Written by: Sandra Hutton

It took a pandemic for me to reinstate my creative self and get unstuck. I want to be clear here, my creativity never left me even though at times it felt that way. I have been an art teacher for years after all. But–for a significant portion of my life I came to believe that my particular brand of creativity was the ability to help others find their creative spark. I do like to think that this is something that I am good at and I take pride in this. In fact, I love it! It is an incredible opportunity and an honour to inspire and to spark creativity in others. And yet, as I reflected more, I realized that this is part of who I am–this is an ingredient to my creativity, not the entire recipe.

In 2020, I began to reflect upon why I wasn’t creating more as an artist myself. Why had I spent years stepping away from art at times, when I should have been fully stepping into it? For years, I attended art shows and felt a strong sense of being part of that community, and yet I wasn’t reaching out with full intention to join. I was the one holding myself back. The pandemic grabbed me by the scruff, looked me in the eye, and asked, “What are you waiting for?”

An invitation? Masterpieces to magically be churned out of my home like Rumpilstiltskin making gold? Was I putting in the work to live a life with my fullest creative intentions? Was I paying attention—really paying attention to what brought me joy? Nope.

I’ve always believed that in order to find happiness, we have to return to who we were at five years of age and consider what brought us joy. At five, I was the kid who could not put a pencil, paintbrush, or a crayon down.I had lots of friends, but I was happy with my own company. Art was calming, and gave me time to use my imagination. My earliest memories are of painting. My mom was a stay at home mom and, as she attended to daily chores such as laundry, I worked in my “gallery” in our basement where I would spend hours at my easel, with my artworks surrounding me. My studio was a little messy and I liked it that way.

Here I am, decades later, finding that I like to spend hours at my easel, with a slightly messy studio (okay, maybe sometimes more than slightly messy), and I like it that way.

In my teenage years, I was a dabbler in art–keen to experiment, but also very, very self-conscious and full of self-doubt. I don’t think that I bought into the idea that “process” was as important as product. If I didn’t achieve a desirable outcome I gave up too quickly. Art was something that was admired and supported in my home and I am thankful for parents who believed in the power of creativity. However, I am not sure that it was understood that it could be a career choice. I can recall seeing advertisements in the newspaper for “Starving Artists Sales” and the name made me think that a creative career would lead to poverty and, in turn, unhappiness.

I ultimately became a teacher–a rewarding career choice which ultimately led me back to art. But I was still finding that I would experiment with techniques and I would create for the purpose of teaching to my students, not necessarily to engage in art creation myself. I actually think that this is a common thing amongst art teachers. Often “lack of time” is cited as the reason why personal art production isn’t happening. There is some truth to this. When you are involved in things like set production and developing creative lessons, it is very time consuming! Add in balancing family life and there is another layer of challenge. But really what it boils down to is how time is spent. What I have learned is that in order to carve out personal creative time, you have to make it a priority. You also have to recognize that creative time doesn’t have to take hours. Even 20 or 30 minutes a day can help fire up the creative brain!

The reality is that for the past year and a half, I’ve had one of the busiest, most challenging periods of my life and yet I suddenly recognized and fulfilled the need to make art every day. Art immersive practice has led me to understand that daily art experiences can be what you want them to be. They can include a variety of materials and mediums, or they can be as simple as taking a walk and taking pictures with a smartphone or camera. Photography is a large part of my creative practice. I find joyful moments in finding compositions while on walks. While I sometimes use these photographs as references for my paintings, these are also opportunities for me to connect art with mindfulness. I enjoy being in the moment, finding gratitude in small things while also connecting to the natural world. And, I would like to add that connecting to the nature allows me to strengthen my artist’s eye. It is no coincidence that since engaging in daily art practice, particularly through photography, I find myself thinking in texture, colour, line, shape as I drift off to sleep at night. The world around us has an abundance of these elements. We just need to pay closer attention to them. For me, the immersive experience of thinking in the language of art has translated into planned as well as spontaneous creations of art. I am busier in my studio space than I ever have been. I am also creating art with an openness that I have never experienced before. Process is just as important as product.

At the beginning of this blog post, I spoke about “reinstating” myself to my creative position as an artist. The reason why I selected this word is because I realize now that, over time, I had actually demoted myself. I did it. Nobody else. It was me. Due to a variety of factors, including self-doubt, and even imposter syndrome, I had let go of a dream in my heart. How dumb is that when each of us has such a short time on this amazing planet? There is no time for letting go of dreams or stepping back from what makes us happy. I’m in a good spot right now, feeling a little like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who always had the power to return home simply by clicking her red slippers. I have returned home to my creative self, eager to pursue what comes next.

Written By: Sandra Hutton, May/2021, www.artimmersion.ca, @artimmersionstudio