Clear Your Clutter and Recover Your Self

I am a recovered artist. By this I mean I was artistic in my teens, I then forgot I was an artist and convinced myself I was satisfying my creativity in other ways (my career, my family), and YEARS later, after 2 major life changes, I reconnected with my creativity and recovered my artist.

This all happened over the course of several months, starting in August 2016. So it was a surprise when, as I was clearing some old things out of the barn, I discovered that there was MORE of me to recover. Here’s what happened.

Our barn is big and it collects things. Thankfully, the first pass through was easy. All those items we just never bothered to donate or toss were no brainers to clear out. And even the old table that had belonged to a relative had bad mojo, so sending it out to be kindling was not hard.

We burned it.

An inspiration to clear out clutter

Once the fire was going I was hit with a sudden, giddy inspiration. I remembered my small wooden chest in the barn, filled with lord knew what from my past. I thought there would be journals...trapped words and emotions from days gone by...and the idea of releasing all that made me feel happy and playful and light.

I climbed the ladder to the second story of the barn (last known location of said wooden chest) with the anticipation of shedding the weight of words that needed release. On the second story, the momma and daddy barn swallows were mercifully absent as I carefully made my way through the turbulent sea of empty cardboard boxes under their nest. I spotted the chest in the far corner. The hinges had broken long ago so opening it was more of a push as the lid slid to the floor. Inside were stacks of large and small envelopes, photographs, journals, books, and sketch pads. It was almost too much to carry. I lifted it up into my arms in chunks and then carefully balanced it as I made my way back through the jumble of boxes and scooted safely past the swallow’s nest...happy not to be dive-bombed. There was no way to get down the ladder with this precarious stack of items so I dropped them unceremoniously to the barn floor where they landed with a loud thud and an impressive cloud of dust.

Back on the floor beside them, still giddy with anticipation, I swept the jumble of items into my arms and made my way out of the barn, down the one giant step from the side door to the granite slab below, and out to the fire. A safe distance from the blaze I again dropped the stack and plopped down beside it ready to see what I had unearthed from the past.

First, an envelope of papers I had collected on a trip to Israel with my grandparents and cousins from when I was 11. Next, Shirley MacLain’s book Dancing in the Light. I had gotten that back in the mid-80s after my life had seemed to culminate in a deep depression (at age 16) which led me to my first spiritual awakening. I had read Out on a Limb, along with many other books that helped me thought that painful and magical year in Columbia, Missouri.


A sketch is worth a thousand words

More than any words I wrote in journals, the sketches in the sketchbooks in that chest took me back, telling me stories of who I was and what I felt, bringing back memories of places, of smells, of a thousand words and more. There are pages of unfinished rough sketches, ideas. There are copies of art I loved, Madame X by John Singer Sargent, Cheval Bleu by Franz Marc, and several sketches of the work of Balthus.

One thing in the sketchbooks captivated me more than the others...a set of illustrations of a story that I never wrote, images I never completed. The story they tell makes me yearn to remember the details. But, like a dream, only these images remain.


Recovering My Self

I did find some things that needed to go. But I have to admit that far more items stayed with me than went into the fire. The treasures I found in that box, the sketchbooks filled with my early explorations of art at the age of 15 in New York City, a journal of notes and sketches from a trip to Ivory Coast after my freshman year of college, were far from the burden I thought I would find. Instead, I discovered gifts I had buried and forgotten about. And in unearthing these gems, I recovered parts of my self. There, hidden in that dark box for countless years, waiting for me to recover them...were these important parts of me: the artist me. Looking at these volumes of drawings, how did I ever doubt I was an artist? How did I ever forget? It makes me marvel that I could have abandoned creativity for so many years, locking my supplies away in a closet. I told people, when asked if I was creating anything, that no, my job as a graphic designer was all the creativity I needed. Being a mom was using all my creativity. Good foolish I was. How I had fooled myself.

But then again, perhaps not. Perhaps the loss of something makes it that much sweeter when we come back to it, rediscover it, rekindle it. Because I believe myself an artist now more passionately that ever before. I have discovered in art a path to knowing and recovering my deepest truths, to healing the broken bits, and to transforming into a person I never imagined I would or could be. Coming back to art now, as a path of healing and knowing my self, that is a revolution for which it was worth the wait.

Recovering your artist self

Maybe you have a similar story of art lost, of your artist self abandoned. Perhaps inspiration left you, or time, an illness, a job, motherhood, or a limiting belief stopped you. Whatever the cause of your break from art, I have an invitation for you. Reconnect with her now. Find an item from the past that has meaning to you, that causes a strong emotional response, and spend time with it by doing these 3 things over the next 3 days.

  1. Create a blind contour drawing of your object. Not sure how to do this, check out this article on Artists Network.
  2. Create a pencil sketch of your object
  3. Paint or draw your object in a medium of your choice. If you want to explore other ideas for sketching, this article has some great ones.

I look forward to hearing the story of how you became a recovered artist in the comments below.



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