Updated: Feb 7
Last December I wrote about the importance of starting an art practice. I talked about my own practice at the time, in which I would wake up every morning at 6am and paint before starting my day job. Of course, shortly after writing that blog, my practice began to fall apart. I got sick, the holidays came around, work was busy, and it just seemed like one thing after another happened to completely throw off my perfectly-planned practice.
I felt discouraged and depressed. Without my practice, I was hardly painting at all. I tried painting at night after work but didn't have much success. I would spend the whole day frustrated that I was away from my easel, and worrying whether or not I would be able to paint after work. And often, by the end of the day, I usually felt too tired to paint.
I realized that I was happiest when I made time for painting in the morning, even if it meant waking up early. When I did my morning practice, I was able to devote time each day to making art. I was also happier the entire rest of the day, buoyed by the joy of creating and the knowledge that I was cultivating my creative practice.
I knew that waking up early was the solution, but I was discouraged by my failure in December. But then I remembered something that I often heard in guided meditations. When focusing on the breath, if you get distracted, the instructions say, you should not criticize yourself or worry, but instead you should just "begin again." I like the gentleness of this idea, how we can simply let go and restart. Framed in this way, I didn't have to let my failure to maintain my artistic practice discourage me. I could simply begin again.
With this new mindset, I restarted my morning sessions. However, I approached the process with more humility this time. I realized that I probably won't get it right the first time, and may have to begin again many times, just like in meditation.
I also reexamined why I had failed the first time and what I could learn from that experience. I realized I would often wake up to the alarm and say to myself "I'm so tired, I can't do a beautiful painting anyway, so I may as well go back to sleep." I would then sleep in and skip my session, convinced that it wasn't worthwhile if I wasn't going to make a great painting. When I thought about this later, I realized that this was perfectionism holding me back. My goal wasn't to make a great painting every morning - that was impossible and would guarantee failure. My goal instead was to simply connect with my creativity each day.
So this time, I set an intention to wake up at 6am, but I didn't tell myself I had to make a beautiful painting. Instead, I allowed myself to make whatever I wanted, whether it was a finished painting, a quick sketch, or an abstract collage. I removed the pressure to perform and gave myself the permission to play. That way, even when I woke up feeling exhausted, I could still get up and do some small sketches or studies, and it would be worth it. Plus, the consistency would help solidify the habit and make it easier for me to wake up in the future.
So I decided to begin again, with more humility and gentleness towards myself. I've now been doing my practice for over two weeks, and waking up earlier has been gradually getting easier each day. I cherish this time that I get to spend with my creativity, and feel energized and joyful the rest of the day because of it. I know that over time I'll likely fall out of the habit. I'll need to be flexible, to adjust for life's circumstances. But I also know that no matter what, I can always begin again.