The truth about being a maker.
I’m really excited to be starting a blog again but to be honest I’m nervous too so I’ve put it off for ages. What got me moving was an Instagram post last week, an unassuming and quiet photo of a dry magnolia pod. Underneath the talented artist, maker and creative soul who posted it bravely admitted that she had felt inadequate and not as skilled as others. Following this was a flood of comments and further admissions that others had felt the same and even felt crushed under the weight of these ‘perfect life’ impressions that can come across on social media. Particularly Instagram.
Something had to be done to help address the issue and to get this conversation out into the open so that others could know they are really not alone and that under the mask of beautiful scenes there is always a real life with real struggles. So being fully able to relate, Insta-friends Mirta, Kathy and I have decided it was time to make a start. This week we will simultaneously share our stories in the hope that others can relate, take comfort and inspiration from them. Anyone can join in by sharing their true ‘maker/artist story’ on their blog and using the hashtag ‘makerstruth’ to over on Instagram so it can be found.
This is my #makerstruth.
Though now my days are spent in mostly happy, chaotic creative knowing it was not always like this. In fact I’m still often scared it won’t work out and that I’ll run out of money and I’m wasting time. I’m worried about failing again. I’m subconsciously anxious that I’ll be found out, that I’m not good enough to call myself a designer or an artist. I worry almost daily that I’m being a selfish mom. This image of the maker and artist sitting in a sun filled room sipping coffee while calmly and sweetly producing handmade and artistic wonders is an illusion. I know a lot of artists and to the best of my knowledge that’s not how it is. Thanks for helping us dream though Etsy.
I’m a full time maker and mom of two boys. I don’t get to take breaks even when I’m sick or get any help because my family and friends are far away. My current reality is that I stay up until 2am, I never get to lie on the couch and rarely even sit on it and my tea always goes cold before it’s finished. Clothes and dishes pile up, there’s black ink all over the bathroom and hey! we are eating a late dinner off the coffee table for the third night in a row because my work is all over the table. Thank you husband for always being supportive and understanding and (mostly) never complaining about my chaos. But I LOVE doing what I do.
I have always been surrounded with materials to make things. My dad is an artist of mainly sculptural things and has been the biggest influence on me creatively though many members of my family have been to art school and all have creative projects of some sort going on. My dad made the Oscar Wilde memorial in Merrion Square, Dublin and is currently working on casting molten lava sculptures. He is also a painter and self proclaimed explorer so as a child I went on a lot of wild adventures and had access to all kinds of art materials even clay which he fired in his kiln. This might sound idyllic but believe me growing up in rural Ireland in the 1980’s in a family of artist explorers is far from easy!
It seemed logical then to go to art college after school. I was interested in other subjects and could have done something else but I was already passionate about art. The others things were all just a maybe. Four years later in 2006 I graduated from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland with a Degree in Fine Art Painting and I quickly discovered what that means in the real world- not very much. I ran a few children’s art classes, volunteered at a children’s arts and cultural center and worked at an art supply store. I rented a shared studio and did my best to keep up the momentum after college but as it happens to so many art graduates, I started to buckle without the help of tutors and constant check-ins. I tried and tried sitting with sketchbooks and paints in front of me for days and weeks on end but the work just didn’t flow out of me like before. Eventually it seemed pointless to be spending money on a studio to just sit in so I moved out and my dreams of becoming a successful artist crashed around me. I took over a corner of my tiny flat and sometimes made some small paintings which would occasionally sell. I regretted spending so long getting a degree that would amount to this.
Then my life evolved into being married with children and we ended up in Brussels. New responsibilities took over and drawing and painting somehow fizzled out of my routine. I can’t remember how much I missed it but I managed to arrive in Brussels with a pencil case, a pocket sketchbook and my watercolour box. My sister who is also an artist and prolific draw-er encouraged me to start doing something again and sent me a set of oil paints. Here is where I began miniature oil paintings which I turned into brooches and wooden bangles. I discovered the magical world of Etsy and fully inspired by all the shop stories I managed to get my pieces into a few gallery shops and slowly but surely they sold. Bit by bit as I sold a piece and would buy more materials each time and over the next few years from a shoe box of things I built several shelves, tables and drawers of tools and materials.
But it’s hard to sell art, I often found it exhausting. I need what I do to be about something. There must be a reason and a story to it, I cannot make or paint or draw if I’m not interested. I painted a lot about climate change and fear of the unknown because this is what mattered to me. I fought hard for very piece because they didn’t come easily and very often didn’t work out so eventually I realised I must do things differently. Then came experiments with giclee prints, print on demand objects, etchings and lino prints until I drove myself mad. None of it was flowing, I just fought with it all even while I was going about my other jobs and duties. The whole thing started to feel like such a jumble and made me feel useless once again. I couldn’t understand why nothing was going well after I showed up time and time again, did my best and played my part. I thought fine if you want to just relax and enjoy yourself but I need money! The writer Elizabeth Gilbert says that creativity doesn’t owe us anything. She writes in her book ‘Big Magic’ – ‘To yell at your creativity saying ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat. It has no idea what you’re talking about and all you’re doing is scaring it away because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.’ Damn.
So I sat with it for a few months and took a long look at who I really am as a person and as a creative individual. I asked myself what I really wanted and what was really important to me. This was not easy or quick but a path began to clear through the creative jungle my monkey mind had created. It was going on at the same time as I began to bring all things print back into my life and I rediscovered the joys of screen printing. In the beginning I thought I would screen print fabric for stretching over wooden panels to paint on in the hope that it would amount to something but instead I began sewing the fabric. What a concept right!? This post is getting pretty long so I think the why and how of Grey Whale bags might be a story for another time.
The creative journey is life-long and almost always fraught with personal difficulty and there is probably not a single destination but if anyone feels that insatiable need to be creative then keep going. Put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Just decide that it’s what you really want and define what success honestly means to you and keep showing up consistently even in the smallest ways.
Now, about you! If you have read this far and have something you’d like to share then please join the conversation here or over on Instagram and tell your story using the # so that others may benefit. The #makerstruth must be told to shatter this ‘perfect life’ illusion that social media images can create. Pretty pictures are not a bad thing and I personally love and put a lot of effort into Instagram but it needs a little more perspective.