Apparently, that's a good thing.
Initially, I wanted to blog with the intention of sharing my experience as a creator and putting my thoughts out into the digital wilderness without expectations...whether anyone reads it or not.
Then I thought; What's the point if no one reads it, dummy?
After very little additional thought, I mused that it's okay to express myself and use this space as an art journal. I do buy into the cliché "Art isn't about the destination, it's about the journey." I'll write for me, and if it touches anyone? Bonus.
So here goes (Sort of feels like I'm Forrest Gump sitting on a bench, talking away to a complete stranger. I wish I had a box of chocolates because in reality I'm only talking to myself and I really like chocolate.).
People often ask me if being an artist comes easy.
Tough question because it's a yes and no answer.
Yes, in that my eye-hand coordination is inherent. I've never struggled with a pencil, a pastel stick or a paintbrush. Put one in my hand and things happen, baby. But that's the technical side of things. That's craft.
No, because great craftspeople aren't necessarily great artists and vice-versa. My problem was with how to use that natural-born talent to make something truly original and unique. So yeah, the struggle has always been real.
That said, here's how I got from point A to point Z, in case you're wondering;
There are painters and there are artists. Painters paint nice pictures that decorate hotel walls, but do they convey anything? Do they tell a story? Some do, which is what, in my opinion, makes them art.
Trying to create original artwork in an over-saturated art market is darn near impossible, so why should I even try?
Someone once duct-taped a banana to a wall at an art fair and it fetched a tidy $120,000. Remember that one? People called it art. As much as I admire and adore abstract art, a lot of it is pure hogwash, but the art world still insists on labelling it art.
The chicanery that goes down in the art world has always irked me, because who gets to decide these things, anyways? And critics? Don't get me started. It's not easy trying to find your voice when it's being drowned out by BS and con-art-istry.
So I did have an answer, but not a method for actually getting where I wanted to go.
The answer was in not creating for the market, but for me and me alone. It was in not thinking about selling or being accepted, but discovering something I wanted to share...or keep to myself, as long as the process was FUN. Does anyone ever have fun at their job? I wanted to.
Also, I had absolutely no starting point.
For years, I had been painting pet portraits and wildlife art, landing lucrative commissions for photo-realistic dog and cat portraits. My clients loved them, and it tickled me to watch their reactions at unveiling. Say what you want, but bringing a grown man to happy tears is really rewarding.
Despite this, I myself was getting bored and couldn't understand why. People actually appreciated my work! What creator doesn't want that??? I've known so many artists who struggle just to sell one piece and suffer rejection and frustration daily, which made me feel disingenuous and spoiled for not appreciating my own good fortune.
That nagging emptiness simply wouldn't subside no matter how hard I pushed it back into the recesses of my dusty mental filing cabinet.
I was a painter, not an artist. There, I said it. But what if I could be both? Be technically gifted and tell a really good story at the same time?
Just because a client connects with a unique portrait of their beloved fur-baby doesn't mean I will. Don't get me wrong, here. Painting animals is a fantastic way to hone your skills as a craftsperson. You really learn to pay attention to all the little details and nuances. I actually loved getting to know the animal and appreciating their beauty and precious souls.
So why couldn't I be ok with being a painter? Painters who make a living from their craft have a rich and rewarding life experience. I know many who are probably the most talented humans on the planet. There is nothing wrong with that. Not one single thing. It's amazing to behold someone who can create gorgeous paintings day after day.
However, expressing myself and my voice was what I needed to do. No rhyme or reason to it.
One day, a question popped up on my Twitter feed; "Don't think about it, just answer with your first gut reaction; If there was one more thing you could do without limitation before you die, what would that be?"
My gut game was strong. I answered (to myself, because I was initially afraid to sound dumb) Paint just for me and no one else. Paint from joy. Paint for the love of painting. That will make me feel like an "artist" without caring what anyone else labels me.
Ugh, why do I have to embark on yet another soul-search every half-decade or so? It's so tedious. I really do get on my own nerves sometimes.
But a while back I got really scary sick and realized no one knows when they'll exit this crazy place, so I'd better get busy finding out who I am and what I want to leave behind.
With no magical guru to guide me, I began listening to podcasts and reading self-help books for creators who feel stuck, uninspired and/or stagnate. I'd walk 1-2 hours per day, taking in my surroundings and listening instead of yapping (for once... you'll notice I can be a chatterbox).
It took a while, but eventually things started moving in my muddled brain. Little bits of stardust were shifting somewhere inside me.
Then one day, I gleaned onto a statement out of the hundreds of podcast-listening hours that stuck in my head like lint to a dryer screen; "It's OK not to know what you're doing. In fact, it's a good thing. Just begin NOTICING things again. Squint. Listen. Be still. Don't even try to figure it out now or ever, because no one has yet solved the mystery of the creative process. It's a process, not a price tag or a finish line."
My ego then decided to engage in a chat with my confused self; Just do it, Tracey. Figure out what excites you and do it. Shut up, I'm talking...just do what I tell you to do because you've got chops, kid and it'd be a shame to waste that talent.
About one week later, passages from a fantastic book I was reading flew clean off the pages; "Nothing is truly original...great art isn't created in a vacuum...ask any songwriter, actor, dancer or visual artist if they have influences. Guaranteed they won't shut up about what or who came before them and how it shaped their craft...don't concern yourself with copying or being un-original, just be inspired and it will come."
And it came. Thanks Austin Kleon. Thanks ego, you can be useful at times.
One gorgeous snowy evening last December, Elvis and I were walking down the barren streets of my borough, after pandemic curfew hours -we're allowed to walk our dogs past curfew as long as it's within 1km of our address and I'm a rule-follower where safety is concerned- so we were literally alone. No cars, no pedestrians, no buses. Midnight in a post-apocalyptic setting, I imagined this goofy dog and I were the last beings on earth and it was so surreal that my senses started to crackle and sharpen.
Businesses were closed and the only sounds in the whole world were our breathing/panting and the crunching of snow beneath our feet.
I walked down the middle of a normally busy street and stopped dead in my tracks at the surprisingly loud click of a stoplight turning red. Here I was, rule-following again. Nothing was preventing me from running that red like a bandit. Elvis sat patiently beside me. I stood, tempted to break the law willy-nilly. I squinted at the red circle that was daring me to be brazen and noticed how it radiated, as well as how the other lights and neon signs got blurry and hazy. Then light spots (bokeh) started dancing before my eyes...
Whoa Nelly...I'd really love to paint this, I thought, completely forgetting about a life of crime.
But how do I put this on canvas?
I remembered another brilliant podcaster who had suggested searching for images on the internet and taking lots of shots in the real world with my iPhone camera...to collect them for reference and nothing else. Just hoard images that delighted me without hesitation. So for about a month, I did just that.
No real thought to it, just snapping away and pinning images that pleased my eye. That's when neon signs appeared like a...sign (terrible pun totally intended). They were popping up even when I wasn't looking for them.
I was falling in love with neon signs! With shimmery lights! With glow!
Thanks Pinterest. Thanks Montreal.
Vision board; overflowing.
Well eureka and halle-fricking-lujah.
It was like falling in love. I felt like prancing through an Austrian field of wildflowers a-la Julie Andrews, shouting "Miss Hill is alive! Alive I tell you! I'm excited and I don't care who knows it!!" Ok, so that's a little dramatic, but you get my drift.
Butterflies then bumblebees then fire ants were in my belly for the first time in a looooong time.
I started by gessoing over an old canvas and painting an imagined neon sign, practicing and laboring over how to create light and glow.
I bought glowsticks from the dollar store and cracked them, spending hours just staring at them in the dark. I bought glitter and threw it down on my drafting table, noticing how the light bounced around a dark room, creating flecks of changing colour when I shone a flashlight on it. I walked aimlessly after dusk, taking pics of neons and store windows that glowed from within. My adoptive Montreal truly is a gorgeous city when you look at her beyond the orange traffic cones and with fresh eyes.
Now here I am, ideas flowing out freely like beer from a pub tap (oh how I long to kibbitz with my friends or with Joe over a pint... please let this hellish nightmare end soon) and I'm busy at the easel once more.
It took next to nothing for people to begin noticing my work and buying it straight from Instagram and Facebook. It was literally "Yo, look what I'm having fun doing!"
I haven't begun a marketing campaign, and I don't know when or if I will. This is organic at least for now.
I'm delivering paintings every week and fielding inquiries daily. I just slap-dashed this website together because clients were actually asking if I had one they could visit. It's nothing groundbreaking, but I'm focusing on being in the studio, posting my work and not trying to impress with being slick or fake. This is me. Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world . -Journey (The cornball will always remain, no matter how fabulous I become.)
People are connecting to me because I'm connected to me. Nostalgia never goes out of style and I'm learning that I just have to show my work, even if not everyone loves it. I don't need to worry about those who don't like me or my new direction, only those who do. And they're out there. I didn't even know there existed this niche, but here it is.
I'm painting for me and as it turns out, others are getting my vibe and are willing to dish out their hard-earned money for a piece of glow. How gosh-darned humbling is that?
Holy ghost of Frida Kahlo, this escalated quickly.
As I write this, I realize it's happening because my work comes from a place of love. It comes from discovery, inspiration and joy... and I still have no idea what I'm doing, but that's the whole point. Artists create for themselves when no one is looking, which is precisely what makes people start looking.
If you're inspired by this or anything else in your life, drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you and I enjoy nothing more than a good inspirational story.
BTW, this is our phenomenal and famous Elvis. The king of walk and roll.