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I have been psyching myself up and out–for months, years even, trying to re-establish an art practice. I have gone the way of the parent who decided to stay at home and raise a child(ren) and then never went back to work outside the home. Having done freelance work from home for years I thought I would just naturally drift back into that once the child had left home. But the husband was used to someone to run the home while he traveled for work, and the child didn’t leave home until she was 23…and then there was breast cancer. The practice was well and truly buried. Deeply.

I drifted from dribs and drabs of painting, to jewellery making, to various crafts but I never developed a discipline. That was probably because I didn’t have to. But something in me really wanted to. It felt like I wasn’t finished yet. I’d gleaned all these amazing shapes and colours and textures from living life where I wanted to be and it felt like they were meant to live through me in another form.

In recent years I’d have a burst of creative energy or ideas once or twice a year but somehow I couldn’t convert it to a sustained practice that was taking me on the journey of discovery I wanted to have. What to do?

Not even the stay-at-home days of the pandemic had given me the push forward I needed. I searched and read and listened and scrolled to get inspired. While all of that was interesting, I had not yet figured out how to convert it to a practice.

One podcast inspired me to take an online course presented by an artist who came to her practice in her middle life. I enjoyed the course but when it was over once again I found myself with a few new skills and no practice, no direction.

The next time I was inspired by an online course, I was not even that successful. I followed the instructor’s lead, but realised it just wasn’t my thing. The next course I never even started. I loved the idea and his lessons were good but it just didn’t float my boat. Once again, it felt like I would be working in his style, rather than developing my own.

The holidays came and I was back to doing what I’ve become pretty good at, being a homemaker, wife and mother. I love all those things and don’t want to abandon them, but I want more. So when the holidays were over and I had caught up on rest, I was back to trying to get myself inspired. I thought what was lacking was inspiration so I followed more people on Instagram, watched YouTube, read inspiring stories and occasionally visited my drawing table with sporadic and unfulfilling results.

And then on January 14th came a TED talk. Even they had been falling a little flat for me in recent months. Everyone was trying to communicate their idea of something great. I didn’t want someone else’s ‘great’, I wanted my own. The TED recommendation came via email, and didn’t interest me. But I scrolled down the same page. An unassuming small talk by a woman I’d never heard of, piqued my curiosity. ‘The one minute secret to forming a new habit’…and it was only ten minutes long. I was in.

The talk was given by a novice video editor presenting from home, as per the covid-norm, and so it was a little annoying, but I kept telling myself, ten minutes is not that long unless you are having root canal work done, so hang in there. She stated her case for taking one minute out of every day to establish a new habit. Her new habit had been running. Her only stipulation? You have to be okay if you suck at it! C’mon, that is doable, right? I can suck with the best of them! That very day I began. I would take one minute and sit at my drawing table and doodle. To be honest, from day one, I took more than a minute. And I did suck most of the time. But I loved that sitting down, and embracing the suck-ness freed me up to keep coming back. It wasn’t about the quality of the work, it was about showing up.

Every day I sat down, and curiosity would take over. In seconds I was wondering what this colour or this mark would look like with that one and where it would all lead. And I reminded myself it didn’t matter if it sucked, I was just establishing the habit. Even the days when I didn’t feel like doing it, I sat down and did a little something.

After a few days my mood lightened. I felt happier within myself. Maybe it was just coincidence, I thought. After a week or so I noticed that I was having more creative moments throughout the day. I would look at something and immediately wonder what kind of drawing or painting that would make. I was taking more photos again, and not to post on Instagram, but as reference for potential drawings or paintings.

On day 10 I had taken a striking photo of the light at sunrise, of the houses and trees that we see from our place. That day I made the first pastel work that I have ever liked out of several attempts in years gone by. The next day I went back to sucking again.

Even though this piece was one of my very first it is still a favourite for the energy and simplicity of the image.

But the day after that, I still showed up for another minute…and another minute…and then more than a minute and then more than an hour! I couldn’t believe this simple change could make such a big difference so easily. Soon I found myself watching YouTube videos to learn how to use the soft pastels that are my new enthusiasm. Watching the videos was not included in my one minute session, that was in addition to the one minute, which by then, were almost never only one minute but stretched into half hours and more.

This was an early piece and I still didn’t have a grasp on how to layer the pastels, but I started learning rapidly.

I began to employ a little trick I used to use when painting more regularly. Years ago I’d noticed if I began a painting and had it, say, two thirds completed, enough to see where I was going with it, I would walk away from it for a day or two and then come back. It beckoned to me to come back and finish it, so it got me back into the studio again. This time, I found that I would not fret about how much time I had spent on an image, but I could leave it to return to later. As I walked in and out of the room, passed the table, I would glance at it and mull it over all the remainder of the day. Then, fresh with enthusiasm I would return and finish it next day. For many artists this doesn’t work. They find the mood is broken and they can’t get back into the flow of that work again. But in my case, it works. For me it’s important to self evaluate, not judge the work good or bad, but evaluate effective procedures and practices, study the colours and composition so I can modify things or use the time to advantage.

This was also a fairly early piece. I was just beginning to grasp how to work with the pastels.

For me, this little one minute change relegated my relentlessly judgemental self to a position that was much less inhibiting. It reduced the task to the smallest increment and allowed that to be crappy. I just had to show up. I’m good at showing up, just not very kind to myself about the results—or I wasn’t, until now! I will be writing more about my journey which is now beginning the sixth week. 

I have not missed a single day, but if I do, I will know how to begin again.