The past couple of months have been way too busy; I have lost my way with my normal routines and have ended up feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t felt like creating much at all, and my sketchbook entries have felt forced and not at all organic or joyous. My creative practice even took a detour into knitting for a change of scenery, which did not please me. It felt like I was copping out. Who ever said that doing an alternate creative activity was a failure of any kind? I was putting artificial constraints on my artistic expression. Not clever.
Everything was just too much. I felt as though I was getting more information flowing into my head than I could deal with. I realised that quite aside from the overload from work with a complex project in full swing, I had been numbing the stress so that I didn’t have to think about it. I decided to try to art it out, and let it take me where it willed.
The page below developed over a long weekend where I shut things down completely, isolated myself, and started throwing random blobs of paint down on a blank page with a vague idea that I would draw something over the top. As it evolved I felt I needed to keep adding layers. The first one was quite a cheerful watercolour wash that I really wasn’t feeling, so I added a patchy layer of white acrylic, still intending to draw over it with flowers or something similarly happy. That also felt too bright. I was feeling dark and moody, so the next layer was a covering of purples and blues followed by a crankier application of black acrylic. Then came a layer of song lyrics that were speaking to me, followed by a layer of brain dump with all manner of pain, anxiety and frustration verbalised. All of it illegible. It felt almost resolved at that point but not quite. I decided to sift through my collection of random words and phrases cut from magazine pages to see what resonated. I ended up with a positive reminder to breathe and reset rather than continue to be cranky with myself. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but the soul speaks when I take the time to listen. Reboot and breathe.
The experience was very much like an archeological dig in reverse. Working up through the layers of the overwhelm I was feeling. As I kept asking myself why I felt things, and getting the feelings out onto the page, I started to feel lighter. I was exploring and processing the layers as I came to them.
Then I had another prompt to dig through more layers as I listened to Austin Kleon’s latest keynote talk a couple of weeks after the first expedition into my psyche. One word jumped out at me as I listened. Subtraction. He spoke about the need to cut some things out in order to focus — to place limitations on oneself in order to stoke creativity.
I started this page while I was sitting in the car waiting to go into an off-site meeting for work. I poured out my thoughts on the things I was allowing to distract and numb me and eat away my time — news outlets, social media, other people’s art, other people’s carefully curated public lives, the echo chambers reinforcing heinous attitudes. Writing always clarifies and crystallises the maelstrom of disjointed thoughts and ideas wizzing around in my head, and shows me the way forward.
I added the circles as the morning’s meeting progressed, pulling focus so that I could no longer see the distractions, just the word subtraction. I used the layers of circles to bring myself back on point. Ironically, I always listen better in meetings if I can doodle or sketchnote. Focus. I tune out all else, and my mind doesn’t wonder to what I should cook for dinner, or the people running past the window behind the speaker, or the person in my peripheral vision who is tapping pen on book like a madman. Subtraction.
I’ve got some work to do to reestablish my routines and creative practice, and to decide what is important and what is not. To set boundaries, so that someone else’s urgent and important does not become my own. To shed that which is superfluous. What I choose to take in, and on, must add to my experience of this life.
People matter. Meaning matters. A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it’s a lens through which you see and create your world – Jonathan Fields
It is remarkable how easily the unimportant creeps in and takes over if I am not paying attention. It is an ongoing task to be kind to oneself and to ensure that I am looking through the correct lens to properly appreciate my good life. Negative will swallow positive in a heartbeat if I am not vigilant. It is part of my melancholy nature I suppose.
Up until these two pages I had not used my sketchbook for this type of personal exploration at all. To have two in rapid succession tells me that I will likely use it again to correct or clean the lens I am looking through to see my life.