Sometimes, the depression I have over the winter slowly fades away with each sunny day. Sometimes, it disappears suddenly and all of that energy I was lacking over the last two months appears. All at once. And I spend all of my free time over four days creating a large painting of flowers.
It’s been a while. I don’t really have an excuse except for this: Depression is a hell of a thing. Or what I mean is, depression is hell.
I went almost all summer without writing hardly anything. I didn’t do any painting either. No drawing. I didn’t bake. My garden was a mess, planted and then forgotten about until the tomatoes hung rotting on the plant. I slept late, pulling myself out of bed at the last minute. I kept my house clean-ish. I took showers and I kept my children alive. That was the high-functioning part of it but even that was drudgery, a slog. It was trying to get somewhere while always feeling like I was wading through chest-high water.
Eventually, the depression subsided.
I don’t mean that I waited around until I miraculously felt better. It required work. I went to therapy every week and saw a psychiatrist who changed my medication and this time I didn’t fight the concept of being medicated. I worked on being kind to myself, on not beating myself up for the loss of productivity. I read a lot of books, but only those that were funny or had happy endings. Everything else felt like a trigger. I worked through each day, one at a time
I’m grateful for the people that were there for me and supported me through this miserable time. Even more than that, I’m so glad that they didn’t give up on me. This might not be my last episode of depression but my hope is that each time I have them they become shorter and less severe.
Also, I want to remind anyone else who is reading this and is suffering through depression, you deserve happiness. You are worth whatever effort it takes to get through it.
I’m painting again and back to writing every day. I have exciting things to look forward to. What I mean is: I’m back.
Most of my free time is working on my writing, a process that becomes more and more agonizing the more I try to push myself to be better. There are days that the joy of creating the story is lost in the labor of perfecting the words.
That’s when I find myself reaching for some other creative outlet. Of course I like to draw and paint, but even then I can still feel myself become too attached to what I’m doing, worrying about if it’s going to look right and if I’m going to make a mistake.
So, this summer I rekindled my love for sidewalk chalk.
I’ve found there is something wonderful about a brand new container of chalk and my clean black driveway. Whether I make something beautiful or not, I don’t get to keep it. It’s gone with the next rainfall. If the kids want to come over and help me with what I’m doing, it’s fine. In fact, it’s encouraged. If they want to ride their scooters through it or shoot it with water guns. They can. The end result doesn’t matter, only the process of creating.
I’ve gone through buckets of chalk and I think the neighbors must think I’ve lost my mind.
As is always the case with me, participating in Inktober was a decision that was made at the last moment. I was reminded that it was October and therefore it was Inktober and if I wanted to do it I was already two days behind. Nevertheless, I completely committed to doing it. For the uninitiated Inktober is a monthlong challenge meant to improve drawing skills and habits. The rules are pretty simple. Make a drawing in ink. Post it online. Hashtag it. Repeat. You can do it daily. You can do it every other day. You can post once a week.
I wanted to do Inktober but not at the expense of my writing. The time that I can find to write is sacred and cannot be used on other hobbies and endeavors. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do one every day. I also wasn’t sure that I would be able to do one every other day. There might be a few days in a row where I could work and a few days in a row that I wouldn’t be able to. So, I decided to commit to fifteen ink drawings, created through the span of one month. I thought I would be able to do more than that, but I finished the fifteenth at 11pm on October 31st.
I didn’t post online as I went. I wanted to share them all together at the end here. There are prompts that are provided for each day, but I didn’t use them either. I like doing portraits, so that’s what I stuck with. My Inktober is my own bastardized version of what I think it’s supposed to be but I still think I got what I needed out of it.
I haven’t worked with ink in a while. When I first started doing portraits, I did them in Sharpie and Pigma Micron pens, but it’s been three years since I did those. Ink washes I haven’t done since college. Understandably, I felt pretty rusty. Ink (I use Higgins waterproof ink) is very permanent, in a way that watercolor isn’t. Paint can be gently lifted from the paper, softly scrubbed away. Ink, once it make’s it’s home in the fibers of your paper, is everlasting. Therefore, when you place it on the page, you should do so with confidence. Mistakes can be worked into the piece, but even if the viewer doesn’t know it’s there, you will. There were moments where I sat with my brush or my pen poised over the paper asking myself if I really knew what I was doing. I felt an anxiety working with ink that I rarely feel with paint anymore.
Still, there is something really beautiful about how ink moves through water. I had more control with pens but I quickly moved to washes when I saw how the black ink bled into the water, how it could be moved around the page, following the wet like a river. It lent itself better to texture, creating a smooth solid color at times, and transparent layers built on top of each other at others. You could have sharp crisp lines and fluid, open shapes. I could have control or I could feel helpless with the way it pooled and bled.
I was most successful when I relaxed, when I didn’t try so hard. I enjoyed those ink washes more. Still, it was difficult to accept the permanence of the ink while relaxing into the method. It felt almost contradictory at times.
It was good for me to work in a different medium for a while and I am interested to see how it will effect my watercolors when I get back to them. I hope it improves them. I also think I might want to do this again. Choose a different way of creating and stick with it for a period of time. Get to know the graphite, the colored pencil, the charcoal or the pastels that I ignore in my collection of art supplies. Get to know them and see how they can affect what I already think I know about drawing and painting.
In the end, I’m glad I participated. I will probably do it again next year with better planning and hopefully, better results. For now, I can’t wait to get back to watercolor.
My Inktober portraits:
I used to think that I had to choose which creative outlet that I wanted to give all of my time. I felt that if I was going to write, then I couldn’t paint or draw and if I was drawing or painting, then I couldn’t write. I thought that this was how my brain was wired. It’s a big part of the reason that I didn’t do much writing in my twenties. Instead, I was a visual artist. I discovered oil paint and watercolor and I went to school for graphic design. Writing was limited to college papers.
For the past two years, I’ve been mostly writing. This meant that I stopped painting. I barely doodled. I’ve loved writing, but I miss painting. I get something different out of each endeavor. Writing is harder work, and can often be very frustrating, but is very rewarding when the story comes together or I find the right words or the right phrases. It’s a workout for my brain. Painting is like a meditation. I can completely unplug from everything around me. Time slips away. The joy I find in painting is in the creation of it and less about the finished product.
I don’t like having to choose between these two pursuits and I think I might have been terribly wrong about how my brain operates. I decided that I probably should be doing both of these things simultaneously. I have this theory that writing drains the creativity from me and painting might just fill it back up.
So, this week I tried to find a balance between visual art and creative writing.
Each day, I first had to reach my word count. Right now, my daily word count is around a thousand words. That’s a nice comfortable amount for me for the amount of time that I can put into it every day. If I push myself I can write as many as two thousand words a day, but I find that’s a bigger struggle and I lose some of the joy that I have in writing. If I reached my word count early enough in the day, I could then spend my evening doing visual art. I returned to the redditgetsdrawn community and did watercolor portraits. I usually only had an hour or two to draw and paint them, but that was enough.
This was what I accomplished this week:
None of that painting got in the way of my writing. Apparently, my brain is perfectly capable of handling whatever I throw at it. I wish that I hadn’t allowed this sort of self-imposed limitation rule my creativity for the last fifteen years.
P.S. Writers who were also visual artists? There’s apparently a lot of them, so I’m in good company.
I like to watch my kids play. I like the way they throw themselves into it. They make things up. They dance. They sing. They draw. They paint. There is nothing better than a child being creative. It’s messy, crazy, and uninhibited. They don’t color in the lines. They don’t worry about something looking perfect or being the right color. They don’t follow the rules. They don’t always use tools the way they are intended. And when they are done? They are proud of it. They show you.
This is how my kids are and from what I’m seen and heard, this is how most kids are. That means that when I was little, I was like that too. So were you.
My mom kept stories that I wrote when I was in elementary school, stories that were complete nonsense, but that I remember being so proud of. I made up dance routines with my little sister in our back yard. I recorded songs on cassette tapes. I made a big lion fish in fifth grade out of paper mache that I thought was perfection.
That same grade (I think), I, with three of my friends, did an entire lip sync routine to “It’s in his kiss,” for a talent show in front of the whole school. I think we used the version sung by Cher. And before you ask, it was wonderful. We were amazing.
There was no art form that I didn’t think I could do. I don’t remember when I stopped thinking that. I don’t remember when I started saying things like:
“I can’t sing.”
“I’m the worst at dancing. I have no rhythm and no coordination.”
“I’m not good at that.”
At this point in my life, I think I would rather die than get in front of a group of people and lip sync the song, “It’s in his kiss.” And seriously, why did we choose that song of all songs? We were in fifth grade in like 1993, not 1964.
So, where did all of that go? Why did I stop dancing and singing and painting and writing?
For me, I think the thing that killed my creativity as an adult was this idea that there had to be some sort of profit from creating. If I was going to be a painter, then I needed to paint things that people would want to put in their homes. If I was going to be a writer, then I needed to write books that could be published. I am an adult. I needed to be professional. I had to be the best. It wasn’t something that I could do for fun anymore.
But that put a lot of pressure on me and so when I sat down in front of a blank canvas or an empty screen, I was paralyzed. There is a quote from the book “Art and Fear” that pretty much sums it up:
To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do – away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes.
I had gone a long spell without creating. I painted here and there, but never as much as I wanted and I always left more paintings unfinished than finished. I couldn’t remember the last time I had written something outside of course work in college. It felt like my creativity was just all dried up inside of me.
And then the craziest thing happened several months after my son was born that pulled me out of my creative funk.
There’s a subreddit on Reddit called redditgetsdrawn. How it works is that people upload photos of themselves or their kids or their friends or their dogs and they ask artists to create something with them. I started creating portraits, first with pens and markers but then with watercolor and even oil paint. I became obsessed. I spent nearly every moment of my free time creating these pictures for strangers on the internet. I stayed up late at night because I couldn’t pull myself away. It didn’t matter if they didn’t look great or if what I was experimenting with didn’t work out. I was a faceless person on the internet. When it failed, I just shrugged and moved to the next thing. If it succeeded, I was motivated to do more.
For months I did this. I have stacks and stacks of portraits of strangers in my house. I have a tumblr that is nothing but these pictures.
Then one day, I was reading a book and I told my husband that I thought I could write a book too. He said he believed me but I wanted to prove it. And I did. I wrote a book. It was garbage. Total, utter garbage. But I had failed before. I shrugged and moved to the next thing. I rewrote the story. I’ll probably rewrite it again. I’ve also written another book, a book that needs some work but a book that I like, that might just have the capability of going somewhere.
I have my creative mojo back.
I hope it will stay. I’m clinging to it tightly, pushing myself to work every day, even when it’s hard and I don’t want to, even when I’m still a little afraid that I will only fail. I don’t want to lose it, but if I do, I have a little more experience in finding it again.
As for the singing and dancing thing, we’ll leave that for dancing with my kids in the kitchen and singing in the car. It’s for the best.