Have you ever been at a loss as to how to tackle a writing project, or painting, or how to start to assemble that scrapbook you’ve talked about doing for years, or to sew a quilt, or grow a herb garden or clean your office… well you get the idea. Have you ever just wanted to do something but didn’t know where to begin?
Two years ago in March my dream of having my own little studio space was realised. Twenty one years previously, when our daughter was born I decided to put aside a superannuation policy, paid for out of my freelance work. When I reached retirement age and the time came to finally convert a tiny shed at the end of the carport into a small studio/shed, ‘Shedio’, as we call it, we decided it was the perfect use for the funds in my ‘super’ account. I collected samples and drew a plan, and became the contractor for the project. But I digress…
The shedio was finished in late February, we locked the door and went off travelling as a gift to ourselves when my husband retired. About 9 weeks later, in May, we returned, and five days after that our pet dog of 16 years, Storm, was hit and killed by a car. It threw me into a spin. The shedio would have to wait.
A few months later, in about August (2010), I felt I wanted to try and paint something to do with Storm. It would help me work through my grief, and also get me into the, as yet unused, studio. I had a short session one day and it felt very hollow. I couldn’t work on the painting again, but had no idea why. That was 18 months ago. The studio patiently waited.
For all that time I asked myself ‘this was my dream, why can’t I make it happen?’ I had no answer. I’ve learned something about ‘creative block’ over the years, and have dealt with it many times. And somewhere in the back of my mind I felt this was sort of like that. All the while I was in treatment for breast cancer, and all the while we travelled I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to work in my studio. But I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. I use a technique that I call ‘sneaking up on it’ when I have a creative block. And I felt that was probably what was needed in this case. In 2011 when we returned from our second big retirement trip I was exhausted but I felt that once through the holidays I would try to get into the studio. I would sneak up on it.
When we were in Paris I saw an amazing exhibition by an American artist, (deceased), named Diane Arbus. The funny thing about it was we didn’t even know the exhibition was on, it had just opened. We had intended spending that day at the Musée d’Orsay, looking up a couple of art works there, but it was closed due to industrial action!! The queue to get into the exhibition was long, but for some reason we persevered, never having even heard of Arbus before. Once inside, what really seeped into my being was not just her photographic images of people living on the fringes of Society in the 40’s and 50’s, but how she felt about and viewed what she did. It resonated strongly with me.
The next thing that happened was when my friend Ivy died in Darwin and I went for the memorial service. I spent time with my other friend, Gaye, a sort of life affirming thing to do at such a sad time. Gaye is an artist and wise woman. She also teaches adult painting classes. She was telling me what she tells her students when they ask her ‘but how do I find my style?’ She said ‘You just paint’. She meant it is in the doing that you discover. I’m still not sure she wasn’t telling me that for my own benefit and not just as a matter of conversation, so I took it in as very welcome and personal advice!
I came home and thought, what I need to do is treat myself as I would treat a child who is having difficulty with walking… take baby steps. I knew I wanted to paint and I had a couple of canvases I could ‘undercoat’, so they would be ready whenever I was. I bought the paint one day. I painted them another day. I had an idea for a painting, so I sketched it onto the prepared canvas another day. And then I felt overwhelmed again. About that time I got an email from Gaye who told me she felt she had not yet ‘bonded’ with her new studio space. Eureka! That was my problem too. But how to do that? When you bond with a person you sometimes just need to be in their company, so I reasoned, I would just go and ‘be’ in the space and see what that felt like. I would try to do that a little bit every day. Some days I would just walk into the space and move a few things around, or just sit and look around, then walk out and lock the door again.
At Christmas I received a book I wanted to read so I decided to take it into the studio and read. The skylight in the studio makes it a great reading space. I did that for several days. And then on Wednesday this week, I suddenly ‘knew’ that was the day I could paint. I had developed affection for the space, the things in it, and I was armed with a mind full of inspiration and images. Now I could begin.
And I just painted.