In search of a creative life

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." 
Joseph Chilton Pierce

A million years ago when I was fourteen we moved towns and I went to boarding school. At my new school, there was a period on my timetable titled “Options”. I’m not sure how I was told how this particular period worked but it obviously wasn’t explained to me very well. As far as I was concerned, if I had an option of subject, I would choose ‘Art’ every time. So whenever my timetable said “Options” I went to the art room.

I suppose I thought it was kind of unsupervised time. Like a self-directed study time, if such a phrase had been invented back then. I’d continue on the work I’d started or had been set in Art class either earlier that day or the day before. Working on my pottery (I was the Pinch-pot Queen!) or my painting, refining my drawing or finishing my printmaking. I’d work long and hard and time flew by. Everything else in the outside world would fall away - even to the point that I didn’t give a second thought to the fact that every time I went to Options/Art, there were different kids in the class - sometimes a lot younger than me, sometimes a lot older. Sometimes it would be an art history class. I really didn’t take too much notice, just got on with what was consuming my attention at the time.

Some of my best days were when I had an Options period and a double Art period - three hours of art in one day was a very good day. I’d be exhausted from the work, but loved every minute of it. I was entirely self-driven, wrapped up by making marks, washing colour, pressing clay, cutting lino, rolling ink.

After a while I clued into the fact that actually, Options meant I had to experience other things besides Art and was supposed to be at Home Economics, and Sewing, and other subjects I wasn’t as interested in. Then I realised what I’d actually been doing in all those hours of ‘Options’ had been barging into other people’s classrooms. No wonder I was 'unsupervised'. No one ever questioned me for all that time, nor told me I couldn’t keep doing it, so I could have continued along this path I had carved out for myself except as soon as I realised I wasn’t actually supposed to be spending two or three hours a day in the art room, I felt self conscious and fell into the line of the classes I was supposed to be taking instead of continuing to teach myself art for hours on end each week.

That was a real shame because not only did the number of hours I spent making art every week deminish, but my actual, official art teacher was a really shitty art teacher, and only spending time doing what she and the curriculum dictated. My skills stunted, as did my enjoyment. I believe this is why the notion that I wasn’t supposed to be concentrating all my attention on art started to form.

Mentor, Tom Kreisler: exhibition at Govett Brewster Gallery

The real world

When I was 17 years old, I left school and got my first proper job. I was extremely lucky to be offered a draughting apprenticeship after my boss discovered my considerable tracing skills in the office where I was a Junior Clerk. All those extra hours in the art room had honed a lot of tool work, not least of which was using rulers and ink. I loved watching the ink leave the tip of my Rotring pen and marking the fine canson paper. Long, straight lines; perfectly mitred corners; black, black ink. That is what I truly loved about the work I did at the time. Just making those gorgeous, precise marks.

I was married by the age of twenty and started a family a few years later. In those days, getting pregnant meant resigning from your job. I had a couple of months before my first son was born and I started getting really into craft. I tried to quilt, I learned to cross stitch, I knitted the arm of a cardigan here and crocheted a number of peggy squares there. Those efforts weren’t great, but there were a start. I still have those early efforts, and I can see them now as part of my life long drive to make things. The mathematics of quilting, the precision of needlework, the eye for pattern. Through my life as a housewife and mother, this craft practice is woven all around the chores and the daily living.

As the the kids got older and the hanking for drawing came back. Maybe it had to do with the chunks of time I could find as the children needed me to be so hands-on. I found courses at community colleges and workshops in faraway towns. One in particular, four hours drive away, was an amazing springboard to reliving that passion for creating art. The workshops would be held over a Saturday and Sunday. I would drive there on a Friday night, singing songs at the top of my lungs with the windows wound right down to let the cold winter air into the car and stop me from dozing off. After two days of drawing, painting, learning I would drive all the way back on the Sunday night with a car full of sketches and ink drawings and half dried paintings. I was finding ways to do what I love but I was still seeing it as something that fitted around my life. Into the pockets of time I could beg, borrow and barter.

The digital age

I started a new career around the turn of the 21st century, and I threw my whole self into it. Yet again, the need to create art was replaced with the consuming need to learn how to create with, and for, computers. Again I pushed my love of drawing and art to the fringes of my life. Shoved it so far aside that I even forgot about it for long stretches at a time.

Sometimes I would see a life drawing class advertised in a magazine and enroll for two hours of drawing on weeknights for a semester and loved it. Loved it! I even signed up for a whole week of drawing at a summer schools and vowed I would do this for the rest of my life. But eventually the practice slipped from my days once again. Replaced with conventional work consuming my attention. When asked those curly questions over cups of morning tea or over a pint at the pub like “What would you do if you won Lotto?” or “What would you being doing with your life if you were guaranteed not to fail?” the answer is always the same: I would art full time. No question; no hesitation.

So why wasn't I not doing that?

Life Drawing week at Wanganui Summer School

Self sabotage

This year I moved home after five years in Australia. I decided now was the time - now I would make art and make it my whole life and make a living from it. I would be a full time artist; create my own work and follow my own themes. I'd build up a body of work, a reputation. Enter competitions again; have exhibitions.

And then late one Tuesday afternoon I paid attention to the chorus of negative voices in my head and chickened out. I applied for a ‘real’ job.

I wonder if my fears are of failure or of success; do I suffer the pressures of needing earning a living? Maybe the idea of being a full time artist is just too big a dream to hope to come true for me. Maybe I secretly know I’m just not good enough to sustain such an endeavour. That I'm wrong. That I will fail.  “One day; later,” I thought, “when I have time, when I’ve saved some money.” - all these excuses - this procrastination - leads me to push the thing that I love doing more than anything else to the sidelines.

Summer School exhibition of my alternative photographic processes

Taking stock

A man at my new job died. By all accounts he was a good man, and extremely talented writer. He was only a few years from retirement and he was looking forward to finishing writing his book when he finished working nine ‘til five. He never made it - he got sick earlier in the year and died last month.

I don’t think I can afford to wait until I get a clue about how important it is to make making art a priority in my life anymore. I’m too slow a learner and I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency that might it be beyond my abilities and my years. But all those old fears are still there; as are the voices. The fear that this isn’t a real way to spend time. The fear of being actually good at this stuff and then what am I supposed to do with that?

I feel like a crazy person when I think about it.

So where to from here?

Where angels fear to tread

A whiles back, Fox had this little initiative online called It was the idea that we could carve out pockets of time to do something creative. We had a bunch of prompts in a database and would spit one out each day. These tasks were tiny - maybe ten minutes long each. They might be to draw something on a post it note, or write a haiku, or make and fly paper darts. I have always loved this idea and used the site often. Even if I didn’t action a prompt, I thought about the creative suggestion so that even on the busiest, most time consuming days, I had a pot on the back of my brain with an idea bubbling away.

I think this might be a way that could work for me: to trick myself into making art every day, and have it expand to fit the pockets of time around bigger chunks of work. And, if I’m really cunning enough, maybe I can even trick myself into inverting work and art time until the art is taking up the majority of my day.

Can I trick myself into having a creative life as a primary occupation? Fake out my fears and end up with a body of work to prove that my marks and stitches are worthy of the front seat of my life? Do I finally have enough wisdom (or foolhardiness) in my emotional toolbelt to barrell on regardless of my own shortcomings?

 Life sketch from South Island workshop


What about you - do you do prioritise what you love? How do you find that balance between they way you want to live your life, and the way you actually spend your time? Are you living your dream?