Enjoy Your Process

“Art is beautiful but it is hard, like a religion without a purpose.”
Gunter Brus

Close up photograph of artist Kirsty Hall performing Pin Ritual 01
Kirsty Hall: Performing Pin Ritual, Dec 2003

People who aren’t working in a creative profession often think that what we do is easy, fun, glamorous or exciting. And it can be all of those things. But it’s also a time-consuming, brain-melting obsession that will eat your life.

It is not ‘five minutes, boom, you’re done, sit back and drink a martini’ - that is not how the creative process goes for even the most talented people. Techniques take time to learn and perfect. You make mistakes. Then you make bigger mistakes and have to start over. Even once you’ve learnt your craft, it’s twisty: you fret, you fiddle and things go wrong. You can pick away at a problem for months or years with no guarantee that you’ll ever crack it.

Sure, some people make it look easy but I’d bet my granny’s pension that they’re working hard when your back is turned. They’re dreaming their way into a role; they’re thinking about their sculpture on their lunch break; they’re drawing for hours every day.

So you need to enjoy the process of what you do. Because that’s what you’re going to be doing all day.

Photograph by Kirsty Hall of red thread and needle
Kirsty Hall: Red thread and needle, May 2008

If you plan to make hats for a living, you’d better love plittering around with felt and feathers. If you’re going to carve wood, you’d better not be allergic to sawdust. If you want to act, you’d better be able to put up with hanging out with other actors, learning lines and spending lots of time waiting around.

Now, obviously no one loves every single thing about their job but if you dislike most of your process, then you’re in the wrong creative field or are using the wrong medium.

I know this sounds stupid but I see a lot of young artists making this mistake. They’re naturally great at video but instead try to make sculptures because they feel they ‘should’. Or they have a talent for colour but feel guilty that it’s ‘too easy’, so they chose to work in monochrome even through they secretly long to pick up that tube of orange.

If you call yourself an artist but find yourself making excuses to write instead of making art, you might really be a writer. If you find oils endlessly frustrating but make watercolours for fun on your days off, you may be using the wrong kind of paint. If you hate having clay under your fingernails, making pots is not for you.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t challenge yourself by exploring new areas. Nor am I saying that everything needs to be easy – it won’t be. I’m saying that you absolutely must have a deep and abiding love for the actual processes of your craft. You need to be able to think, “Oh wow, sewing sequins on this apron is still kind of great, even through I’ve been doing it for a year & I’m kind of bored now”.

Photograph of cream sequins by Kirsty Hall
Kirsty Hall: Close up of sequins, Oct 2009

Because a lot of the time you will be frustrated, stuck or thoroughly fed up and in my experience, if you don’t have that core passion for your daily reality, then you will quit.

18 thoughts on “Enjoy Your Process

  1. Meltemi, Phil Kendall, PK

    I could not agree more...find, by trial and error what you are good at, what materials suit your style best and now just do it daily. Making each artwork a voyage of personal discovery and a learning process. Building a critical mass of quality artworks in readiness for that date somewhere in the future...

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  2. O how true is this, I was recently fretting myself about some work and how it wasn't hard, and a friend said, why should it be? And she was right, somedays it is difficult, but somedays it is just like paddling downstream...

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  3. felicity_ford

    Your photo of the needle and red thread and your observations on the importance of loving the process are just what I needed to see today. I especially enjoy the idea of cultivating a core passion for daily reality.
    Bring that on.

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  4. This is why I think things like Foundation courses are such a great idea - you get to try out lots of different processes and materials. It can really help you to discover which direction to go in.

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  5. Yes Barbara, I was aware when I was writing it that it applies to lots of other things. Of course, we sometimes don't have a choice and we all have to do some stuff we don't want to do but too many people get caught up in 'shoulds' or just settle for stuff.

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  6. CindyMorefield

    Amen, Kirsty. If you can do something for hours on end, until some part of you is hurting, and STILL love it, you're on to something. And the photos in this post are gorgeous!

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  7. Meltemi, Phil Kendall, PK

    Guess I'm lucky ever since trying the original acrylics back in the late '50's as a school-boy, in the UK, [a very progressive art-teacher] I have been hooked on them. I knew instantly they were for me. They are the only medium which is capable of delivering my art-vision. It's the 60 year gap between then and now where I only occasional painted. Now I paint daily in retirement. There is more inspiration than time perhaps now?

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  8. You are so right about the process of making art not being glamorous - right now I am obsessively boiling, pressing and moulding sliced vegetables and it is just too much like cooking dinner - but then every time I take a peek inside the mould to see how it's coming on I know why I'm doing it!

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  9. Thanks, I am a clay artist as well as a writer. I love the process so much, I often forget about the goal altogether. In fact, sometimes my writing seems like a reflection of my life, A jumbled colorful mixed media tapestry of adventures.
    I do offer this, to those of us who are process oriented. Make someone who is goal oriented your friend. I have one, at least. We make great music together, and our "dances are magical.

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  10. Hi Kirsty!

    Your post reminded me of one of the most sobering statements I've ever heard..."Life is 95% maintenance, so you'd better figure out a way to enjoy it." After I thought about it, I couldn't even think of anything that wasn't maintenance, even taking a vacation is called *recharging our batteries.*

    Am I missing something? Is there anything that we do that isn't maintenance?

    Back to my composting, knitting and cooking! :-)

    KP

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  11. Hi Kirsty!

    Your post reminded me of one of the most sobering statements I've ever heard..."Life is 95% maintenance, so you'd better figure out a way to enjoy it." After I thought about it, I couldn't even think of anything that wasn't maintenance, even taking a vacation is called *recharging our batteries.*

    Am I missing something? Is there anything that we do that isn't maintenance?

    Back to my composting, knitting and cooking! :-)

    KP

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