I am currently reading “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, a truly inspiring work for anyone needing a boost for their creativity. I am at a place in the book where Liz writes that in order for inspiration to work with you and take you seriously, you have to claim your creative-self. You must fully own it, and claim, “I am a musician, artist, writer…etc.” This is something that she says is necessary to do regularly, she even suggests to do so on a daily basis.
This has me revisiting a moment that happened about a year ago for me in the comfort of my tiny one bedroom apartment in Philadelphia. This was the moment that I first took full ownership and claimed “I am an artist.” It had only been a few years at this point that I was taking online art classes and classes at the community arts center, after many years of not doing anything artistic. Art was my creative outlet and hobby at this point, but nothing I ever dared to fully own. If someone were to ask what I did, I would give them the regular response about my daytime desk-job and I might have mentioned how I taught yoga classes part-time (the full response was dependent on how safe I felt with the person who was inquiring). As a matter of fact, it was all about safety at this point. My creative-self felt very vulnerable and easily hurt and I protected it with all my life. Rejection was my greatest fear.
Something shifted for me in a moment of creative bliss about a year ago. It all happened after I decided I needed more time and space in my life to paint on a regular basis. I decided to move out of my small town and move to the city in order to cut my commute time down. This gave me a full extra 2-3 hours a day to dedicate to painting and also to attending yoga classes, something I rarely had time to do before. It was in a yoga class that early fall that an inspiration came to me. I had an idea of how to combine my love for science illustration with my love for whimsical and colorful paintings. I knew I needed to paint a Pileated Woodpecker, and I knew the exact layout for how to start. After that yoga class, I stopped in the local pet store to get a new cat toy for the kitties, and there it was, a little woodpecker cat toy. This may have been reaching, but I took it as a sign and I went home that evening and started creating my Pileated Woodpecker piece entitled “Kimono”. As my partner is my witness, I kid you not, the weekend after I created Kimono, we went on a hike in the Wissahickon, and we saw not one, but THREE Pileated Woodpeckers on a tree! These birds are rare sightings on their own and I took it as a sign that I was onto something.
So back to that moment of creative bliss. About a week or so later I moved onto the next painting in my series. It was late one Friday night and I was on a mission to cut out grasses for a marsh scene to collage into a painting of a great blue heron. I had a habit of moving from my painting table which was in the main space and going to sit on my bed as I really got into things. I was sitting on my bed and cutting out tiny individual strips of decorative paper and carefully adhering them to my painting. It was a task that many would have considered entirely tedious, but I was so lost in this process, almost possessed. I had the My Morning Jacket Pandora radio station streaming in the background and I snapped out of it for a moment and tuned into the lyrics. Jim James sang in a haunting and beautiful voice, “Oh, don’t carve me out, don’t let your silly dreams, fall in between the crack of the bed and the wall.”
These words hit me full on and I sat there on my bed in a mess of cut paper and sobbed. These were not tears of sadness however, these were tears of something I can’t even quite explain…happiness, joy, sadness, everything rolled into one big release. They were tears of recognition of a voice inside of me that had been muffled by fear for many years. The voice said, “Dear Colleen, you are an artist.” and I finally allowed it to be heard. I’ve been owning it ever since.