"It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone. The fine art of doing nothing in particular, also known as thinking, or musing, or introspection, or simply moments of being, was part of what happened when you walked from here to there, alone, or stared out the train window, or contemplated the road, but the new technologies have flooded those open spaces. Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void and filled up with sounds and distractions.” - Rebecca Solnit
I have always loved creating solo because it allows me to connect with myself on a deeper level and create work that’s close to my heart. It also reminds me of my childhood; I was always so happy to close the door, sketch on my notepad, and let the time fly by.
I’ve been a full-time illustrator for about five years, and I’ve learned so much along the way. But the greatest—and most important—lesson I’ve learned was that when I stopped looking at what other people were doing and I painted what I was most scared and/or excited about, I was able to progress and create my most meaningful work.
Before I started using social media and sharing my art on platforms like Instagram, I created a lot of work that has been well received. Since joining Instagram several years ago, my audience has grown quite a bit, and it’s been amazing to have feedback and receive so much positivity from the connections I’ve made. I really do love the medium, but I realized that it was becoming a bit of a distraction for me—both from my work and from the introspective time I needed. Over time, I noticed a shift in my work and my thoughts about social media. Social media is constantly changing, and it’s amazing how quickly we can adapt to it. What is now commonplace for many of us—such as routinely checking our phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night—was not the norm a few short years ago. It’s mind-blowing! I began to wonder I was operating this way. I know I can be happy without looking at my phone, checking notifications, and viewing posts, so why had it become such a staple of my daily life and habits? I couldn’t shake the feeling that there had to be a downside to spending so much time plugged into social media on my phone.
What was happening to my free thought? Was it actually affecting my creativity? Surely, pausing the creative process to take photos, share them, and then receive comments/questions almost instantly was taking away from my work and creative flow. Was I becoming more concerned with the number of likes and comments I got from each post? Or, was I more concerned with actually making work that challenged and excited me? To be honest, it was beginning to feel like I was teetering between the two.
I have been distracted. I admitted that to myself, but what could I do about it? When you use Instagram both as a way of connecting with your audience on a regular basis and as a business tool to bring in new work like I do, it’s not very easy to abstain. But I was in a rut and felt like my work was becoming stagnant, so I knew i needed to do something.
I weighed the pros and cons in my mind, and soon, the answer became clear to me. I needed to step away from the distractions. I needed to slow down my process and really dive deep. I needed to paint only what I loved and what I knew would challenge me. Instead of looking for outside validation for my work, I would go back to what I have always done—make for me. I know my standards, and I know that when I reach them, I feel my best. When I don’t, none of the comments or praise the piece might receive matter to me.
I wanted to challenge myself on a new level, and to do that, it seemed necessary to take a full 30 days away from Instagram. 30 days would allow me to change my habits. It would allow quiet time. It would allow me the time I knew I needed to be scared. The time I needed to face my insecurities, doubts, and fears and learn to silence them. For me, the best way to silence those negative thoughts is to just sit and create.
“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced”. - Vincent Van Gogh
I know most people wouldn’t think that I struggle with negative thoughts, because I am a very positive person. But the fear of failure and rejection is something that never leaves me—especially when I sit down and start a new project. Every new client, freelance job, and painting is a chance to make something good, or to fall flat on my face!
“What if I can never make a painting as good as xyz again? What if everyone thinks it’s not original, it’s not any good, or it just plain sucks? What if no one cares? What if they laugh at me?”
I don’t care how many successes you have had; when you put your neck out there, it’s scary. If I wasn’t shaking in my boots the entire time, the feeling I got when I achieved my goals wouldn’t be as rewarding. So, in order to combat those feelings, I work hard on my positive thinking and affirmations. (I learned these patterns when I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; a book I’d highly recommend for anyone, not just creatives.) And then I create.
Most people would probably agree that one of the hardest parts is actually sitting down and doing the thing that scares you. So I believe that just by sitting down to paint or create, even if the results aren’t great, you’re already winning a battle. A battle to do. To produce and create without judgement and just to enjoy the process is one of the best things we can do for our wellbeing and happiness.
I needed the break, to reconnect with myself and my work.
So I decided to start each day by reading for about 20 minutes from one of my books on creativity, positive thinking, and spirituality. (I have quite a few of them, and I’ll post my book list for you soon!) I would take notes in my journal, jot down all of my favorite passages, then write about my feelings and document the process. This time every morning helped start off on a positive and inspiring note. This was also a way to break me from the habit of looking at my phone first thing in the morning.
The other goal for this 30 days was to do more of the things that I know allow me to reconnect with my creativity and passions. Things like hiking, listening to inspiring podcasts, watching great documentaries on fellow artists, going to museums, and finding new music; these are all things I love to do when I need to focus on preparing my mind to create.
Before long, a rush of creativity hit me. I cannot believe how much I have wanted to paint and create nonstop. I came across so many inspiring things, and I revisited subjects that I fell in love with years ago. Each painting flowed into to the next and I was filled with so much enthusiasm. (Always follow your enthusiasm when it comes to what you should create!) It seriously has been so much fun! But for me, the greatest part has been that I’ve enjoyed and loved what I have been painting so much that I don’t need any outside validation for my work. I can feel it from within, and that is a huge lesson for anyone. We always have to believe in and love ourselves before anyone else can. So why wouldn’t it be that way with the things we make? Of course I’ve made a few things that I’ve been unsure about, but overall I feel like I have been discovering layer upon layer of new ideas, and I love that I have been able to slow down and really enjoy the art for what it is.
This is what I was searching for.
I hope this post will inspire you to slow down a little. Enjoy and absorb the world around you—not just the world on your phone. I also hope it will inspire you to create what you love. And lastly, I hope you’ll enjoy the paintings I made over the past 30 days. It was a personal capsule of time and art that I will never forget.