'Getting my flow back' and other insights on painting

I remember the first time I heard this phrase… getting your flow back.
Initially it seemed kind of odd, a little hippie dippy. But honestly we could all use a little more of that free energy in our lives anyway — the totally unstripped, the happy, the GOOD. At least that is my interpretation and opinion. Where’s the bad??

I still don’t completely love the phrase ‘getting your flow back’ but it’s not for me to say and really, when I get down to it, it makes total sense. So I wanted to share how these 4 words have impacted me over the month of July as I’ve embraced my grind hiatus and why should you care. Because what’s an article worth reading if you aren’t invested from the get-go??

The truth about painting.

So one of the things artists never tell you is that jumping back in to the work is really hard and sometimes paralyzing. It’s quite literally the complete opposite of riding a bicycle. It’s just awkward. At first. And by first I mean, the first couple of days… not the first go-around of a break. Or in my case, a full-blown hiatus from all true deadlines and artistic responsibilities beyond my inbox.

And I’ll backtrack a bit — WHY did I take a break? It’s simple, really. Most Americans get 2 weeks paid vacation. Or more. Not every one but we’re just throwing out some generalizations. Andddd entrepreneurs get 0 for the first years of scaling the business. Unless you have a team you can rely on to ‘man the ship’ while you’re away. I’m still working alone so when I stop, the business/art stops.

I learned this the hard way in 2018 when I almost hit a wall from exhaustion, treading water, and all of the other overwhelming emotions you shouldn’t feel as a person if you can help it. SO this year, I decided I was going to take a vacation. July is notoriously known to be slow across the board for retail (retailers = sales trends to learn from. thank you, years of working all sides of retail) and other service-based businesses. Everyone is blowing all of their cash at the beach, in Italy, or somewhere else where buying art is the last thing on their list. This creates the perfect environment for a worry-free BREAK. Until you decide to start back up again…

The story of rest.

I told myself I wasn’t going to put pressure on when I picked up the brush after resting.
Another thing I want to point out really quickly is as much as I try to give myself a M-F | 9-5 kind of setup, I normally work weekends and am always responding to emails, social media, etc. at all hours. It doesn’t really stop. So a day off is not really a ‘thing’ for me at the moment. But this is how this works and for now, I’m managing it. But when you’re trying to zone out and get in touch with your neglected Netflix account, it’s an entirely different story.

So. Flashback to the first week of July. I’m taking it easy. I’m coolin’ it. Multiple episodes of Jane the Virgin have been watched.
Three days go by. I’m ready to paint.
This is very me. Can’t stop. Once you stop it’s hard to get going again, you know?
I piddled around a bit in the studio and nothing worth putting down on the canvas came to me. So I gave it a few more days (and the weekend) with absolutely no pressure. I knew the inspiration would come.

Monday rolls around and I’m ready! A week off felt like 2 months. I think that’s true for anyone who goes 90-miles a minute. You get it.
I felt guilty for taking the time off and weird telling my contemporaries. But during these thoughts and conversations I had to remind myself of the EXTREMELY busy + stressful Q2 to make sure financially July was ok to be open for rest and exploration. #earnedit

Now this is where things get sticky.

The flow (and other insight.)

Being an artist is a strange thing. For me personally, it’s extra weird. I don’t keep a sketch book currently… I’m more of a collector of ideas and color stories. Then I mash those together with memories, conversations, intense life events, and any other nonsense going on in my brain. And while I’m painting, I’m simply reacting. Every stroke and mark is a reaction. Less thinking, more moving. It’s freeing.

It took me about 1.5 years to get to this stage in my process. I used to keep a sketch book. I used to create mock-ups for clients to approve before beginning commissions. I used to journal. But now, I feel whole creating the work the way I am. No stress, no rules, no limitations, just painting. My way.

SO. Why am I telling you this? Because this lack of documentation has ROYALLY screwed me over in the past for continuing my practice after as little as 2-days off. (I’ll get random days on my calendar that are free and depending on the rest of the month, I’ll take a breather from the studio or keep working. Depends on the flow. Seriously.) I know it’s intense to use the mature and educated phrase of screwed me over but that it’s how I feel. It’s real.

Keeping a sketch book = Staying connected to your work = Continuing to explore color narratives = Figuring out the next body of work and where that makes sense on the calendar = Drawing out ideas before you put them to the canvas = Time management

So it’s not that I think I’m above a sketchbook by any means. I had them from the time I was 6 to 26. But right now, I have to take the raw emotion and current thought and apply it straight to the surface. Creating the step of diluting it onto sketch paper in the interim waters it down and makes it feel a little too thought out and planned… chaos and intention really drive my work. So no sketching. I like the risk and building the surface with a story.

Needless to say, on that Monday when I was back in the studio ready to paint, everything looked like garbage. The colors were off. The compositions felt meaningless. And I was ready for the paint to dry SOLEY because I was so eager to gesso over it all.

You know when your work is good. Or at least, going in the right direction. It’s salvageable. You’re growing. You’re stretching your art muscles. And there’s also knowing the ugly phase of a painting… it’s usually the second session you have with a piece. The moment you decide to keep pushing even though you really like the first layers. And then you feel like you’ve ruined it. And you edit, pivot, keep pushing, and voila! Something incredible happens and you realize you made something that can move people. And that you actually know what the hell you are doing. (But always growing and learning, right? The forever journey.)

So that Monday was NOTHING LIKE THIS FLOWERY EXPLANATION. I wanted to torch my studio, turn in my artist badge and find a new career.

That’s extremely dramatic but I really want you to feel the despair.

Thoughts such as ‘never take that long of a break again’ and ‘how did this happen?! I thought I figured out my process. I’m doing the process. Why aren’t the wires connecting?’ happened about 2 times every five minutes. Lots of self-doubt and scary stuff was going on. I was being pretty harsh on myself mentally and knew I was being really unfair to my work and myself as a person. Shaming yourself is not cool! Steer clear!

I quickly got my life together and realized I was, as stated early, being dramatic. I had lost faith!
You guys need to understand… I’ve been painting since I was a 2. Mom claimed 1.5 years but the verdict is still out on that one. Art is me, I am art. It’s all I’ve ever known, wanted, dreamed of, career done. Boom. Sign the dotted line. Destiny is set-up and ready to work. So all of this shame I was throwing on myself wasn’t from a standpoint of ‘deciding to be an artist 2 years ago and now I’m failing.’
It felt like everything I worked towards for all of those years just vanished out of my fingertips and I didn’t know if they were ever coming back. TRUE fear. This is the longest break I’d ever taken since college. I felt like I’d really done some damage and because this was a first time scenario, I wasn’t sure of the outcome.
Luckily I had this pesky voice in the back of my head telling me to get over it, keep working, and chill the F out.

So I did. And I’m creating work more free and raw than ever before.

The takeaway.

  1. Shoutout to all of you who made it to the end of this post.

  2. Embrace the peak and the pit of the process.

  3. Take the vacation. The rest can wait. And everything will be fine.

Spoiler alert: I survived. And I have to remind myself every time I take a mini sabbatical that the world is not on fire and I will fall back in to my groove.
My flow. So to all of you out there who have experience this same thing, just keep working hard and be vulnerable. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
You’ll know when it’s time to open that studio door again. And it will be magical.

Xx, Allison