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  • Sue Bulmer

Trusting the Process (even when it's really difficult!)


I don't know about you but I feel like I'm getting withdrawal symptoms if I go for too long without being in my studio. A few weeks ago I gifted myself a whole weekend of studio time. Life was busy and I wasn't spending as much time in there as I would have liked and I was really wanted to paint, like for a whole weekend, no social engagements, two full days of unadulterated painting time, a big block of time to get lost in the process, have some fun and splash some paint around, to smile, laugh, listen to podcasts, music, or just enjoy the peace in my happy place. I was expecting a zen-like immersion in a state of creative flow. You get the picture?

Sadly the reality was quite the opposite. It all went a bit Pete-Tong. I spent Saturday getting caught up in a cycle of 'shoulds' which sounded a bit like this:

  • I only have two days so I should make the most of this precious time

  • I should be painting something I like

  • I should have a plan

  • I should be doing something else

  • I should know what I'm doing

  • I should be better at this

  • should, should, should...

I felt myself floundering, getting caught up in a negative mindset and making (what I thought was) a total mess. Then the Imposter Syndrome kicked in. What on earth am I even thinking, trying to make my art into a business, spending all of this time in my studio when I should be with my family, who even wants to buy this stuff anyway, it's a pile of crap!! I'm a pile of crap. You see how it went?

Now, I've been reading a book. Its called Trust The Process by Shaun McNiff and it's a really good book about the creative process. I first read it when I was studying my Art Therapy MA a couple of years ago. It's about sitting with uncertainty and seeing what happens, caring less about product and more about the process as this is the place where we learn. One of my favourite quotes is 'If we are able to stay with a situation it will carry us to a new place'.

Luckily I remembered this before my precious weekend was over!! I sat with the frustration, self-doubt, and the imposter syndrome and even shared my frustrations on Instagram. I got some amazing support from my followers which helped me to be a bit more objective and reflect on what had been going on. Reflecting got me thinking about what it this little episode has taught me.

Firstly, I had HUGE expectations of what this weekend would be and we all know that the key is to have no expectations. Expectations and pressure to perform kill creativity. As Shaun McNiff says creativity should be a 'goal free state of enquiry'. So no goals and no expectations. Secondly, creativity comes in ebbs and flows like any other process. If you trust in the process it WILL carry us to a new place. Shaun says we need to think of obstacles not as a hindrance but as a necessary part of the process. Thirdly, even when things don't go as we had planned we can still learn LOTS. Lesson from Shaun, we need to 'reframe our discontents into something new and creative'. So that's what I did!! Sunday was thankfully amazing and spent the whole day painting, happily.

And here is what I learned:

  • when I started to care less about outcomes, exciting things started to happen

  • even pieces that look crappy hold something of beauty or learning. Each piece tells us something whether it be something we like or something we don't

  • each studio session is an opportunity to learn something (even something tiny) about your own practice or process

Like every good student of the creative process I am now putting this learning into practice. This whole process of reflection has helped me to refine and tweak my own process a bit more as I understand more about the things I like and don't. I'm doing more of the stuff I like and less of what I don't. For me this includes

  • painting in the background before I even start with the mark making, which seems to work better than the white page,

  • prepping lots of different sizes of paper, boards and canvas

  • investing in some bigger brushes

  • mixing larger batches of paint

  • use my colour mixing sketchbook to decide on my base layers

  • start a new sketchbook for unusual colour combinations

  • treat myself to some Golden Flow Improver or maybe treat myself to some high flow acrylic paint.

So there you go, I love the process of reframing, turning a things around, changing perspective. It all helps the creative process. Every time we create, we learn. Every time we learn we should put what we have learned into practice. And repeat.

Happy creating!!


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