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Hard Truths about the Creative Life

By Jerusha Gray

There will always be someone who is better than you.

Always.

This is irrefutable. It doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve logged. It doesn’t matter how technical or how much heart is in your work. There will always be someone to your right or left or coming up behind who can do it better, faster, and stronger. Please don’t let this deter you.

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I come from a family of artists and musicians and makers. My mother is a jaw-droppingly good watercolorist. My watercolors consist of soggy brown-tinged paper. It’s bad, ya’ll. Bad.

I thought for years that I wasn’t an artist because I couldn’t do what my mom does with that medium. Guess what? I am not a watercolorist. I am just not. I don’t derive joy from it. I don’t feel inspired by it. My artistic mojo wants nothing to do with it. It all feels silly when I look at it in context now. In the moment, it felt super real. Don’t let it stop you from doing the work you were born to do. Judging your worth as a creative person by comparing yourself to others can shut you down. You have enough fighting for your attention. Keep your eyes on your own work.

Your work isn’t for everybody.

Critics are everywhere. They are worse than fleas, I tell you. There will be plenty of people who don’t understand what you are doing. It is okay. It means that you are on the right track. Make the stuff that gives you a creative hard-on. You are your first and most important audience. Rock hard, my friend.

The process can choke you.

My creative process goes as such:

Step One: I have an epic idea. It rolls around in my brain, gaining momentum and torturing my sense of focus on anything else until I’ve spent far too long on the internet (and down the wiki-drain) and I put initially sketches down into my trusty notebook to start the project, painting, article etc.

Step Two: I gather the supplies and start putting down layer after layer. I am so excited. Look at this cool idea. Yay, I am doing a thing. It’s so rad. I am such a badass.

Step Three: What the hell have I started? This doesn’t look anything like I thought. Have you seen the nose on this portrait? Does she look diseased or just constipated? Is this what I am doing with my life? I am a terrible artist. I should chuck it in the trash. What a waste. I am such a waste.

Now historically this is where I would stop. I had an idea. I did research. I tried it. It didn’t go like I thought. I am a moron. Moving on. There may or may not be wine-drinking and crying at this point—oooh, or brownies. Hypothetical brownies, of course.

Step Four: I see something that gets my blood pumping again. It could be a color or a turn of phrase or a song on my playlist that pushes me into a better headspace. I am back in the game, baby. Am I doing this? Hell, yes, I am. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Step Five: I don’t hate it anymore. *insert happy dance* I am no longer hanging my head in shame. It looks cool. It may not be exactly what I thought but I dig it. The trick on this step is to stop. Nothing kills this buzz like the mistake of “just a little bit more.” Step away from the project. You will thank me in the morning.

What I know now is that this happens every time. My experience tells me that I have to force myself to keep going and be flexible. I have to allow what I am working on to change and grow as I go. I may have started out with the plan to paint the Mona Lisa. Instead I end up with Mona from around the corner who has her car up on blocks and sells vintage handbags from her living room. Crap happens. Ideas change. I have to be awake enough to stay out of my own way.

It gets lonely in here.

Inhabiting the space between your ears all the time can get mighty lonely. Find like-minded people who are making cool stuff. Get excited about what they are making. Let other people get excited about what you are making. It gives you a place to vent and to try new things. Perhaps groups in real life are not your jam. Thank the tech gods we have the internet. There are groups everywhere. Find one that sings the song of your people. We are all in this together.

It is all on you, kiddo.

You are the captain of this ship. Your highs, your lows, and the direction your curiosity pulls depend on you. If you stagnate (and you will, at some point), it is your responsibility to get your butt up and keep moving. Show up for yourself even when you don’t feel like it. Show up especially when you don’t feel like it. A great deal of what comes out will feel like crap. That is okay, too. Curiosity and creativity flow more freely when you feed them your time. Do the work. It’s worth it. I promise.

 

 

head shotA maker at heart, Jerusha Gray uses paint, pencil, ink, music and words to engage in nuanced conversation with the world around her. Themes of rain, tattoos, anthropology, and social justice weave throughout her work. Her artistic family tree includes Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, MC Escher and her mom, Janice Cornthwaite. Jerusha is heavily influenced by music, science, nerd and queer culture and the Pacific Northwest which she calls her home.

“The artwork is a self portrait utilizing ink and alcohol markers. It is an attempt to see myself as the world sees me.” – Jerusha Gray

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