A Field Guide to Happiness (in progress…) and a bit on creative freedom

sunflowers in the garden (taken in May)
sunflowers in the garden (taken in May)

After my last post I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and looking for little ways to increase it whenever I have the opportunity.

There were two things this week that actually really made a big difference in my overall level of happiness, and I thought I might write them down. One thing I discovered with both of them is that sometimes little things you do to try and increase your happiness don’t have an effect immediately, but make you happier *after* you do them. Interesting. It makes me want to put in an effort to tweak all sorts of little things during my regular days, and see what effect they might have down the road.

Something worth exploring, I think.

Anyway, two things that made a profound difference on my level of happiness:

The first is swimming (still). But, more importantly, taking time to actually ENJOY being in the pool.

One day last week I swam for my hour, and then before I got out of the pool I decided to just float around on my back in the water and relax a bit. Since I have been swimming daily for almost 25 years (!) and consider it a form of fitness, I rarely relax in the pool. It’s kind of like getting on a treadmill just to take a leisurely stroll or something. The pool has become a giant gym to me- not a place of rest. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a time I just got into a pool to just relax and enjoy it. I get in a pool and swim. And I love that, but it’s not relaxing.

If I’m being completely honest, the reason I decided to spend a little time floating in the pool that day was because I was trying to get back in touch with some of the magic that I felt that very first day back in the pool after my surgery, which felt life-changing (literally). But I couldn’t get there and that’s okay. Floating wasn’t magical, but it was nice– I relaxed a bit and floated on my back and listened to a song on my waterproof iPod and watched the clouds move in the sky. Then I got out and got ready to go inside and take a shower.

The funny thing is that when I got out of the pool, I felt like a million bucks. I felt like I had a really great swim. It was like that little relaxed moment at the end changed my perspective of my entire swim, and that shift in perspective didn’t happen until after I got out of the water. So now I take a little time to float around every day after my swim- usually just a few minutes, a song or two on my iPod. But it feels really great.

The second thing is what I do after I swim and shower and get back to my desk everyday. My regular routine has been to make a cup of tea and drink it while I check my email and attend to different things that need doing and figure out what the plan for the day is.

Lately I’ve been bringing my tea into the studio and doing something different- I pull an art book down off the shelf, grab a stack of post-it page markers, and spend a while flipping through the art book, sipping my tea, and getting inspired.

I know this seems like a super simple thing but for some reason it’s become pretty much one of my FAVORITE times of the day. I’m all done with my workout, my swim, taking care of my foot, I’m relaxed, I’m (finally) having my cup of tea, and instead of spinning my wheels and trying to figure out what needs my attention, I just take a little bit of time to get inspired and learn something new and jot down some notes. All my art books are finally being used, and I’m getting so much out of it- just in the week I have been doing it I’ve picked up a bunch of new art techniques and information.

But one thing that has come out of this new little ritual that I was not expecting is that it’s made me realize a lot about making art in general and let go of some of the stuff that’s been preventing me from doing some of the art I want to do be doing.

For some reason the last five years I have gotten really really hung up on the idea of absolutely NOT copying anyone and having everything I create be absolutely original, even though there have been techniques and styles I lovelovelove and really want to try. I’m also really interested in color and pattern and geometry and minimalism (to a degree) and the fact is if you are going to use geometry in your work, especially as the main focus of your composition- someone else has done it. Period, end of story. If you want to use triangles, it’s been done. Same with grids, or lines, or dots.

And really good artists go ahead and do it ANYWAY. It’s classic design. I have tons of pattern books and there are a million different patterns with geometrics in them, but they all are different and unique and beautiful because they each have the hand of the artist who made them inside the art. I’m starting to realize design and composition and subject matter and style are all just tools in art- like the paint and the brushes. As long as you bring yourself and your own expression into the art, THAT’s what makes it unique.

This has been so freeing to me. I’m still a tiny bit hung up on complete authenticity, but it’s loosening. I’m getting super excited to try out some ideas I have been holding on to for a long time.

(A sidenote to this conversation- I have been catching up on Flora Bowley’s “Studio Diaries” art classes from the last few months and one thing I am getting out of all the chats she has with other artists and her Q&As is the realization that not all art has to be for public consumption. Meaning- you can make art solely for yourself.

There’s been this whole movement of “share your work” and “put it out into the universe no matter what” and sometimes it’s okay to just NOT do that. I often DON’T create because I think “oh, I’ll have to share this and my idea isn’t good enough/original/important/won’t be received well” OR “what’s the point of investing this time if it has no value to anyone?”

It’s okay to just sit down with a stack of paper or canvas and paint and just make 100 weird experiments or doodles or abstracts and just have that be it. No other reason other than you want to play with paint to practice how colors mix and when you’re done, they get cut up for a collage or used as scrap paper or even tossed out. Or, keep them if you want to because they are pretty and dreamy but never show them to anyone.

You made something- you put in the hours at your desk, you did the work. That’s what matters. That all counts, even if no one receives it. It counts because you learned and explored and in that period of time, you grew a little bit as an artist. Even if no one sees or knows about it, it count. It counts because within the process of creation, YOU change. You grow, you evolve. Your work might not get out to the world, but that little boost in your own self does. That’s enough.

It’s the same with writing or poetry or photography or dance or whatever- you can just create something, whether it’s big or small, and then never share it with the world. It’s all in the process of creating, and not in the creation- not in the finished product.

I have heard this and have agreed with it forever (and ever and ever and ever), but I never really got it. For some reason, it finally sunk in. And it excites me so much!)

Here’s to a summer of happiness, relaxation, and creative freedom. <3

1 thought on “A Field Guide to Happiness (in progress…) and a bit on creative freedom

  1. Lovely post. I have been following your posts and your artwork for years, ever since I saw some awesome photos on Flickr. At the moment I am in much the same place as you, questioning and rethinking a lot of the small things I do. Keep going. You are on the right path!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

please solve the following with a number (spam control): *