A client asked me recently, "How do I begin?" They were referring to their creative practice, noticing that the methods they have used in the past to access a creative flow state, were no longer working for them. They reflected that without a clear idea of what they're going to create, or when the critic is too loud in their head, or when they're alone in the studio, they feel unable to begin.
I've experienced similar struggles in my own creative practice. I've thought about painting many times over the past few months and I just haven't done it. I've felt frustrated in my process; that I'm not producing anything of worth, that I don't have an idea of what I should make, and that the pile of canvases in my shed shouldn't grow any larger!
Writing this blog is a reminder to myself to move past the thoughts that block my practice and simply make art. From early in my creative journey, I’ve been inspired by Julia Cameron who encourages regular creative practice. Her philosophy is to keep showing up to the page/canvas/instrument. But I feel there are some extra things I can put in place to support my creative practice.
For me the first step is to notice the critic and acknowledge that they have been running the show. I remind myself that I don't need to have an idea of what I’m creating before I begin. I remind myself that art is the territory of the Soul, and I can simply make space for it to emerge, in its own way and timing, paying attention to what is. For me, art is sometimes born of a passionate heart, exploding in fiery cathartic expression across the canvas or onto the piano keys. However, as an expression of Soul, my art making can also require a tender and safe space in which to emerge.
There are ways to generate a space of safety for this tender art-making. Similar to beginning a meditation practice, it is supportive to have a dedicated space to work in, particularly if that space is already set up and ready with materials that inspire me. As added inspiration, I can choose to keep my creative space alive by creating an altar with objects - bits of nature, clippings of poetry, soft material - that beckon the Soul to come forth through art making.
To help to open the creative channel, I can take some moments of quiet before beginning my practice. Sometimes I might choose to connect with my heart and ask, what is here that wants to be expressed? What wants to be given form now? Perhaps that decision that's been niggling at me wants a different perspective? Sometimes I choose to set an intention for my art making, and sometimes I come to the page with no plan or expectation. Over time, I develop deeper trust in this pre-reflective art making. No, I don't need to know in advance what is being created.
Recently I engaged in a short mindfulness practice before beginning art making, bringing my awareness to breath and sensations in the body, coming home to the present moment, noticing what is here, now. I found that an image spontaneously arose and I took that to clay, shaping and forming what I had seen within.
I can let my attitude be one of curiosity and play. What is going to emerge today? What happens if I bring together sewing materials, wood and clay? What would happen if this painting were to write a poem? What might this story look like as a dance? I can keep a journal of creative curiosities and small inspirations, bringing together what normally would not be brought together. I can re-visit the works of creative doulas like Julia Cameron, Pat Allen, and Natalie Goldman.
If it feels daunting to spend a lot of time, I can choose to set a timer. This can be a great way to bypass the critic – simply to fill a page with colour, or to work the clay continually, or to write stream of consciousness for 15 minutes can help to get the creative flow going. I can work with what is present. If the critic is still giving me a hard time, I can make a visual or movement representation of it, amplify it, or make it a caricature of it.
If I’m still finding it challenging to get started, I can invite a friend to come and play in a creative space with me. Sometimes I choose to attend an art therapy workshop or see an art therapist individually. This is particularly important when I don’t have capacity to hold a compassionate witness space for myself. Inviting a companion for my journey is an act of self-care.
So, a summary of how to begin:
The more I engage in creative practice the more I realise the value of following my own flow. I pay attention to my process, noticing what curiosities I hold, what feels important, and what impulses are arising. If I begin to doubt, or worry about the 'how', then I experience stuckness and frustration. If I am able to follow those promptings of my soul, then I feel in flow. I've come to deeply value the capacity to listen to my inner voice and to allow that to unfold. Sometimes it requires great trust and the courage to take a risk.
Recently, I participated in a two weekend immersion in eco-printing. In this simple method, natural materials such as leaves, onion skins or cabbage, are laid upon silk, then bundled tightly around a copper bar or tin can. The whole bundle is then immersed in boiling water for a few hours to activate the dyes in the natural materials. Particular intention can be given into the bundle. After some time, we un-bundle, paying attention to our own responses and experiencing through journalling and in conversation with others.
As someone who is not particularly textile-oriented, I find eco-printing to be an access point to working with material. In the workshop, I felt drawn to a pristine white wedding dress. After trying it on, cheekily calling myself a princess and prancing about, I realised I had somehow marked it with some dirt. I realised the dress was mine and that I had to work with it.
As the process of creation unfolded, I found myself experiencing cycles of curiosity, possibility, fear, stuckness, action, and excitement. During the process of making, the dress taught me about the gifts that are present when I am able to follow myself and take risks. When I follow my flow, it works somehow. Each new risk required a level of skill I didn't believe I had, however I continued to follow that impulse to see what would occur.
The flow on is that I can translate this learning into my life. I felt a strong emotional response to an experience yesterday and didn't know how to respond. I felt fear, and then was stuck. Eventually, I realised that I could take a risk through taking action. I initiated a conversation, and found my flow again.
This is the beauty of art therapy. It brings such rich awareness to our patterns. It shows up our learning edges and, with compassionate and open attention, we can begin to relate differently in life. What a precious gift!
My deepest gratitude to Jacqui Grace and Rebecca Funk who held this process in such love and trust.
For the past few weeks, I've been feeling blocked in my creativity. Apart from feeling generally tired from my new job and on the edge of a cold, I've noticed that the voice of the inner critic has been quite loud. It has been there whenever I've thought about being creative. It's been there when I've considered promoting my business. It's also been there when I've performed with my band.
The voice of the inner critic is harsh, it wants to keep me small and so it tells me that my painting will be crap, so why bother anyway? It reminds me of the things I didn't do so well last time I met with a client. It tells me my performance in the gig wasn't good enough; I should be more confident, more skilled, more perfect before I ever get on stage again.
It's a wonder I ever produce anything in the world!
I've been aware of it. I know that I can build a relationship with the critic and ask it in more depth what it wants, and what its role is in my life. I know that it's important to do this work. But now, I'm tired. I don't feel like doing the work.
So, in the meantime, I decided to make a critic-free space for myself.
I invited a friend over for a cup of tea and laid out a whole bunch of creative materials. And I decided that, today, nothing needs to be 'good'. I decided that I just want to be playful and curious, and enjoy the colours and the process. We both started on our projects, working individually but alongside each other.
I dropped ink onto a page and turned it in circles, watching the drips moving with gravity and the forms of strange creatures emerging. I used a thirsty type of cardboard and let the colour sink in, fading to pale. I loaded my brush with paint and sprayed it across the page.
In that hour or so, I made a bunch of images. But, more importantly, I made myself content.
And I hadn't heard a peep from the critic!
Yesterday I began a new research job across town (yes, I wear a few different hats!). I got home feeling exhausted, drained and dark. I ran a bath, cried some tears, heated some veggie curry for dinner and then pulled out my art tin.
I began with black soft pastel, creating spirals reflecting the darkness of my experiencing, radiating out toward the edge of the page. There was no need to make it look like anything, I just let the feeling guide my hand. Then I brought some red, dripping food dye (my new favourite art medium) into the centre, and then drawing that outward. Gradually I added blue and yellow, mixing the colour into the black. Somehow, the image wasn't dense enough and so I took up a thick paintbrush and water and began to blend the colour into the black, turning circles on the page. It didn't look pretty but I could feel my mood lifting.
I sang some melancholy songs and then began a new painting.
This one wanted colour. I used a wide brush and dabbed it over and over, turning it either up or sideways. There was no plan, just a meditative application of colour. God, it felt so good! The simple action of choosing colour, and then placing it on the page. I was able to rest into a new space, one of simplicity, following my inner impulse in the moment. It was a space beyond the busy mind, just simply being in gentle movement.
That gentle movement completely transformed my inner world.
I am so grateful for such a simple blessing!
I was awakened too early this morning by the tradie's rudely loud radio and circular saw outside my window, and puppies scratching and crashing against the back door. I ricocheted outdoors seeking the solace of silence. I walked to Fairfield boathouse, cried on sight of the river, burned my tongue on chai, and then crept along the trail, almost wishing to slip and fall into the brown water.
Everywhere I went, there was the hum of traffic, sometimes escalating to a roar. And so I walked on. My solitude was broken by others walking the path and I railed against the intrusion on my nature time, until I recalled that humans too, are nature. Birds called my attention, but I could not escape the human impact of machinery and trucks upon my raw senses. Great trees loomed and drew me into awe. A currawong tore at bark seeking grubs underneath, my armour too being torn away.
Finally, after cutting across concrete streets on tender feet, I found myself on the Darebin creek trail and heard a bellbird call. And then another. And I noticed that the song of the creek was louder than the distant traffic.
And so I sat beneath a great gum, heart quiet and blessed with relief.
My gratitude to these places of green and these strong legs.
My gratitude to the impulse within me that knows what I most need, and the capacity to follow that impulse.
I've always been interested in the healing power of sound. Over the past ten years, I've offered sacred song circles, cathartic and expressive sound spaces, sound healings, and have led kirtan and community choirs.
SpiritSong weaves together so many elements of my sound journey. It incorporates intention, songs from sacred traditions, connection to self, other and the planet, and creative improvisation. Somehow, the space brings us together powerfully and an energy is created that feels transformative.
It's been about three months since I last ran SpiritSong and I feel a stirring to birth it anew. I've always run events by myself and have been feeling a deep calling to collaborate with others. Perfectly, I ran into someone who'd attended my SpiritSong workshop at Wild Mind Gathering, and she asked when I'd be offering it again. I replied that I'd been dreaming of a support person or team, people to assist with set up, promotion, space holding etc. Miracles... She said she'd be happy to help out!
I'm imagining a gorgeous collaboration with other musicians, co-creating powerful intentions for healing together. Using the power of sound to transform ourselves and our planet.
More details to come...
Are you in?
The journey begins with one step, they say. And so I begin this journey of shifting into a new, but still familiar, role in my life with one, tentative, step.
In the beginning, I sit at my edge, toes peeking over the line I have constructed in my own consciousness. Preparations have been made, boxes ticked, investments made, papers sorted. From here, I can only take that one step.
This meeting of edges is something that occurs in life to varying degrees all the time. There may be an edge to making that phone call, or even trying that new dish for the first time. There may be an edge to communicating something challenging. There may be a bigger edge to moving city, singing in front of a crowd, or entering a relationship. Our edges are deeply personal. What may seem scary for someone may be a breeze for another.
I notice for myself that stepping over edges can be fraught with anxiety. I can dance along the edge for quite some time before taking action. I'm learning to offer myself space and compassion in this place. It takes immense courage to make a leap. It takes patient acceptance and compassion to meet the parts that are worried or scared. Not to belittle them or push them to hurry up and get it together, but to hold and listen.
I'm aware of these parts of self. They have wise things to say and I listen intently. I also ask gentle questions... What do they need from me? Are there aspects I haven't considered deeply as yet? Sometimes, I have a sense of needing to wait, and only in time is the reason revealed. Meeting edges can require deep trust.
So, I give these aspects of self time. And I also know that if I stall at the edge for too long, my energy will begin to stagnate and I'll flounder. The initial energy or impulse to action, when thwarted, can become a tendency toward deep melancholy.
So, I meet my edge. I take this step in offering myself in service. I create a cocoon for myself, and I offer a cocoon to you.
Blessings on your journey.
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.