Guilt free creativity…

A close up of an little thing I've been working on lately in gouache, coloured pencil, watercolour, gold foil stickers and gell pens
A close up of an little thing I’ve been working on lately in gouache, coloured pencil, watercolour, gold foil stickers and gel pens
I drew this on the train the other day.
I drew this on the train the other day.

Being creative is a strange and curious thing. As wanky as it sounds I feel like this way of thinking and looking at the world  is something I had no choice in having. I remember making things and loving to draw and paint from a really young age. In fact I can’t remember a time in which drawing and painting or even writing wasn’t part of my everyday life.

I remember there was a sense of preciousness about making things back then. A sense of freedom I suppose. I guess as a child we don’t really worry about paying the bills or having enough money to put food on the table. But I don’t think that is really what makes me feel so crazily guilty for making time to be creative.

In fact I don’t think it is me at all. Well I mean technically it is, but really I think I have been brainwashed over time to believe that creativity is not something to take seriously, it’s not important, or even scarier, it’s not valuable.

As an educator of the Visual Arts I often struggle to answer the question ‘but where will this lead me?’, ‘what career path can I get out of this?’ Well to be totally honest I have no idea. It may lead to a myriad of awesome jobs in the Arts or it may not. For most of us ‘creatives’ jobs come secondary to our art practice. It helps to pay the bills and take a break from our brains, that are often overloaded with ideas that we just haven’t figured out how to make something out of yet. The most important thing about learning (in my opinion), whether it is through the Arts or not, is that it opens up your mind, it helps you problem solve and critically engage with the world around you. Being creative means that you can take all these things and use them as fuel to create an artwork, a piece of music, a poem or a dance – isn’t that something important!

For me creativity is like a monster in my brain that never sleeps. It is always moving around, screaming thoughts into my mind. It never ends. It has taken me a long time to realise that working 5 days a week, like everyone else, didn’t really satisfy my need to make stuff. My husband Luke confronted me last year (whilst I had a bit of an emotional breakdown) and said ‘The happiest I ever see you is when you are drawing or painting’ with tears in his eyes – he gets it, that’s why I love him. But in my mind I was stressing out like a mad woman, thinking what am I supposed to do with this information? How can I justify not working full time like the rest of the people I knew? What would people say?

The guilt was immense. But I knew if I didn’t change something about my lifestyle then I risked killing that little monster in my brain, and I really didn’t want to do that.

I now realise I was afraid of ‘making’ because it would unleash that strong sense of uncertainty that comes with the creative process. I tried for years to squash it down into the recesses of a ‘normal life’. Taking risks, being unsure, a state of flux – this is what being creative feels like for me. It feels 50% uncomfortable and 50% amazing. It makes me 100% emotional. Feeling uncertain makes me feel totally vulnerable and ‘spongey’. The world gets soaked into to my pores, people, the light, images, music, sunshine – I turn into one giant sponge and often cry about everything. Making images, painting, feeling inspired  or ‘spongey’ gives me a great sense of wholeness and calm. Don’t get me wrong, I really love teaching but I don’t get this from working 40-50 hours a week.

When I went to the Big Hearted Business conference last year a lot of what was said hit home. For some reason being told that ‘what you make is important’ and ‘you don’t need to be one thing, you can be many things at once’ really resonated. I cried for about 3 days after the conference. The presenters reminded me why I loved making and made me question why I didn’t let myself have the freedom to do what really made me happy. I’d forgotten my little monster, I’d forgotten what made me, me. How awful?

Almost a year later and the sense of guilt as I make every image hangs over me still. I’m getting better at introducing myself as an artist again and a teacher second. I’m trying not to say either in a way that makes them seem unimportant like ‘Oh I’m a teacher’ – with a sad, sullen expression on my face. Or ‘I’m an artist’ really quietly spoken so people can’t hear me properly.

I’m sure one day the guilt will go, I hope so anyway. Let me know if you ever feel guilty about your creativity or how you deal with it or if you have never felt it? I’m interested in sharing our thoughts on this topic.

Bye for now.

I drew this on the train as well. I can't stop with the repetition of colour and shapes at the moment.
I drew this on the train as well. I can’t stop with the repetition of colour and shapes at the moment.

A thing or two about teenagers…

As a teacher in a Secondary school I spend a good majority of my week around teenagers. Lots of people say kind of inappropriate things when I say I’m a high school teacher; most of them are around having to spend that much time with people aged 12-18 years. But of course I find them pretty cool and I quite enjoy their energy and often miss it when I’m not around them. One of my goals this year is to write about teenagers and the great things I learn about them or from them in my line of work.

(Please note that the things that I write are sometimes huge generalisations and are only my humble ponderings on what I see in my job. They are not gospel, they are not fact, they are just ‘ponderings’ – sharing moments with you and they are not about specific people or events. Phew,  glad I got that little anxiety off my chest.)

As part of my weekly ‘A thing or two about teenagers’ I have created a little character, I still haven’t named her but I’m open to your suggestions. Here she is…


This is what I’ve learnt in the past week

(some are things I learnt over the last 5 years of teaching too but have learnt again in the recent week)

1. Teenagers are really good at judging whether or not you are having a bad day. Whenever I feel down or am having a rough day the students I teach are the first to notice. And they say great things like ‘Are you having a bad day?’, ‘You don’t seem very happy today’ or ‘Why are you so cranky?’ I think as adults we don’t say this stuff to each other enough and we should take a hint from the kids and ask each other if we are okay more often. It really helps to know when someone is having a bad day as it can make us more empathetic or less inclined to take their reactions too personally.

2. Regardless of how they are feeling most of the teenagers I see always say ‘Good morning’. The kids at my school are so great at this. Even when I haven’t taught them or they don’t really know me, if I’m walking past them they will say ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’. I walk past adults everyday and they often just look away or pretend not to see me. The kids see me, its not awkward or annoying for them to just say ‘hi’, I like that. The students I teach also always ask me, ‘And how are you today?’ – nice!

3. Teenagers are really easily hurt by the stuff that adults say. I know that most of us as adults know this but I think at times we forget how easily our actions and words affect others, especially kids. On Monday a student in one of my classes told me that he thought his old Art teacher thought he was stupid, like really, really stupid. I asked him how he knew this and he said it’s because she used to always pause when he showed her one of his artworks and say ‘Woooow…..Iiiit’s…..goooooood… ……..Weeeelll….dooone’ – my repetition of letters represents her condescension. Even though he made a joke out of what she said to him I could see that it hurt him and the whole lesson he kept saying that he wasn’t good at Art, I think she (probably unknowingly) convinced him that he was bad at Art. Poor guy.

That’s all for this week. Let me know what your thoughts are on any of these issues in my comments section.