2016 is the year I face my creative fears. I call it my Fear Year. Every month I publish a report, looking back on the month, sharing my thoughts, fears and lessons learned. If you want context, you can read more and find the earlier reports here.
Fears faced: Calling what I make art and myself an artist. Planning for the opening of my art shop.
Struggles: Choosing the path of less creative output and less stress. Finding myself as an artist. Battling resistance and my demands on myself.
Lessons learned: To not choose stress means making hard decisions. We can't do everything and quality is better than quantity. In creativity, resistance doesn't go away just because you defeat it once.
I talk about not choosing stress, about making healthy choices, but this is a hard decision.
It's hard because I want the people who support me to understand that I value them. I don't want them to think they don't matter, because they do. They make me believe, they help me stay brave and keep going. It's even part of why I want to make this change, I want to give them my best.
But it's the right choice to make. I know it is. It's just hard.
Making a hard choice
In September, I battled stress. My problem with stress have always been that I want more than I have time for, and I knew I needed to prioritize. I had to make better choices for myself, even if it meant that things would take longer or that I couldn't do everything.
I thought about what made me stressed and what I could change in my creative life. There was one thing that kept coming up - my weekly emails to the Teacup Owls. At first I didn't want to acknowledge it. I love the Teacup Owls, I value them so highly, it felt like they should always be my first priority.
Still, it wasn't quite working to write the emails every week. Some weeks I didn't know what to write, and I was often dissatisfied. In fact, I found that my blog posts were better. They were actually more what I consider my own writing style.
I thought about writing my Teacup Owl letters in advance instead, to solve the weekly stress, but I soon realized that it would leave me with only one weekend per month to work on my bigger projects. Somehow one post per week felt right for me. With only one text, often written in advance, I could focus on quality instead of quantity.
After thinking through it, I knew it was a decision I needed to make. It was just a hard one, that I doubted and feared.
When the day came that I announced my plan for the Teacup Owls, all I got was support and love. Nothing could have made me more relieved and I was so grateful. The Teacup Owls really had my back. Now I just had to follow through and make my life less stressed.
I thought I'd broken through a wall, but now it's there again. Why? Why is it hard again when I got through the hard?
I guess the resistance never goes away.
I guess doubt and the occasional lack of confidence will stay.
The higher demands of "art"
In the end of September, I started to prepare for opening an art shop. I was then excited and motivated, and I felt ready.
But when my next weekend to sit down and paint came around, that confidence was gone. I struggled and hated everything I painted. Tried to push through and felt like a failure.
I didn't understand what was wrong. It had felt so good the last time, like I'd found my style, but now it was all bland and bad.
It took me the whole weekend to plunge through resistance, self-doubt and the feelings of being a failure. The fact that I thought I should be past this only made it worse.
By Sunday night, I had learned my lesson. Just because we defeat resistance once doesn't mean it can't come back. In creativity, there will always be fears and ups and downs, it's just part of the process.
I realized my struggles probably derived from a combination of the stress that I was trying to escape and a new demand I hadn't had before. I was preparing to open my art shop - which meant I was now an artist making art.
Not Elin, experimenting with paint and putting up some painted messages on Instagram. No, this was Elin the artist, making art that could potentially be sold. It was a whole new level of pressure. I hadn't learned who I was in that role yet, and I hadn't expected the strong wave of perfectionism that now buried me.
If I am to be an artist, what kind of artist do I want to be?
One who rushes through paint, with a focus on output?
Or one who uses art to explore, meditate and reflect?
The answer is of course the second.
So that's what I need to do.
Finding my way in art
Since my last weekend had been such a struggle, I had more painting to do for my Instagram. During the week I had contemplated my new issue with art, and I had found one guiding light for who I wanted to be as artist.
I didn't want to paint just because I "had to" paint. I wanted to follow my curiosity and use my art to explore and reflect. That should be my focus. If it meant I would just share a few pieces and fill the rest of my Instagram feed with scribbles and pictures of art supplies, so be it. I couldn't push myself to crank out five good paintings per week. It would only kill my love for it.
So I retreated from the heavy demands on myself and let curiosity take the lead. I experimented freely again.
That weekend, I was mindful of not overworking myself. I didn't work the whole weekend, but I still wrote on my novel and painted. I slowed down my tempo and accepted when I didn't quite reach my word count goal. I felt so much better for it. Creating was fun again.
I'm serious about this, I really am.
I want to make my art shop happen this year. I need to make a sustainable plan, one that sticks, one where I don't overwork myself and still manage to follow. It's time to get this started for real, if I'll manage to launch this year.
Getting serious about my art shop
That week I tried an app called Asana, a project management and scheduling tool that I'd heard good things about. I kinda liked my simple to do-lists but still on the mission to make my creative life more sustainable, I was willing to give it a chance.
I didn't take me long to realize it was a really good idea. I broke down my to do list into smaller items, set due dates and looked at all the little things I did during the weeks and weekends. I tried to determine what was too much and how I could rework my schedule to ease it. I broke down what I needed to do to launch my art shop before the year was over and spread out the tasks.
The schedule for my last weekend of October was a bit heavy, but it didn't feel stressful. I had thought through how much I could handle. There were a bunch of things I could push if need be so I could still stay flexible and let life happen. Having every little thing written out helped me relax and not come up with new things I needed to do throughout the weekend.
Starting to get serious with my shop felt so good. It was exciting to come up ideas about what to put in the packages along with my art, to compare prices for stickers and think about what I wanted in the shop. It was really going to happen.
I took a long walk in the sun, breathed the cold fall air and took photos of what I found beautiful. I knew that this life was the life I wanted to live.