Every now and then an odd artistic idea drifts into my head and I have an overwhelming impulse to turn the idea into something real, beginning immediately even if it takes several weeks or months or even years to complete.
I think most creative people recognize this feeling, and I think most can also identify some of the emotions that trigger it.
For me, some of the most common creative emotional triggers are also some of the saddest or most negative: loneliness and sorrow, frustration and stress.
For example, one time after a particularly stressful and irritating week at work, I hand-painted a few hundred toothpicks and then arranged them in a pattern I then glued together and hung on my living room wall. When I was going through my divorce, I spent several months refurbishing an old farmhouse window pane by mounting decoupaged family photographs (including one of my ex-husband) in the panes; I did this to remind and redefine family for myself.
But it is not depressive thoughts or sadness that compels me to creative; rather, it is creativity that helps me work through those emotions. The work I’ve created in these states is meditative, highly personal, and ultimately very therapeutic.
The most recent example of this is something I’ve been working on in my head for quite a while but put into reality this weekend.
The idea is a series of 1×1 acrylic paintings on stretched canvas, each of them with some sort of 3-dimensional embellishment (a table and chairs in one; a mirror in another, etc.), mounted onto the ceiling in a grid in my library.
I made four of the paintings this weekend. My intention is to continue to add more to the ceiling as I paint them, eventually covering the whole room. I think that will take about 100 paintings, total.
As I said, I’ve been thinking about this sort of idea for awhile – toying off-and-on with the thought of building a miniature “set” of a room in my house and then mounting it from the ceiling in that room, so that when you’re sitting in that room and look up, you’re looking at an inverted tiny version of your environment. And I might still do that one day.
But then I thought I could go ahead and do something interesting to the ceiling, including with 3D elements, in a simpler format using paintings. My daughter and I went to Rome this summer, and my favorite part of the Vatican Museum was the Map Room, where the ceilings are inlaid with a series of encrusted paintings and priceless frames. It’s a different, more extravagant look than the austerity of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.
NOT that my paintings are anything remotely like the Vatican!
My paintings – at least the four I made this weekend – are abstract representations of my grandmother, who is in hospice care in Auburn, Ala. One is blue and green squares in a post-modern pattern that makes me think of a couple of rooms in her house on the lake, including one our family calls “the green room”, which is furnished with an avocado green bedroom suite from the 50s. This painting has a little coffee cup in it. In my mind, it is spiked with Tia Maria, which was our custom when my grandmother was well. The second painting has a table and two chairs and a painted woven rug like the one in her living room. The third has flowers and a gold mirror. She told me last weekend a story about looking at herself in the mirror and having a conversation with her mother, whom she resembles more and more every day. And the fourth is a tree of life with a clock mounted in it. I think the oldest antique in her house is a clock that belonged to her great grandparents and is one of the few items of value that remained after a long-ago family property dispute. Like many elderly people, she repeats this story, and all of her stories, like it’s the first time we’ve heard them. But that’s okay. One day we will miss it. I think we already do.
Working on this weird little project has been a way to be close to my grandmother and work through some emotions I have about the journey she is on. Art can most certainly be therapeutic, and even if you are not an artist (I’m a creative person, but certainly don’t consider myself an artist), spending some time creating with your hands can be intensely helpful. For me, it’s usually painting or crafting of some sort, though I know others get this same release from cooking, woodworking, sewing, etc. Whatever your preferred medium, I hope this post offers some value to folks who might be looking for productive ways to deal with complex emotions.