I’ve completed ten cards of my first month-long challenge of 2021 and already, it feels so good to be settling back into my daily creative habit. All day long, I feel ideas swirl and build in my brain like cumulonimbus clouds before a summer storm. I was so nervous to be present again on social media – scared to share my stories, scared to open up while still feeling raw, scared that there was no longer a place for my voice on this platform – but as soon as I began writing, the words settled around me like a warm blanket and urged me to keep going. The visual arts soothe my soul and comfort my mind. Writing breathes life into my essence and makes me feel like I’m “home.” And there is something about the discipline of a daily routine that I share with others that brings the two together to create a voice I’m not able to achieve on my own in my private journals. I’ve missed that voice. Hearing it again is like being reunited with a long-lost friend.
My plan for this project was to explore abstract expressionism and create one image a day on a set of vintage library cards that responds to the feelings I’m having at that moment. So far, I’ve had two very clear reactions to this exercise: 1.) it’s a lot harder than I anticipated and 2.) it feels very uncomfortable not to include a word like I did on my daily pages for the past three years.
I have tried to explore mixed-media abstract work in the past but found myself getting frustrated because I wasn’t able to achieve the same results as the artists whose work I admired. I kept reminding myself that was the whole point, but I couldn’t accept the outcome of my attempts and began playing with other forms of expression. This led to me collage, which I quickly discovered was where my artistic comfort zone lies. I dove deep into the depths of my vintage paper stash and thought I’d never look back. But something about my current state of mind in response to the events over the past year have begged me to come back and try this artform again. So, here I am. And once again, I find myself getting frustrated. I over-analyze every move before I even make one. I hesitate and wonder, “will anyone even like this?” Or keep asking, “what does this say?” I worry that colors aren’t conveying the correct emotion, even though they may mean something to me that is outside the standard realm of color symbolism. Or I get concerned that the marks I’m adding to the page are boring, overused or cliché. As my brain begins to itch in response to these prickly thoughts, I force a deep breath down into my lungs and tell my mind to STOP. These are MY feelings in MY moments. There is no right or wrong. They are what they are and they are mine. Instead of fighting them, I need to embrace them. They are me and just like me, they are trying to exist without the fear of judgement and rejection. When I considered them that way, I began to see them in an entirely different light. It doesn’t make them easy to create, but it makes me want to give them a hug rather than berate them with criticism and tear them into a million pieces.
But once I am finally able to create a piece of work and feel that the visual piece is complete, I find there is one more step I feel myself needing to make: adding a single stamped word to the card. This is something I have done for three years as part of my daily project and it became an integral part of each page. It began unintentionally and I simply added a word to announce the project on the first day of the year. Then I introduced my word for the year. Then I felt the next piece needed some kind of title to summarize its meaning. And then, it just kept going. And going. But for this project, I intentionally decided to leave each piece wordless, to let them stand on their own as an abstract representation of emotion rather than being labeled. I wanted to keep a piece of that meaning simply for myself, my own little secret symbol, but also leave it open for interpretation so that the viewer could take what they needed to from the picture rather than having me tell them how to feel. I am still attaching stories as I have done in the past, but even still, each day’s project feels incomplete without the addition of that single word. It reminds me of that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Amy won’t let Sheldon follow through with his compulsive need to finish things and skips the last step on a series of events. But I won’t do what Sheldon did and go back to finish each one, instead I am going to resist that urge and let the cards stand on their own. Perhaps I’ll reevaluate it next month, but for now, the only words on the cards will be the ones originally printed there and are able to peer through sections of light layers of paint.
I’m excited to see where this process leads and how I feel at the end of the month. I’ve thought of alternative ideas for subsequent monthly projects, but honestly, it feels good to push myself through this zone of discomfort. Life has been so uncomfortable for so long and this process is proving that there can still be beauty, there can still be growth, even when we feel so disoriented and unsettled.
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