My Brain The Spaghetti Junction

I’ve written in previous entries that the intention of this blog is to write honestly and not to shy away from vulnerability in my posts. Dealing with some of the issues written about in this particular entry has been hard for me.

 

It’s difficult to admit that as an artist you might be struggling to keep up with your own expectations, or anyone’s expectations for that matter.

 

Moving to Ballarat from Melbourne almost a year ago has caused me to check my creative approach in a number of areas. Before I moved here I worked non-stop. I had a studio at home and my work was always just a room away. I balanced shows and recording on a number of different audio projects with a part-time job in a kitchen and taught piano on the side. I was sharehousing at the time and it wasn’t unusual for me to just hit another round of work when I got home and start again the next morning. Part of me just assumed this would naturally lead to a happier existence. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned previously, that was not the case for me.

 

It’s not that my art didn’t make me extremely happy, but by pushing myself this way I was completely missing out on connecting with my wider community because I was so set on continuing my own stringent schedule.

 

It’s hard to say whether this past year has been a step back from a workaholic lifestyle to think about how I might turn it in a different direction - or whether, in hindsight, I’m just making excuses for having fallen off the wagon since I’ve relaxed my work habits. Lately, these definitions have seemed more and more hazy.

 

I’ve had a substantial break from writing over the last two months while working on installations for Ballarat’s first White Night; finishing a music video for Big Bear (release date to be announced soon) and having my first trip to Alice Springs for the Blacken festival where I was fortunate to be wo-manning the lighting desk for some pretty insane acts. In between that I’ve been playing shows at The Munster Arms and Red Door in the Ballarat region and working Monday to Friday as an Education Support at Ballarat Specialist School.

 

For all that’s worth, I’m back. Ready to talk about my messy life - and help those of you who may share a similar reality to feel less stuck.

 

In my experience, some of my bravest moments took being scared.

I wrote in some of my earlier entries about ‘jumping first, asking questions later’ as my primary motto.

Lately, I have been feeling some serious internal opposition to living this way – in the moment; taking risks and throwing caution to the wind in order to achieve new goals and creative feats. Living in the moment requires risk, danger, throwing yourself into the unknown head-first and then learning how to swim.

In my case, the memories of where I ended up the last time I leapt before looking are still fresh in my mind.  Needless to say, what came after some of my major leaps was a fair share of ups and downs, but for some reason my brain loves replaying the negatives.

 

Those of you who have read earlier entries of this blog will have heard my tales of surgeries; homesickness (look up Shadow Feet’s Christmas In Australia for more details) and the fears I had of failing at basically everything I’ve ever done to date, despite positive feedback I’ve had on most areas I’ve worked in. Before I came to Australia I repeatedly told myself I’d never get here. Before I studied at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, I told myself I’d never get in. I told myself all through high school that I couldn’t write music even though I desperately wanted to and now, having featured my music on multiple recordings with Australian indie label Airpunch Music, I’m on the way to recording my own album. There are many areas that follow a similar theme in my life, but the fact is, the cycle is still recurring - and I’m still working on being present and pushing myself to set new goals creatively and otherwise - without getting overwhelmed by the ‘what-if’s’.

 

Somewhere in my brain, I keep thinking, "if I push too hard; if I make my next big move; take my next foreseeable risk, something terrible might happen!" I might suddenly be thrown back into a world of hospitalizations and job insecurity, or I might be so successful that I have no choice but to fly all over the world and I’ll forget about all the people I love - worse still - that they’ll forget about me. I fear I’ll end up a workaholic; exhausted; burnt-out and alone - the list is vast and nebulous; there’s no telling when these thoughts will take hold or what might act as the trigger.

 

Something I’m currently practising is turning my brain off when I feel it going into negative overdrive and give myself a distraction instead - I don’t have kids, but I imagine this is the oldest trick in the book when yours is showing signs of a tantrum. Chucking a metaphorical lollipop in my mouth before havoc ensues.

 

Before I start panicking about the fact I haven’t written in a while, I take myself off to a café or somewhere I can be on my own and write. Or I get up early without having a reason to - just so I know I can do it. I clean or sit down at my piano or have a shower. Showers work wonders for changing brain patterns!

 

It’s been doing wonders to give my brain the reality-check it needs to stay on track - and retrain myself to feel good about the things I’m doing well - reassuring my brain that being disciplined on a regular basis isn’t going to land me back in hospital with stress-related illnesses or stop me from spending time with the people I care about.

 

On that note I’m off to do just that on this beautiful Sunday.

I leave you with this quote because I think this guy’s got a point -

“You can't get there by bus, only by hard work, risking, and by not quite knowing what you're doing. What you'll discover will be wonderful: yourself”

Alan Alda

 

Better Out Than In

Sitting here thinking about what I will write for this post, I am raking my brains for what I really, really want to say. There seems to be something really good in there somewhere, a whole lot of ideas to unpack, but to begin with.. its just hard work.

That mass of ideas, all the experiences I’ve had over the last month, the meanings of conversations mulled over, thoughts I churned through on my way to sitting here at this very page. I know it's in there somewhere, that one gem. Alas! holding my head in despair, I try and locate which part of my brain I might have stashed it, but to no avail.

I was sure that brilliant nugget would come out as soon as I sat down but no. Nope, not one idea makes itself known as I sit poised at my computer. So instead I thought I’d just write about this whole messy, gritty, at times harrowing process, and what it reminds me of -

 A big hard poo.

A big hard poo unwilling to budge from its resting spot or make itself known to its creator.

Maybe crude, but isn't that precisely what makes the analogy so fitting.

You creatives and others out there who balance part-time jobs and practices to knife point and have come to juggle these around like I have been known to do, will know exactly what I'm talking about. The bitter conundrum of receiving some incredible concept while on location somewhere, and then it's like as soon as you get back to the desk, the studio, the throne room if you will. Poof! Goneskies!

No matter how many times you go back through your thoughts the thing's gone.

You have to work pretty hard to get that sh*t out (pardon the pun) if you actually want it to go anywhere and it seems the better an idea it is, the more work it takes to push it out into the world.

At least in my experience the above is true.

For every great idea I’ve had, every really good one, there’s been a lot of waiting around, a lot of waiting for time to do its thing - a lot of trying once, failing and trying yet again only to find yourself exhausted and still without progress. On the rare occasion there's even been tears.

I thought today I'd let you in on one such encounter - for those who thought being an artist was easy, or thought it was too hard for them. I know the feeling.

For any of you who have glimpsed the work ‘City on a Hill (2013)’- a seven layered tunnel book I made of Melbourne City in my first year here, the story of this work is the product of another project's end. I can look back at it in hindsight with self-respect and good humour. I'm still extremely proud of my efforts on all fronts, but at the time I felt like the biggest failure. I see now, that the whole process was just time and life doing its thing through me, the artist to come to a place where my work - the product of pushing and pushing and failing and pushing again, could break through the surface to become something larger than the sum of its parts.

Not many of you may know this, but this work might not have been, had it not been for the rejection of another series I made which sadly missed out on as much public profile, much like many of the works of many, many talented artists I know of.

A lot of it comes back to time and hard work, and not much compensates for these things, bar a fair bit of talent but even then. As it happened nearly four years ago, I was a keen young artist having just arrived in Melbourne, ready to take on the art world. Two of my dearest Kiwi mates and I, started out wandering around Collingwood one hot and sweaty summer day where we stumbled into Artisan Books on Gertrude Street. Sadly this store is no more, but back then, it was a dream.

As soon as I set foot into that store I fell in love. The plush leather couches in the corner, low lighting, the local art displayed in the cabinets, the books of art and culture and recent publications from other artists whose names and illustration I recognised – Shaun Tan; Marc Martin; Del Kathryn Barton. I had arrived. If I could only get my art in this store I thought, I would have made it.

So, a little shaky from excitement and nerves I approached the counter, took a card, and let the store assistant know I was “an artist” and that I made paper cut stories using paper. I used my best ‘meek but quietly ambitious artist’ voice. The guy behind the desk expressed some interest in my work and mentioning they would be changing up their cabinet display before too long he asked - did I have a card?

Yes. Yes I did.  

After weeks of checking my emails for a response thereafter and finding nothing, I wrote to the email address listed on the store website. T hey got back to me within a few days to say how much they liked my work and that they’d love to show some of my art in the coveted store cabinet.

I was elated. Just like that! The Melbournian store guy liked my work!

Amidst all my excitement I set off on my mission. I determined then and there to design a piece that would make mouths drop open. A piece that would stand out like no other.

I spent two straight weeks making three works no larger than the face of a CD cover, representing a Victorian style library painted in watercolour. The details meticulously cut out so that that all objects could be distinguished by their cuts and the shadows the works made when held up against a wall. The set is entitled The Reading Room, and the works are worth a look if you’ve got 5 minutes to scour the website's gallery.

The series now sit in glass cases in my parent's home in Puhoi, New Zealand.

At the time I was sure Artisan Books would love them. I’d put everything I had into the story behind them I was telling, relating the works conceptually to the store I’d made them for.

Oh how wrong I was.

I'd set out on out on an unpaid design job without having checked in with my client about the brief.

The Artisan Books manager let me down easy.

Said they were different from the straight white paper cuts they’d seen on my website and that the painted detail in these particular works might be ‘lost’ in the display.

I still wonder if he noticed the pained expression in my face or the slump in my shoulders when I realised he was not elated with the works as I'd expected, but perhaps a disappointed and maybe even a little sorry for me. It was like the pet cat who thinks they've done you a great honour by catching you a bird and leaving it on your front doorstep..or the carpet.

As I stood in front of the counter holding my sad box of artwork, the manager stood awkwardly trying to cheer me up with the opportunity to present another work in the upcoming 'Artisan Books Annual Book Exhibition'. There were three months leading up to that exhibition in which I could prepare and construct more work if I was interested in submitting a separate piece for the show.

I put on my best fake smile and agreed “the exhibition sounds great! I’d love to keep in touch”. At this, manager man smiled sympathetically, at which point I turned on my heel and headed out the door.

Only when I had rounded the corner did the tears come as I held my delicate box of meticulously finished, un-exhibited art.

I didn’t make anything for the rest of that week. It might have even been two. I felt like a crumpled child having stubbed a toe after a fall. Mum in New Zealand, I'd have to find the band-aids on my own. A lot of me telling myself “you can do this, you can do this” in between sighs and some pretty heavy morning runs over those two following weeks.

But the episode dissipated. Life marched on. I took myself out for a coffee, put away the paints, cleaned my desk and set about warming the inspiration back into my poor mourning inner artist to begin again, starting as I usually do with most creative briefs, with a brainstorm.

I read the brief for the show carefully this time. I set about writing down all the things I loved about Melbourne and thought really long and hard about why I wanted my work in this particular bookstore.

 Why had I poured myself into a series of works without consulting someone or checking in with the owners to see if they actually fit the mould? - How could I be such an idiot? But, I rationalised, I wasn't an idiot. Just an idealist who was learning her first lessons in realism.

They say some of the best lessons are the hardest and I wasn't going to wimp out on this one.

The shop owner said he wanted white paper. No colour. So out went my painstakingly hand painted paper cut. I had to concentrate on the cut itself. The paper itself. Deep breathes.

One foot in front of the other.

What came from all this huffing and puffing (not to mention self-help mantras) was something I could never have come to, had I been told yes the first time around.

Over the following months I produced a seven layered paper cut many of you would have seen called 'City From A Hill'. The work shows two people with their bikes at the top of a hill looking down on Melbourne in all its tram-riding, music-loving, foodie-endorsing glory. There's a streetscape lined with storefronts, each of them telling a different story.

If you look really hard you can even make out tiny street art on some of the buildings and staircases seen from the road leading up to secret venues.

The work at the time was the most extensive in my career. It was far more than the manager had expected me to create and I ticked every box as I created my seven-layered, all-white, minuscule tunnel book in the hope that this time I presented my work I wouldn't be sent packing.

Venturing back to Artisan Books with it, I held my breath at the door and stepped in with the work. I got a "wow".

Win. Management loved this one. It got pride of place amidst the other works in the shops window display facing the street.

The piece in total took roughly 75 hours to create and has since been exhibited as part of numerous cultural initiatives and exhibitions in Melbourne. There are other examples I could talk about but I think given this lengthy essay I'll finish up here so you can go and work on getting your own mess out into the open where it belongs rather than all this focus on mine.

So go do your thing whatever that thing may be, and remember - the next time you're having a good wrestle with a tough concept or putting your mind to something which seems like it might never eventuate- just - keep - pushing.

It'll be all the more gratifying when you get that baby out.

The Bus of Life

In my experience, life's opportunities are like buses. You wait for ages for one and then three come at once.

When I was a kid, catching the bus around my local area and occasionally into the city was a regular occurrence and one that I delighted in back then, not because I was particularly fond of sitting in the bus on the way to my destination or waiting for said bus to arrive, but because I made a game out of the irregularity of the buses in my district which made the journey ultimately more adventurous and I'm sure interesting for passing motorists.

The game went like this - If I had to wait more than ten minutes for the bus according to the timetable, instead of waiting for the bus to arrive, I would attempt to outrun the bus, stop by stop and see how far I could get before the next one came along. Often this had great benefits because it also meant that sometimes I saved myself a full dollar eighty in my cause for improved fitness and legal fare evasion. The looks I got from passing motorists weren't bad either. For every sidelong glance or turned head that passed I felt like I was achieving something great for myself and myself only. Woman alone!  In charge of her own morning!  I was not going to wait for my life to pass me by waiting for some stupid bus, no-siree!

As you might imagine, more often than not I would miss my bus while in between stops and end up running as late as half an hour for school, but there was a good, sane reason behind all this avant-l'école gaming and carrying-on.  That being the rush I remember getting on those occasions when I almost missed the bus but just made it, through my own self will and by the power of my 13 year old spirit to sprint at full tilt to the nearest stop to beat the bus rounding the corner a few metres behind me.

You may think as you read, that this is the game of a madwoman, or a lost teenager not yet having found herself or her purpose, but I believe there is a lot to be said for hitting the ground running.

Some good things happened to me on those runs. For the times I did make it to class on time I felt elated. My morning run was out of the way and I was ready to tackle the day ahead with gusto and the knowledge of already having achieved something. Sometimes a pretty funny conversation ensued with the drivers who'd seen me on the run and I'd feel like I'd made a friend. Due to the irregularity of the buses, I still remember a handful of times I actually made it (usually sweaty and panting) all the way to school which was about 5 kilometres up and down some pretty gnarly hills.  

Buses aren't the only irregularities in life. Even though I've moved away from those places and suburbs I used to frequent as a teenager and I no longer play my old games of cat and mouse with the bus, the habits are still there.  But these days they tend to take shape in my approach to my creative work.

I have found that waiting for the bus, in this sense, usually leads to more waiting and slower bus rides - if you get my drift.

If "running between stops" is about being proactive and doing what you can; where you are; with what you have; from a place of optimism, this motto has worked extremely well for me on many occasions, not to mention creating much needed momentum in my practice in those times when the market has been dry and the artist call-outs few and far between.

By keeping on the front foot rather than sitting around watching my email inbox, I've found that eventually those opportunities that have particular significance for myself and my practice do find me between the other work I continue to apply myself to. It's true, as many of you will have deduced from reading my blog, that this approach has had its fair share of challenges and misgivings, but for all the ups and downs that have come out of running flat out and 'missing the bus', it's still the most exciting, energy-inducing way to get to where you need to go. It's like a magnet for attracting like-minded people and growing your business whether you're an artist or otherwise. They say that if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. I believe pushing hard and staying flexible when it comes to using your time wisely - and pursuing the next stop rather than waiting for the next bus to come along - puts you in a way better position to catch that bus when it does come. In the meantime, put your effort into what enriches your life and makes you happy.

It's in those moments of running for the bus as a teen that I learned to take my life into my own hands.

Certainly it's had its messy moments - its sweaty entrances and bad hair days - but in the long term, this modus operandi has served me extremely well and continues to do so when it comes to getting me where I need to be and keeping me sharp while feeling satisfied with my choices on the road to my destination.

In short - Never wait for the bus.

Having it All - Oranges & Lemons Sing the Bells of the Deluded

They say the definition of a crazy person is someone who does the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result. The story I am about to share with you frames me as such, though from talking to friends, some of you who I know for a fact read this blog, I am not the only person who has taken their sweet time figuring this out.

I am unsure of where it all began, maybe getting into Elam School of Fine Art in 2006, maybe before, but that aside I have always considered myself an artist. Perhaps not in the way I do now having made it my career, or how I used to feel about it back when I studied art at a university institution (scared and confused about what I really wanted from myself and from the teachers I was training under) but something happened through the course of my four years at university, and it was to do with serendipity, dioramas and surrendering myself to psychic automatism when I found my calling for telling stories and writing music from the subconscious.

I believed this to be the pinnacle of my course of study; this stretching and growing, performing and pushing myself harder than I had previously to birth these songs and works that were so abundant at the time. I felt like for the first time in my life I had actually hit on something valuable, that I was meant to fight to continue, something that could actually help other people and myself to live better and be well. Before enrolling in the degree I had wanted to be an art therapist in places where other means of communication had tried and failed. Particularly with people who had experienced trauma or who had memory loss relating to traumatic experiences. 

Unfortunately there was conflict between my own convictions as an artist and humanitarian and the view and marking schedules of those who would grade my work and whose views would inform my marks. 

The view I ascertained from speaking to my lecturers about my work (not to mention a few scalding group critiques) was that the main objective was for my work to shock, humour or to reference Freud or Duchamp's writings in a way that made me appear lofty and knowledgable of the greats who had gone before me. I found this process interesting, however unrelated to my own cause, which I figured I would have to pursue while trying as often as I could to appear more interested in the direction of my tutors. Somehow I figured that if I just worked really hard doing what my teachers wanted and worked equally hard focusing on my own undercover practice alongside, I could have both academic success and still keep my own integrity in my practice as an artist. 

At least in theory this was a good idea, but I took it to the next extreme - and whether by my own self-delusion or optimism (it is a very fine line) - I continued on to come up with new works which spoke directly to my own and others' stories. 

The works were seen by others to be brilliant and I got a great deal of positive feedback, but they took me anywhere between 30 and 200 hours to create and often I wouldn't exhibit them, but just give them to friends and relatives as presents. 

There was some part of me that believed back then that my work had a divine purpose.  I still believe that whatever you do in life has some greater purpose and informs who you meet along the way and where your choices direct you.  But as a young undergrad, I believed that if I just worked really hard to make work that made people feel seen and valued and in turn connected with those around them, that somehow, somewhere, someone would notice my work and point me in the direction of success, wherever that might be.

I made beautiful work that I believed in, that inspired people and made me happy, but my miscalculation was believing that if I worked even harder to produce more work I'd reap the financial rewards in turn.

It was like planting an orange tree in my back yard - then every day running outside to check for lemons.

Don't get me wrong, I loved what I was doing; I was finding out a lot about myself through the work I was doing, I had independence (I was working a few days per week, not to mention my weekends as a face painter) but the weeks would roll over and because I wasn't making a lot of income from the work I was producing I started to feel like there was something wrong with it.

This is exactly the reason I am writing on this topic. If I'd had a business-savvy someone who I trusted tell me that I would never make any money by underselling my work for people's living rooms, it might have saved me a great deal of pain and angst. 

Maybe I'm still learning what I was missing back then - the answer to the question I used to ask myself over and over again. Yes, the art is good enough. but for what purpose? If I wanted to make money from my art I would need to find people who valued what I did and, more importantly, back myself and put my "business hat" on.

These days I still make works for myself on occasion, but they're not at the expense of my own leisure time. I don't feel any unearthly sense that if I stop working on them for a weekend I might lose my ability to create. I no longer ask if my work is good enough, but how or if it can be better, and the questions I had have become more constructive; less rooted in the kind of open-ended reflections which lead one to open-ended projects - and open-ended questions.

I still invest time in art-making for me, but I am also balancing this with paid opportunities.

In short, I've still got my orange tree in the backyard, but since I started my little garden, I've planted a lemon tree in there too. They're both growing quite well and maybe there'll be some cross-pollination going on there somewhere, but I'm not holding my breath.

Just quietly I'm pretty happy with both as they are, but who knows, there's room for another, maybe one day even some limes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Job, Career or Calling - To Her Credit: Elle Luna)

The List

When I find myself at the beginning of a new venture, before I've actually started work on an upcoming show, drafted new material or begun working on a new illustration, there begins a still tug on my insides to make space, as if something in my chest is trying to find a way out through my stomach. I often think of that part of me as a child, not that I have kids. More in terms of my own inner kid, who was promised a day trip a week ago and still hasn't been taken out to play.

Tantrums to follow. 

Unsurprisingly, when I feel that tug on my insides to start work on a new venture I can get a little nervy.

I start to think that the work will never get done, that I'll never progress further than where I am now (illogical) and that somehow I might never use my brain or my hands to make anything new ever again. No more art, no more play dates.

But there is a reason I'm afraid of new ideas for projects, and it's got a lot to do with an internal list I have of all the ideas I've had at some point or other in my career, but for whatever reason have been put on the back burner, left discarded with the washing I also haven't gotten around to, or worse - put away in some cupboard because the thought of completing them was too good, too lofty or too self-indulgent for me to reckon with. Julia Cameron calls these unresolved concepts creative miscarriages, and in her book 'The Artist's Way' she urges that they be mourned. I've done a lot of this mourning to date, but there's been a lot of them in between the other more public successes I've had in my career, and the build up over the years means that if I started my wailing duties today I'd be here for a while. All this grappling with unfinished business has led to a lot of self-thwarting, guilt, and an increasing feeling of neglect. If anyone remembers a time they got left behind or whose parents forgot to pick them up from school on occasion you'll know what I'm getting at.

I woke up feeling that way this morning. My head swimming with too many ideas, too many spinning plates, not enough time to surmount the huge tasks I was setting for myself (publish your book, record album, travel the world, run a market stall, solo exhibition, pay student loan, postgraduate study, gather a deposit for a house & finish a paper cut animation that has up til this point sucked down hundreds of hours of mine and others' labour).

My list, along with all the day-to-day upkeep one is required to do if one would like to remain a clean and balanced individual (washing, cooking, cleaning, exercising, spending time with loved ones, making cups of tea etc) I start to feel like I'm on a treadmill moving slowly backward as the contents of my 'list' slip off the side. No-one asked me to martyr myself for my art. No one else told me that my life would be complete if I ever managed to get to the end of said list, but its lead me to start my day not with a feeling of anticipation of what the day holds and the opportunities at hand, but instead trailing behind an insurmountable list of goals that I might never reach. In other words, waking up and feeling like I'm already failing even before I've even reached for the alarm. Over a long time that kind of thinking can really get to a person, and as someone with a history of anxiety and depression I recognise that this is not perhaps the most intelligent way I could be directing my neurological pathways.

It's for this reason that lately I have been trying more and more to reason with the list, taking the objectives apart and asking myself if I actually care about completing its contents, or if I'm just so used to this act of self-handicapping and depreciation that I'm scared of what will happen if I just let it go in favour of freedom. Nonsensical or not, as someone who's formed close ties with fear induced workaholism, I can tell you that trying to break your own habits of self-negating and fear-mongering can be pretty bloody frightening. Kind of like jumping off a high building without a proper safety net.

 The funny thing is, I actually thought I'd done it. In the late part of last year, I had done what I needed to in order to distance myself from full time work as a creative entrepreneur, and that year I took a part time job as an education support to have a break from the constant demands of freelancing. I'd been taking breaks, looking after myself in the form of regular netflix sagas, nintendo matches and bike rides around my local lake, but all that hasn't made this incessant internal prodding go away. I've decided to take the list apart and ask myself how many points are still a necessity and alongside that, what other experiences I'd be sacrificing by continuing to bang my head against a wall in repeated fashion over the time and work I feel has been lost. I've been asking myself if it will ever make up for the lost time and esteem that has come about through not only leaving the list unfinished, but more than that allowing myself to lose out on opportunities and experiences in the present because I'm still worried about something in the past.

Self-awareness has its benefits, and despite my hangups and ceaseless desire to disassemble and analyze my own brain activity, asking myself those questions when the list beckons - What can I do about this now? What will happen if I don't act on this? and What effect does dwelling on this have on my thinking? has been and continues to be the thing which staves away the guilt and helps me see my present reality in perspective of what has been and what is right here waiting for me. Don't get me wrong, it's still tempting to dream of what it might be like to have all the boxes ticked, that list done and dusted, but wishing for that to happen without a plan of action is akin to staring up at a tall building waiting for the day you'll be able to fly to the top in a single bound, instead of opening the doors and taking the stairs, and given how long those stairs might be I have to ask myself honestly, whether I'd rather spend my time in a concrete stairwell or whether I'd rather walk down the street and listen to the band playing music on the corner.

 

Skyscrapers.jpg

Letting Go (Hint: Timing is Everything)

I have professed on many occasions to have leapt and landed when it comes to my travels and a fair few risks I've taken both creatively and financially in regard to my creative practice. Not surprisingly 'letting go' sits pretty close to 'leaping and being caught' on my list of must-practices for a happy, albeit not altogether carefree state of being. That said, I'm not claiming to have mastered either technique by any stretch. I am just here to offer my experience along the road to mastery. (Right at this point in time I'd put myself in the white belt category).

But that is actually the easiest place to start learning such a practice in my opinion. I tried it out last night while performing Life on Mars before a crowd of David Bowie fans as part of a show commemorating the life and work of the man himself.

All week I had been rehearsing, and the more time I spent with the music, the more I felt acquainted with the man behind the composition. By the time the show came around I felt like I had it down. I'd been repeating the track on loop daily and in my sleep, thinking only of key changes and chord progressions..and of the pink velour-partly-ripped-in-the-chest-area bodysuit I donned on the night of the performance. I'd even sacrificed a night out at Ballarat's 'Eastern Hotel' in preparation.  

I was going to have this perfect. 

The next day. 32 degrees. Pink velour. Not good. Car rides to Melbourne. Broken air conditioning. Running face paint. Amusing in hindsight. Not so at time. Got to the venue in one very hot and sweaty piece. But made it nevertheless.

My time came. 9pm and I was up there on stage in front of a host of fabulous Bowie enthusiasts. Hands shaking somewhat, I panic. Not a minute in I was dropping wrong chord progressions and changes irreverent of the song's original fabric. Panic again, but played on. It was a cover show after all, and what was covering a piece of music if you couldn't make it your own. So that's exactly what I did.

I let my fingers go where Bowie may or may not have gone before, and I played, and sang. With the pressure off performing a note-for-note replica, I found I could just let the music flow through me and the craziest thing was it worked! I finished with a nod to the original score and then all of a sudden it was over. Done. The crowd erupted in applause and I had a number of people come up to congratulate at the end of the performance. It felt amazing. Still, there was still a small part of me which felt like I'd failed at playing the original score note for note, but just under that voice, a little quieter but nonetheless apparent, there's another one applauding my improvisational feat, imploring questions of me like - What is it that makes me come alive? What would I do if I could make my own rules and draw my own road map? What was it that made an entire room applaud my efforts in improvising Bowie, instead of sticking to the original script, and so much so that some of them came up to tell me how much they'd loved it when I'd let myself fall into the song instead of having to pin it down?

The answer, I believe is in allowing yourself to let go and give over control to something bigger than you, but there is a trick.

 

A lesson in Timing 

 

Letting Go (Too Soon/Too Late)

The first scenario which came to my head (being a Kiwi kid who grew up on bush walks and jumping into waterholes) was that of jumping off a rope swing into a lake as my cousins and I used to do. You let go of the rope too early and you are liable for a bruised pelvis and at the very least a scrape on the bum on your way in, but too late and you're likely to bruise your ego as you swing limply from the rope a few metres above the water, long after Kiwi etiquette deems appropriate. No good.

But you measure the right amount of run up, with the perfect amount of cling, timing and aptitude and boom. You've got yourself a perfect bomb and the cheers to prove it. Provided you're not just in there by yourself (not the done thing in most cases).

I will be learning said trick for a long time to come, but moments like I had last night, with a generous audience helping me along the way, make me realise there's a lot more to gain than just playing the right notes, and that if you can't take a few trips on your way into the water, you've got a lot to learn before you'll have any more fun on a bigger swing.

bowievelour

Progress

A conversation I had with a friend this week, has inspired me to think about how I look at my own goals and priorities. Particularly in light of it being the first day of a new year and the fresh start that both inspires and overwhelms a lot of us when we find ourselves back in January thinking about what we want for the year ahead, I thought I'd share a few thoughts with you around said conversation and those which followed in my own head thereafter, and which have since spurred me to write on this week's topic.

"What do you want to do this year?" was the question my friend asked, on a walk with some mates after a party the night before. It's amazing how deep conversations can get after a sleepover away from the city. "I want progress in my art" was my direct response. It was pretty silly when I think back to it. Of all the things I could possibly want in an entire year. But my honesty actually worked in my favour this time round. I got talking about how I'd felt like I was standing still creatively, and wanted to get motivated to have more exhibitions this year, play more shows, finish unfinished projects, but instead of a motivational seminar or offering me suggestions about how I might get my lazy butt into gear come 2017, I got a chuckle from said friend, who laughed at my need to 'progress' in life, and he told me that as an artist not to mention a human being, we were all progressing regardless of whether we were making any work to show for it. Everyone's progressing as long as they're alive and getting older. Your life is not in a vacuum, even if you have to sit around your house and refuse all visitors for a year, chances are you will continue to change.

He got me thinking a lot about what it means to move forward in the big picture, and the whole conversation encouraged me not to think of the looming year ahead as a way to cram as much as possible into the next twelve months of my non-stagnant life, but to hold just as much regard for the still times or for the times I chose not to work, as they too were part of my life's progression.

A really good friend of mine once told me that life is not linear, but more like a spiral which centres on its own axis. That when we feel like we've gone back over an old lesson or a point in our lives we recognize, we're might feel really close to a place we've been to before, even though in reality that experience seems far behind us.

If you've kept up with my posts so far you'll be aware of my journey as a workaholic artist, and you'll know why it's a constant push and pull for me these days to work and relax. Because of my recent history as someone whose working habits literally made myself sick, progression for me in many ways looks like producing less and slowing down. Two of the hardest things I've had to do in order to recover my self-respect and value myself as a human being. In light of my last three years of slowing my rate of creative production, I often wrestle with the idea that I am regressing because I have stopped getting up at zero o-clock to run in the morning, and I no longer feel the need to splash my personal life all over social media. But the main difference I notice between my life now and my life three years ago, is my level of happiness, something measured only by my level of stress or lack thereof.

I feel less need to justify my place in the world by what I've done or resolved to do now than when I first started working and less need to prove myself to others  because I'm more familiar with myself and who I want to be. I'm also less motivated these days to create work out of fear than out of a genuine desire to express my creativity, which means the work I make now feels less like slaving over a hot stove and more like cooking exactly what I want and making everyone else do the dishes.

Some might argue that because I'm producing less, I'm actually regressing in my artistry, but for me I know I can't make the kind of work I want to produce, or put on the sort of shows I want to put on unless I have nothing time. If we're talking business you might call it 'putting back into the company' or taking a sabbatical. Better still, in the words of one of my creative champions Julia Cameron who calls it 'filling the well'.

So with that in mind I implore you to work out what you want. I'll even do it too. Then start making steps to progress in that direction in whatever ways make sense to you. But try to remember your movement. Your continual progression whether you fight it or not and let it give you the momentum you need to progress in the direction you want, regardless of what sounds good to other people. I'd love to hear what you have to say on this subject. All the best with your continual movement and the coming year.

E. x

'Leap, and the Net Will Appear'

Today being Christmas, proceedings began with a 7am wake up call from some very excited children (one guess why) followed by sitting in the living room, barely keeping my eyes open, while emitting little gasps when told that the half eatencarrots on the mantelpiece had been left by the reindeer who came through the night before. All in all, a pretty great reminder to me that when you take a leap into new territory, or follow your own inner compass, you will be caught on the other side.

This time four years ago, I was hoping and praying that I would make it to Melbourne, Australia by March of the following year. Three years ago I was praying and hoping I would get to stay there and continue my various creative practices. Two years ago, I was praying and hoping I'd make it back to New Zealand again. Go bloody figure. But then last year, something surprising happened. I was halfway between feeling like I'd abandoned my Kiwi family for a host of loveable (if not roguish-humoured) Australians, and halfway between just thinking 'wow' 'look at me' 'I made it and I'm still here!'.

 

Julia Cameron has a saying about following your dreams, especially those that scare you and resemble the exhilarating, terrifying act of jumping off a high cliff into deep water. She says 'Leap, and the net will appear', meaning of course that if you listen to your gut and take that risk that you've wanted to, you will be caught.

 

I wholeheartedly agree with Julia on this one, but might I add a little disclaimer here: Being caught doesn't always feel like a Mary Poppins style escapade, floating in through a sky of puffy white clouds while humming a tune that could set the average Joe up quite comfortably on royalties for the rest of his/her life. Sometimes it feels like the emergency crew throwing down a gym mat at the bottom of the cliff so you don't break your arse but only bruise your tailbone slightly.

After all my hoping, wishing, praying, ticket purchasing and eventually landing in Oz, I ended up in a friend of a friend's jeep being whisked away to Royal Women's Hospital to remove a huge growth that had formed in my lower abdomen. Luckily the day before this all happened, I had just been kicked out of the house where I was staying with a friend while the owner was away in Italy. All was well and good until (so the story goes) my friend told said owner she wasn't going to be at the house when he got back from his trip, and amidst a host of very rude and abrupt facebook messages we were both escorted off the property by a neighbour and told we'd have to find somewhere else for the remainder of the week.

If we hadn't been kicked out of said house, I would have been stuck in a regional Victorian town with 20 kilograms of luggage when I had my medical outbreak, but instead we bunked in together in the bed of a lovely friend of mine who lived in Fitzroy while she went to stay at her then -boyfriend's house. Perfect. 

But not really perfect. 

I woke up that morning with the sorest, weakest, achiest stomach I can remember and a feeling that someone might have just hit me in it with a large rubber mallet. Gagging in the front garden on Nicholson Street whilst passing traffic slowed to a stop at the traffic lights was far less than ideal. But eventually the pain got so bad that a housemate of said friend agreed to drive me to hospital, and a week later I was out and sleeping on the floor of yet another friend who graciously agreed to have me at her place in Northcote. It was there I stayed, watching Daria reruns and searching for jobs and places I could house share when I was strong enough to make it out the front door without feeling like my stitches might burst. Said friend is still around and we have these stories to laugh and cry about as we think about how far we've come since my early days in Melbs.

 

I had been working up until then at a design studio in Auckland, as well as self-contracting as a face painter, so when I scoured job listings for vacancies and didn't find the ideal job opportunities I'd been hoping for on arriving in 'the world's most liveable city' I decided nothing else was worth the time I'd be compromising by working in a job that wasn't completely creatively focused and I set about calling numerous companies asking if they had any vacancies for a resident face painter. After two months of sleeping on my dear friend's floor and healing enough that I could lug my bags around with me on trams and trains, eventually I found a house in Carlton North, where I would live for the next six months. 

There was also a family-centred cafe just down the road, and they agreed to have me once or twice a week if I wanted to set a sign up and face paint outside for kids while their mums and dads were sipping lattes and stealing sidelong glances at me (until word got round that I was actually affiliated with the place, and not just a random off the street who was trying to take their money. Every Saturday and Sunday morning without fail, I would pack down my paper cutting desk in my room, stand this against the wall and wheel the desk that had held it up, along with a sign, my kit and my chairs, down to the park to begin work. With good weather, this little side venture was enough to pay my bills and food for the week, plus some rent, and not delve too deeply into my savings, while still giving me the time I needed to get up each day for my morning run, and start my artist day at around 9am. But casual work was not enough to sustain my bills and rent and six months later, I was a mess. Looking back, there were a great number of people who helped me through, and maintain to this day, the reason I am still here. Friends who bought my work, who booked me for illustration jobs, and who took a punt on a New Zealand artist and her enthusiasm, and supported me in some way, shape or form to keep doing what I'd come here to do. There was also a particularly talented couple who 'adopted' me early on. They ran (and still do) run a vegan, stone-fire bakery called Fruition, where they make scores of vegan sourdough loaves by hand for local buyers, cafes, their own bike polo team where I met them, and for a while, would regularly surprise me with loaves of freshly baked sourdough. I think they know now, but those loaves kept me going for weeks. At the time, I was struggling on brown rice and lemons I managed to scavenge from kindly Italian ladies in the neighbourhood, and they're one of the reasons I made it through that period of my life, and managed to stay long enough to find my feet when I had little to do but just put one foot in front of the other.

Toward the end of that first year, with the stress of not eating properly, and my growing fears about whether I'd be able to stay and work in Australia or whether I'd have to borrow money for a ticket home, I was struggling daily with major stress and depression, coupled with the pressure I was putting on my body to work harder to establish myself, and still the growing sense that I was a failure. There is more to this story than I will share with you tonight, but following that period I managed to get a job as a medical receptionist at a physiotherapy clinic in the city. The people there were kind and it was a family business, so they looked after each other and me, and while the work was hard, and I had a lot to learn, that job and the support of the team I worked with there, enabled me the chance I needed to pursue my work without worrying as much about my finances, while having time to pursuit my music and art.

That was the beginning of the next phase of my crash landing, which you'll undoubtedly hear more about in posts to come, but remembering that time always helps me keep myself in check when I think I'm not doing enough. 

I would never have imagined back then that I could have achieved as much as I have now, and have so many people around me who I consider family, but it's happened. It happened not as I wanted to with my dream job on arrival, hitting the ground running with shows and exhibitions and my own band the day I landed, but by putting one foot in front of the other, choosing not to listen to the fearful voices in my head but instead to cling to the ones that said I could do what I wanted to if I just kept going, and somehow, blessedly I have ended up somewhere in between my ideals and meeting my dreams with my reality in a way that far exceeds those I might have ever conjured in my own head.

With all that, I leave you with this quote ~

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ~ Michelangelo

On Being A Team Player (Preliminary warning: It's Not All About You)

Having talked in previous blogs about my place in the chronological and physical pecking order (being the 'little squirt') of my family, I now take you back to a point in my life, at the tender age of four and a half, when my sister was chief supervisor of myself and my friend Shelby, (or so we'll refer to her for the time being).

Shelby and I were learning how to make pictures of butterflies using chalk, crayons & purple dye. You know the ones - you draw in the outline of your picture with chalk, colour it in with crayon and when you tip dye over the lot, the wax stays while the chalk sucks up the dye, leaving you with a beautiful, if not soggy picture of thick dye outlines and brightly colour crayon patterns. All was going well until Shelby and I finished our respective artworks and on so doing, I took the moment to proclaim out loud that my picture was the better of the two.

Now, had it been just Shelby and I at the table, this may have gone on unnoticed, or at the very least, confronted with a look of disdain or envy from my dear friend before moving on to the next rudimentary activity. Unfortunately for me, my comment was picked up by my sister (who was at the time and still remains 10 years my senior). She took it on good authority to induce a public shaming, by which she rebuked my artistic critique, and then demanded that I take back my initial feedback in favour of something far more cowardly and fluffy around the edges.

From that day on, there was a shift. I continued to smile politely, and nod in agreement with people who told me that art wasn't about perfection, that beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

But on the inside, I was seething.

The truth was that deep down I really did think my work was the best. My lines were more defined, my composition better planned, my colour choices better distinguishable and crayon work more rigorous in contrast with the cheap craft dye that my sister had bought for us from the toy shop up the road. My comment didn't need scoffing at because one could see the evidence as soon as they held the two pictures up against each other. Mine ruled and hers was subordinate.

After that pivotal, scalding rebuke of my intuition and authenticity as an artist, something in me changed.

I realised that if I wanted something done, I couldn't rely on the judgement or motivations of those around me to help me do it, or even to be advisers to my cause for greatness.

As far as I was concerned, I was making my own way, on my terms, and I knew far better than anyone else how to get to where it was I was going, and without the unsolicited feedback thank you very much.

 

It's not really surprising that as I approached my teenage years and continued into adult life, I recognised (thanks to a few faithful and honest friends and my own human conditioned limits) a person who on the surface seemed to have it all together, but scratch beneath that and you quickly found someone fighting with themselves, a severely unhinged control freak and self-proclaimed life-is-tough-look-at-me advocate of the highest order.

I loved doing things the hard way. Rather than seek help, it was constantly my mission to prove to everyone I thought might be watching, that I was the winner, that I could do better, run further and play harder than the next person. Being a lover of skateboarding, punk rock music and circle pits this played out on numerous occasions, but usually ended in me getting to school on a given Monday with bloodied palms and a story to tell about how I'd kicked some poor boy over in a mosh pit.

Despite having a lot of fun on many occasions at music festivals and in extracurricular ventures, I was desperately insecure and unhappy. Constantly bent on proving to others (and myself) that I was just as good as those I was measuring myself against and never able to relax or let my guard down around people who might actually like me for me. I came out of school wanting to test myself, oddly wanting to help other people on their personal journeys (despite my own personal messes) and wanting to do something really good for humanity, but still being depressingly stuck in the same cycle of thinking about myself as good or bad, on top or at the bottom, and missing out on a lot of opportunities to grow and develop my skills as an artist and as a person because the underside of wanting to be the best all the time, is that when situations rule someone else that prime position you can begin to feel like a big fat loser.

Unsurprisingly, this same attitude has filtered through my creative practice as well as most other parts of my life. This binary struggle between having it all or believing I was nothing. But fortunately for me, my art has allowed me to explore and challenge a lot of the beliefs I acquired in my younger years. I'm not saying I don't still have insecurities, or those bad days where I feel both guilty and/or lesser than the people around me, but over the years I've become a lot more tuned to my own thoughts and feelings when they come up, and I'm working on developing my internal bullshit detector on a daily basis, both when it comes to my own mind and the motives of others.

 I wish I could say I learnt my lesson from observing my own mistakes and learning from them when it came to putting myself on a pedestal, or allowing myself to think of my compatriots as lesser than myself so I could feel better, but honestly it's taken me almost my whole life (30 now, for those who haven't yet read my other entries) and I'm still learning. I've had periods battling heavy depression because I felt so terrible about how critically I viewed friends of mine who have been there for me through the years, but I know the reason I did so was because this narrative I chose to hold onto read that it was either them or me, that we couldn't all be winners. Brain waves are hard to retrain, and it seems that for every thought I have that I recognise from how I used to view myself, I'm now having to arrest and redirect in order to create a new reality (thanks Norman Doidge).

As an adult it has taken me moving to another country on my own, while sustaining my creative practice and then only just getting by, barely affording food, resigning from my first stable job since my arrival at the end of my first year and consequently landing myself in hospital for surgeries which were in direct correlation to stress, circumstances which ultimately forced me to be kinder to myself and (in my thought-life as well as on a surface level) realise the way I was living wasn't doing me or anyone else any favours.

Attempting to dismantle the world view I picked up as a kid, which informed so many of the big mistakes and saddest times of my life as an adult, has been one of the hardest things I have ever done and continue to do. It has only been by letting others into my creative world, not being afraid to share ideas or projects with other artists and putting my judgemental attitude aside, that I've felt safe and deserving enough to offer my skills and strengths to others and their respective projects, and be in a position to accept the same help in a way which is neither self-thwarting or domineering. I've since found an abundance of freedom in my own work and in playing a relatively small part in a larger whole.  

This, in my experience is the best place to create from, and its a place I'm trying to cultivate in my life with the people I surround myself with... Baby steps, with the support of others just like me who are neither losers nor invincible perfectionists, who all have their 'off' days, and their standout moments, but who above all come through when it counts. Needless to say life's a lot easier when it's not all about you (or me for that matter).

E.X

#youngestchild #artistlife #teamwork #ellenspictures #centrifugal #centripetal #arttherapy #floatingwhims #elizabethgilbert

 

 

All The Things

You can have anything, but not everything, or so some say., For me this is surely a theme I have encountered, both in my quest for success across a wide variety of creative mediums, and also in reference to the time-money-value triangle; the idea that for an end product to have value, you need to invest money and/or time, and that if you're short on either one of these components you must invest more of the other in order for your product to have value. 

I have learnt this lesson many times, as someone who has made a living from creating, at times with much money and not a lot of time, and at others, with a lot of time and very little money. 

I emerged from one of the most prestigious art schools in New Zealand during a time when the government were making major funding cuts to funding for the arts, not to mention the weekly tours of our studio spaces we'd be privy to from faculty members trying to scavenge space for other departments while I was actually there. Sometimes it felt like there was a ticking time-bomb over my friends and I; A sense of urgency that pushed all of us to make as much work as possible in fear our circumstances change and throw us into some new uncharted territory. We were always getting pressure to stay in late and occupy the space, and by the time I left an 80 hour week was a pass when it came to my expectations around how much I put in in order to achieve my benchmark as an emerging artist.

There were successes I should point out. It wasn't all doom and gloom and late nights and parking fines (however there were a fair few of those I might add) but it was also a time of stretching, pushing, innovating, pioneering new territory. In my second year of study I found myself in developing a medium that was new to me at the time - paper cut miniature dioramas I later found out were also referred to as tunnel books. My work was selected for a national ad campaign the year I graduated, and then the same year I was asked to work on a two-page spread for an established Australian musician, to be published in The Great Australian Songbook. But amidst all this I was still spinning various metaphorical plates, working multiple jobs seven days a week, fighting to keep myself afloat and struggling with doubts about my creativity on one hand, while also feeling like earning a regular income doing anything other than art was somehow betraying the creative vision I'd fought so hard for.

In short my focus was split multiple ways, fractured, at times splintered between desperately wanting to travel, to see the world and do all the things I thought I'd gain from throwing myself wholeheartedly into my creative practices, and at other times spending far too much time on individual works for what I was selling them for. I felt like a failure on one hand because I wasn't earning as much as friends who had full-time jobs, however getting a full-time job in my mind meant giving up everything I' d fought so hard for in abandoning a solid income to pursue my dream of being a successful illustrator and musician.

There's a quote by Brenda Ueland that has helped me to remember my own value and the power in my creative practice when I've experienced doubt over my commitment to wholeheartedly pursuing a creative life -

'Why should we all use our creative power....? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.'

This quote has been a reference point for me on the many times I've doubted my decisions to pursuit an authentic creative life. It kept me going when, three years post-uni I had done all I felt I could to chase down opportunities both musically and artistically and I decided enough was enough, I needed to leave Auckland for a greener pastures..such came in the form of the city of Melbourne where I decided to move in pursuit of new stages to perform with my band Shadow Feet, and to push my paper cutting out on a larger platform with the wave of other paper cutting artists I'd seen emerging overseas since I'd begun the practice in 2008.

But if I had thought it would be an easy ride in, I was sorely mistaken. I flew into Melbourne at a time when the heat was up around 37°C. Three weeks after arriving in Australia, I woke up in a friend's house, sick and in pain, with what felt like a large swelling on the inside of my stomach. my friend's housemate was there (luckily) and drove me to hospital where I had an emergency surgical procedure which would keep me bed/couch-ridden in my brand new city for the next month. When I look back on it, I believe this was the first sign of my body saying no to me on many levels. No you can't handle high levels of stress 6 days a week, no you can't put off self-care for the sake of your next creative venture, no you can't create when you've had next to no sleep, no you're not driving 4 hours for a job that might not even cover your travel costs. But what did I go and do..?

You got it.

Push. 

Through all the things that happened leading up to and after leaving New Zealand, the stress and hearing directly from more than one medical professional that my symptoms were directly correlated, I still believed that somehow I wasn't doing enough with my life, that I needed to do more - book more shows, write more music, apply to more galleries, get a bigger online presence and increased promotion for all the things I was doing. Regardless, it didn't matter how hard I worked, how many works I sold or what exhibitions I had lined up, I still felt a nagging sense that none of it meant I measured up, and the harder I worked it seemed, the more I fed this idea and allowed it to be the motivator for keeping my creative practices going, despite the warning signs that I was doing physical damage to myself by refusing to give myself a break.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances and hard motivations I faced that year, it turned out to be one of my most productive. I got asked to present a solo exhibition at a large library in the CBD. I began a residency at Somewhere Studios where I met some extremely talented and generous film makers who helped to capture my practice through Let the Light In, a film documenting some of the elements of my practice as an artist and musician, and I also got to be a part of a few council run initiatives in different suburbs of Melbourne. The same year I hooked up with a group of Australian musos to form a collective label called Airpunch music, on which we recorded an album together for Christmas that year. I was also part of a pop-up store where I sold some of the laser cut journals I'd been developing as a way to prop up my still-time-saturated paper-cut works. It's not really surprising that I wound up right back in hospital for a second operation that same year. 

Another month without security of work, and still the nagging sensation that my needing further surgery may be a direct result of the negative thoughts and doubts which motivated my practice at the time. These in turn informed the decisions  that were costing me both my emotional and physical well-being, and which led me to hit further lows the year after, when I had a stress reaction which had my GP refer me to an eye hospital for symptoms of what was in hindsight a stress reaction, and not his suspected shingles.

Since then, I'm proud to say I've let up on the work front (at least compared to how I used to run things) and I'm learning to protect and nourish myself, to ensure life stays more balanced, and that my practice never again impinges on my health.

At this point in the piece, I feel it's important to mention that I went through a period where I couldn't make anything. No music, no art. I questioned whether I would go back to my practice at all. I seized up, and then relaxed, and recently (in the last few months) I've begun once again to create, slowly. Baby steps in between a lot of futile worrying about whether I'd create again (very silly but understandable, at least to me).

In short, I'm learning to think differently about my creative practice.

I've learnt that it's something that, unprotected and malnourished it might perform for a while as pushed, but after a while you'll have something similar to the supermarket tantrum of a 3-year old on your hands. Paying no attention to that, your '3-year-old' might stop screaming.. and might just shut up completely for that matter.

It is for this reason I've learnt to give my inner 3-year-old artist treats on occasion and not to think of this as wasting valuable resources on 'things' when I should be investing EVERYTHING I have in my quest for success.

Practically speaking, this means reassuring myself that taking a night or two off a week doesn't mean I'm not committed, or that I'm a failure. I've got enough experience now to know pushing yourself too far can spell the end of it, and that you can't do anything sustainably if you can't look after yourself first, and that all the opportunities in the world mean nothing if you're not in a place to appreciate and enjoy the things that come your way.

The Latecomer

I can't help but find this entry altogether appropriate, seeing as it is nearly 23:03 in my studio, and I am working late (at least by my own standards) to get my second blog post published before tomorrow. That gives me exactly 57 minutes so here goes.

I could give many explanations for my tendency to run behind, come late, sprint through train stations carrying all manner of satchels and at times luggage or studio equipment in the name of adding to the present list of eccentric artist stereotypes. Since moving to Australia three and a half years ago I've learnt to carry a great many things on my back while riding a skateboard or bicycle, as to begin with I didn't own a car. *Sidenote: I once rode all the way from Collingwood to Northcote while holding a metre x metre portfolio to avoid taking it on the 86 tram. 

This sort of carry-on has never failed to amuse me - high on the mingling sensation of pride and embarrassment one gets from risking all sense of self-composure for the sake of art, adventure and catching the last regional train home to Ballarat on a Thursday night, but as I said, there is another explanation for my tendency to run behind.

I put it down to my being the youngest child by eight years in a family which allowed me in large part to run free and make my own fun as a kid.

Somehow I've never been able to reign myself into a regimented or restricted timeframe. There's always been a little part of me that wants to escape, to rebel against the systems I use in an attempt to hem in my inner child.

To give you some background information on the case, I have a brother and sister, who pretty early on I learnt about through legends my cousins told me. Stories filtered through about the lives they'd had before I came into being - stories of their wizardry and resourcefulness in constructing a trap for an unsuspecting babysitter, using a humble pine-cone, and long piece of string to make a flying-fox type contraption leading from our top story window to the Pohutukawa tree in our front yard. Need I elaborate. There are many others including the time my eldest sister made her own blackboard on my family's kitchen wall with a crayon, when she got tired of waiting for our dad to build her one, and the bush trips my siblings took with my cousins, which I was at the time too young to go on. Growing up in a loving, albeit protective family I constantly heard (either directly or indirectly) "she's too little for that", or "that might be a bit hard for her", when mentioning trips, certain jobs, or entertainments that were certainly out of bounds for the little tot I used to be. But see unfortunately those voices stayed on even after I outgrew my 4 year old self and the family home in which I was raised.

Somehow, there still exists a little piece of me that feels like I'm fighting to catch up. Fighting to scream to the world I CAN DO IT! in the face of all the times I was told I was too small or too young to run with the big kids. To be out in front exploring new territory, treading where no human being has treaded before.

This is all well and good until you begin to feel that you must do more and more with your life to catch up with a standard that exists only in your head. When you tell yourself you can't do something and then tackle the thing (be it a phone call that scares you, beginning a new artwork on a blank page or having a great new venue open its doors for one of your gigs) this whole I can do it business can get a little addictive, and for a while that's indeed what I became. An art addict. 

As per the age-old story of the tortured artist, for a while there I admit that I was of such a breed. I made myself pretty sick with work a few years back, until events led me to take a break from my creative progress and I put a stop to my work in order to focus on my own well-being. "You can't have any sort of artist career without self-care", or so I've found in my own experience at least. 

Now, after a lot of self-care, and a break from some of my more gruelling work-art-sleep-repeat habits, I feel like I can actually enjoy making again.

But still this feeling.

Late.

Late and only getting later it tells me.

It tells me my life-clock is running out and that time is getting away from me, that I'm not doing enough with my hours to catch up to an invisible race I may never finish.

However these days I can recognise the feelings when they come knocking and I'm getting better at shooing them away when they do. 

I am by many accounts a grown woman, so with all the maturity and self-will I can muster, I smooth my skirts and tell the feelings to rack off because 'I've been working all day and now I'm going to eat chocolate and read a book thank you very much.

It's not 100% fool proof yet, but the pests are certainly more distant than they used to be, and I'm getting better at reminding myself that right now is exactly where I should be, and that I am not, nor was I ever, late (figuratively speaking).

That perhaps when my mum referred to me as 'the lid on the jar' (in light of our family make-up and in particular the gap between my two older siblings) she might have also been alluding to that wonderful feeling of Hygge, when one is calm and at one with their environment, in light of things feeling just right. 

Just the right time. Just the right number. Not running behind or needing to catch up to someone or something else in the distance. The older I get, the more this idea seems to fit. Like a favourite jacket or a practiced life motto, and I know if I can't feel just right in the present, in the here and now, then no matter how hard I work, or how many of life's opportunities I cram in, I will never feel just right further down the track. So on that note, I'm off for the night. A moonlit bike ride home from the studio, a game of mario with my best buddy and a good night's sleep. Til next time.

E.X

 

New Beginnings

My name is Ellen. I have been making things with my hands since I was a very wee tot. 

When people ask me what I do these days, I tell them I am an artist and musician and that I work part-time at a special school. Who I am underneath the titles or what I've been been through in my search to find myself and carve out a pathway as a professional artist doesn't usually factor into the conversation. For many reasons, but mostly because I assume giving new acquaintances a run-down of my life story might be a tad overwhelming, I usually go with the labels. However, for a while all these labels have been getting a little heavy. The more people ask me what I do and I tell them about my various creative undertakings, the less energy I have to actually pour into my work. So I'm writing to you in an effort to dispel any myths about my life as a creative person; to give you a taste of the real deal; To reveal a little more of the woman behind the many masks & to reconnect with you and myself through my first online blog.

I'd love to hear of your own stories if you read this and feel like dropping me a line. I'll be posting more of my journey past & present, as I go along. I'd love to hear your feedback. Best til next time x Ellen