’s exactly what I did. To justify this decision to my melancholia, I told myself that I would now have the weekend to finish cracking out on crappy food, as that is what the human teenager consumes at a sleepover.
What I was hoping is that all of these fresh faced, energetic, silly-as-hell children running around my house would totally obliterate the misery problem at hand. You try being stuck in a funk on a Saturday night when girls are being dragged across the floor laughing hysterically, sporadic dance parties are popping up on your front lawn and THIS is standing in your kitchen:
The point is that it got me out of my spin cycle. I woke up in my van Sunday morning (yes, I gave up the comfort of my house to the juveniles for the night) and joyfully cooked pancakes and scrambled eggs for a mess of youngsters. I found it amusing (instead of frustrating) when an iphone was found under one of our cars, when I realized that two entire jars of pickles were eaten by one 90-pound girl (ew) and when I was repeatedly asked for something to eat while I was in the middle of cooking a meal.
As it turns out, my Mother was right…it really is important to get outside and play on a beautiful day.
That afternoon, I got outside for the first time in a week and gardened (another one of those activities that is so hard for me to start, yet feels so good when finished). Monday, I woke up and rocked that painting, continuing on in a completely different direction from where I started. I had been painting in a pretty dark pallet so I took a light blue and painted over about 85% of my painting.
When in doubt, just do anything.
After a brief panic attack, (and another biscotti) I took the canvas outside and started sanding the paint down. Layers of texture and color slowly emerged through the light blue, creating a dreamy, twisted, complicated junglescape. Out emerged something I never could have planned or imagined and it was beautiful.
When I needed a break from that, I got on my bike and hauled ass on the bike path for about an hour. In that time, I was able to release most of the remaining dark cloud that I had been dragging around. It was really hard to pay attention to the blahs when I chose to engage with the outdoors for a minute. It’s Spring, Moody Artist! For Pete’s sake, go outside and play!
Today is Tuesday and I still feel my bad mood hiding out and waiting for an opening to creep back in. But instead of engaging with it, I’ve decided to write about the ridiculousness of it all. After lunch, I will incorporate some darks back into this painting and then I’m going mountain biking.
Detail of the painting after working a dark blue back in. Sometimes you just have to keep doing the opposite thing until you land where it all comes together.
The only constant mood is the changing one
We all go through ups and downs. If I’ve learned anything in my 40 years being human, it’s that there is no such thing as an endless good or bad mood. They are all temporary and part of a much bigger picture. It’s where we choose to focus that’s important. I’m always amazed when a once huge problem doesn’t seem quite so big when I don’t stop and stare at it. I mean, it’s Spring in Southern Oregon…I’d much rather stop and stare at the wild flowers.
Sometimes, it seems such an easier choice to curl up on the sofa and continue on with the pity party but right now I have to take the 180 degree turn that will get the spark back into my eyes and the motivation back into my hands. If I choose to remain stuck in my mood, that’s all I’ll be…stuck. Just like with my painting, I have to take action and I can’t wait to think of the “perfect” solution. Just shake it up! Throw caution to the wind, paint onto the canvas, and when in doubt, and if it’s available to you, laugh with a bunch of goofy kids (I hear puppies work too).
When you feel stagnation set in, what do you do to get unstuck? Let me know in the comments below. Goodness knows I need all the strategies that I can get!
Painting at top is Blue Music, 36x36, Paper, Acrylic and Watercolor Crayon on Canvas
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How the Tortured Artist Persona is Actually the Process in Motion (even if it makes me want to puke.)
Pain and Art
I woke up this morning feeling defeat. My painting is not coming along easily. I’m running out of regional interior designers to email and art consultants to contact. I still haven’t made that first sale to a stranger that I have put so much importance on. My day job is ending in about a week. I have to make it to the blasted grocery store today. My scalp is itchy and my knee hurts. Bitch, bitch, bitch…
Suffering is Part of the Process
This part of the process isn’t easy. The part where I am nearly physically sick. The part where I doubt myself. Every time I go through the same panic; the same nausea; the same “it will never come easily again!” feeling. I will fail! I will fail! I will fail! I was actually walking around my studio saying “It’s awful! It’s terrible! The most horrible I’ve ever done! I’m doomed!” (Enter thunder clap here.) Oh, the drama!
This is where it started. I like it at this point but it is too "wall paper" like. Time to take chances.
I have been through this process enough to know that over this hump is a real step forward. Past this point, the painting has a history. History ain’t always pretty, but it sure makes things more interesting and it allows room for learning and growth. A painting has to have a past before it can have a present. It is a gestation; a metamorphosis. Even if it makes me want to vomit. I mean…I got morning sickness while pregnant, right?
Well that's kind of cool...but still, something is missing. More chance taking ensues.
Pain Brings Depth to Art
When people ask me if I miss New Orleans, I say that I miss the architecture and the history. I miss the oldness of the place. I miss the ghosts. New Orleans has lived so many lives, both beautiful and frightening. It has so many layers and it is these layers that create fascination and mystery. The ghosts of my frustration bring tension to the party. It creates a mystery to unravel. Otherwise my paintings are just pretty things on a wall.
Detail of the "Oh Lord what have I done" moment.
I figured all of this out while going through this painting’s grueling process. Prior to this painting, I have ridden out this feeling thinking that something is wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with me or this blasted piece. I know that I shouldn’t look at it as a crappy painting…it’s not even done yet. Without this step, the place beyond does not exist. That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to witness. I still feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.
Switching directions is nerve racking but often necessary. Even though it is now muddy and I'm not sure where to go, I already feel better.
Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Suffering is justified as soon as it becomes the raw material of beauty.” So, I begin today with a cup of coffee and some blog post writing in order to step away from the perceived piece of poop on my easel. I know that with just the right amount of space and by allowing this God-awful feeling to have a role, a thing of beauty awaits. It is part of my process and if I have to shed a few tears sometimes to get there, so be it.
Here and at top is The Bus 48x48 Mixed Media on Canvas. Sometimes you just have to get on and take the ride.
I’m not saying that all artists are tortured or that pain is necessary to create art, but it seems to be the case for me and that’s ok. Anyway, the only thing that’s really wrong with me is that I think something is wrong with me. That has always been the case and if that isn’t a tortured artist quote then I don’t know what is.
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My Mom always encouraged me to listen to my gut. To be honest, I wasn’t very good at it at all. Strike that…I could hear it, but I was terrible at basing my decisions on what my instincts were telling me. I would become confused by what I thought others’ expectations were of me. What did they want me to do? How could I best please them? It has taken me a long time to not only listen to my inner most self but also base my decision making on these gut reactions.
Step 1: Throw some paint on a panel.
I brought a serious art practice back into my life about 3 years ago when I quit drinking. It was during this time that I had to learn how to do basic things…like how to make decisions based on my best self. To thine own self be true became words to live by. Words that I had heard a million times but never truly grasped their meaning.
This re-learning became the hardest process that I have ever gone through to date. I realized that I was a liar. Sounds harsh, I know, but I had lived my life ignoring what I knew what was best for me because I was scared others would disapprove, and thus I had lived my entire life coming from a dishonest place. It was a blow. I had always prided myself on being a good friend, a good Mom, one whom others could depend on, but how good a person could I be when underneath all of these good deeds was a horrifying resentment of nearly every person I had a relationship with. “I made these decisions to make you happy and it’s not working out at all!!! How dare you?!” Or, “I did this for you! So obviously it is your fault!”. I was under the illusion that if I based all that I did on how it affected others, I was not only a better person, but I was selfless and giving. It was a lie. I was doing a disservice to myself, my family, my friends. It was heartbreaking to realize how I had let myself down and in turn, let everyone around me down as well.
Step 2: Try some letter stensiles and paper with a random floral pattern.
Step 3: Add more paint in a totally different palette.
Step 4: Add crazy dense pattern and some striped paper.
There’s a Luscious Jackson song where at the end they chant “Live Slow. Die Old”. I have taken these words to heart over the past three years. I lived hard and fast the first 36 years of my life and slowing down feels good, but I admit, I get squirrelly. I enjoy listening to my teenage daughter’s drama at school because I miss drama. I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the excitement. It makes risk taking with my artwork easier because it is risk without any fallout. I can take a screwdriver to the wood panel that I’ve been working and scratch the heck out of it. I may not like the outcome, but then again, it might be awesome.
I believe that in my art, there are no mistakes. Only opportunities that come from taking chances. It keeps me fresh and alive. It creates interest and depth. It makes the rebellious twinkle in my eye stay bright and let’s face it, I do and have always tended to lean against the grain and that is where I am comfortable…and that is ok. It’s who I am and TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. So excuse me…I have a few canvases to go and blow up.
Step 5: Draw large graphite oval. It was obvsiously missing.
Finished painting here and at top is called Brainiac 30"x30" Mixed Media on Panel
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I am a master of disguises. Not just because I grew up in New Orleans and I’m quite the experienced costumed reveler. No, I am a master because you would never know that I battle anxiety and to a lesser degree, depression every single day. Outwardly I have spent the majority of my life an extravert, a social director, hostess with the mostess and, up until I quit drinking, the life of the party. First one out and last one up.
Alcohol allowed me to hide in plain sight the feelings of inadequacy and fear so I could be alongside my peers in what I perceived to be how one should be in order to be social and popular. When alcohol stopped working for me and sobriety crept in, I was suddenly an introvert. The social anxieties that I had hid from for 36 years were suddenly ever present, terrifying, disorienting and at times debilitating.
Coming to grips with the fact that I have probably always been an introvert wearing an extrovert costume was an insight into myself that wasn’t all that welcome. The people that I saw as “cool” were most definitely not introverts. Without drinking, the mask became harder to put on. I could only be myself and I have never necessarily liked myself very much. My physical attributes were never “in style”. The things I was good at have never been the “right” things. I have never felt right in the world. I know exactly what Smokey Robinson was feeling when he wrote Tears of a Clown:
Now if I appear to be carefree
It's only to camouflage my sadness
In order to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness
That’s what it was…a show. Three months after I quit drinking, I started painting. I have an art background, but I had not stoked that fire in many years, and painting was never my favorite medium. But so it began. Not having many painting supplies (I had long since given away most of them from my art school days) I started with simple paintings on paper. I would sit in the corner of my dining room and paint; sometimes for hours at a time. I didn’t know what I was trying to paint or if I had any clear intention at all, but I could feel the pull of a far off realm encouraging me to dive into the paper, into the color, to make any stroke with the paint brush that popped into my head.
I wasn’t at that point thinking about color wheels or composition. It was a call from my Self to myself. I began painting with fervor, experimenting with anything and everything that came to my hand. It was within these arts induced trances that I was calm, breath and heart beat steady, without thought of the terrifying thing called sobriety on which I was embarking. In fact, I wouldn’t be thinking about anything.
Photo of me feeling camera shy...and scoping out some waves
(Photo Credit: Chris Goodyear)
It was and is an active meditation for me and it carries over into my every day. The more I practice this, the more influence it has on my confidence. I can speak up with a greater ease. I’m not so worried about what people are saying about me (because let’s be honest….usually they’re not saying anything at all). I am sometimes amazed at what I create. The process is what keeps me active and the end products make me proud. This is not me pretending to be anything. This is not a deception because it would be impossible to fake it. It is as honest as I can live and honesty is the base of my confidence; it is unshakable. It allows me to live peacefully in the present, leaving resentments and expectations at the door.
I’m always expecting something to go wrong. I’m constantly taking deep breaths so my heartbeat doesn’t pound in my chest. I’m scared of saying or doing the wrong things around people that I don’t know very well or who I look up to. Three years and a body of work later I know now what has happened. Without getting into a long spiritual conversation, I can say that I was given a gift. I began painting at the same time I started a seated meditation practice and began taking surfing to another level. These are all the same practice and when I don’t tend to these activities, my anxiety grows and depression is usually pretty close behind.
Staying active in mindfulness is about as easy as getting to the gym to exercise. So hard to begin and yet the feeling of accomplishment and nourishment is unparalleled. So I keep at it. I know that my feelings are not always facts but I do know that when I paint, the dire feelings that I have about going to the grocery melt away. The fear of living up to everyone’s expectations is squashed. I actually feel more beautiful when I paint and more comfortable in my own skin. Even when I’m not happy with how a painting is going. At least I am doing it. I’m putting myself out there. I’m taking chances. I’m excited about what comes next instead of terrified by it. Those feelings stay with me after I wash my brushes and clean up my studio. I am less likely to slip into negative thought patterns and I am in general, a happier person.
So I think I’ll stick with it. Plus, I see how far I have come over the past 3 years and instead of being terrified that I’m going to lose it or that people won’t like it, I am excited to see where it will go next. I look forward to surprising myself over and over again.
Painting at top is Storm 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas
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