When I was twenty-one I saw my mother die from cancer. At the age of 26 my father lost his right leg, one year later he would lose all of his sight. Ten years later, three weeks before my first solo exhibition, I found myself waiting on a call that would let me know whether, at 75, he survived the amputation of his second leg. Alone, long after the distractions of the evening, I sat in my studio wondering how things would work out next.
By the time the call came in the morning I made very clear decisions on how I would move forward.
The reality was that I had spent the last 15 years of my life actively taking care of a parent. I lived the anxiety that comes from spending years not painting. I felt the consequences of not fully understanding the ways in which that responsibility could have affected me emotionally and set me adrift. Intimately, I knew what the loss of confidence in my work felt like and the subsequent struggle to reinstate simple practices of craft. Most of all, I understood the damage that came to my life by pretending that I could build a life without painting.
That evening I plotted a way forward based on all that I had learned over the years. I would eventually finish the work and host my first solo exhibition whilst simultaneously nursing my father back to health. These are the lessons that guided me. I wish I knew them earlier within those years. It would have made a dramatic difference to where I am as an artist. Taking care of another Human can be overwhelming- it requires patience, maturity, money, time and energy- nevertheless your growth as an artist does not have to stop. It should not stop.
The truth is that you were born an artist and whether you make it your career or not if that impulse is within you it will affect you if it is not given space. If you were born with the impulse to create art the world is a very different place for you and you secretly know it. When you do not engage with that part of yourself you will breakdown-slowly. Things get done but the regret builds; the anxiety grows under your skin and you lose confidence in the best parts of you-slowly.
1) Practice The Art Of Stealing Time.
Think ninja; think stealth. You are going to have to become a time bandit. To survive and grow you will have to wrench it out of the spaces between spaces. Do not underestimate the power of 20minutes spent on a goal. The key to this would mean being prepared to steal it. Have your space and tools already set up. Always pack a sketchbook. Practice pulling it out and saying something for 10mins while you wait. On the island of Tobago they have a beautiful saying that goes “ One-one cocoa fill basket”. In other words, even if the progress is slow, if it is consistent, getting the job done is a certainty. These seemingly small steps add up in big ways and every time you steal a 10minutes here and a 15minutes there you are training yourself to zone in and focus quickly. This pays off BIG TIME when you have more time to work.
2) Be Selfish Sometimes.
Don’t be an ass about it but don’t be afraid to take a day for yourself and your goals. You may tell others yes with the best on intentions but when you are caring for another circumstances change quickly-doctor visits, errands etc. Do not strive to be all things for all people all of the time. Be a little selfish…with grace. Excuse yourself from commitments when you recognize that your work is not advancing.
3) Do Not Let A Week Go By Without Committing 3 Hours To Your Art.
I know what you may be thinking… “Only three hours per week? What good will that do?” Do not underestimate the difficulty of your circumstance. Months can go by without you physically creating art (years in fact) There is this idea that if you are not overcome with the fever to create you are not a true artist. This is hardly the truth. One of your gifts as an artist is empathy and that empathy will have you investing your time in other people-especially if you care about them. Taking care of someone is a tremendous responsibility on its own. Commit to at least 3hours per week. If you cannot find the time it suggests that there may be holes in your preparation and time banditry. Keep revising it until you find yourself in a system that allows you 3hours to grow.
4) Your Art Is Your Guardian Gift.
You’ve probably heard it before that when your art is in balance your life is in balance. There is truth to that statement. Think of your art as your guardian gift; it fuels you and protects you-emotionally. Connecting with it creates balance and stability for you psychologically which in turn helps to give you a positive world view. This is more important than you can imagine in the battle to keep your art alive.
The science is there to back this up. For one it helps to achieve a state of “flow” -which is a recognized method for helping depression and coping with anxiety. In another instance it strengthens our emotional cognition which modern science has proven augments our ability to make better life decisions. Check out the literature on it. It is intriguing and may help you to feel better about the impulse with which you live to create.
5) Don’t Be Afraid To Let Little Bad Things Happen.
Sometimes everything seems like a crisis and people sometimes come to us presenting their wants as a crisis. It will require some contemplative pauses but you will have to learn that some things are not a threat to life and heath and can be allowed to solve themselves without your attention. You do not have to injure yourself running to answer every call. The call can be missed-sometimes. This is not to encourage you to habitually ignore when things need attention in your life or those around you who need your help. The point is that you have to begin to practice seeing the value of “you” within the equation. Establish boundaries and learn to know when your ability to survive, grow or simply function is jeopardized. Learn to know those boundaries well and learn to know when you can let the crisis/ projects and demands of others overwhelm you. Very often matters will still solve themselves without you.
6) Be Kind With Yourself
This is perhaps one of the most important parts of making it through growing as an artist and taking care of another. Learn to stop beating yourself up for not going as quickly as you want to go or if months have passed and you have not created. There will be times when you will not “feel” like an artist because you are doing everything else except your art. That is the point where the negativity sets in and you blame yourself for not being where you want to be creatively. Schedule some time – an evening walk to recognize all that you are doing.
7) Know That It Is A War And You Are Going To Have To Fight For It.
Understand that you are going to have to fight for the minutes you need to make your art. They are not going to come easily to you. This is where having a plan to steal time is important. But what are we stealing time from exactly? We are wrestling it away from those moments of self-doubt, negativity, timidness and distraction that come into our lives. It becomes a battle in a very real sense when we decide that to continue to make art is what we want to do. The myth is that it is easy and the product of flashes of inspiration. The reality is that it can be intimidating and requires commitment. The reality is that work does not get done unless you do the work. There will always be commitments, responsibilities, and reasons to defer the activity of working on your art. The truth is that if you want it-if you want to grow -you are going to have to fight for the time and the space within your life to do so. It is warfare and just as in any battle planning and commitment are crucial.
8) Be Open To Help.
Trust me on this; attempting to do all of it on your own will eventually break you down. Be open to community and support; ask for it. Support does not have to mean begging. It simply may be letting a friend know that you need an exercise companion or someone to collaborate with to help you maintain your practice. It may be asking for assistance on big errands or simply thoughts on a matter. Actively build a community around you. This will serve you more than anything else that you can do for yourself and your work.
Photography by Natasha Fredrickson.