In February 2023, I allowed myself to be challenged. I stumbled across the instagram of visual artist Stefanie Stark, and her yearly February challenge to connect truly with your artistic self. The challenge in called ArtfullFebruary, if your dare to challenge yourself, it is extremely worth it. Check out my journey right here or you can view the original posts and pictures on Instagram @jhonuitup.
Day 1/ My Creativity:
I am 99.9% positive my creativity is as hereditary as my double-jointed fingers or my ability to make a clover with my tongue. The logical and scientific would probably argue nurture over nature, but whatever the case: My creativity is owed to the creativity of the women before me. Our creativity is the ability to tell stories, it doesn't matter the avenue (It can be teaching, painting, dancing, sculpting, writing, acting, singing, etc.), we just have to create. It's a basic need for us.
I know, I know, I sound absolutely bonkers, completely bananas, but I have watched women in my family give up creativity to "survive" the way "normal" people do and I've witnessed their deterioration in those times. Everytime my mother attempted to solely work a "day job" or when my grandmother "retired" it dehydrated their souls like a body going weeks without water. I have had that dehydration, which is why I allow my creativity to lead me. Though acting, writing, painting, podcasting and so many other avenues, my creativity is electrolyte fueled, and I owe it my life.
So, honestly its inconsequential, if it's hereditary or if it was the fact that creativity has surrounded my life from birth. The outcome is the same: My Creativity is a necessity.
Day 2/ Art Space:
You know how they say "home is where the heart is"? Well, the same thing goes for my art space.
I am someone who has spent a lot of my life, so far, moving, and even more of my life sharing spaces with sisters, roommates, partners, cats, etc. With that being said, I've learned whatever space I find myself in has the potential to be my art space.
As a child, most of my creativity exposed itself to me through words, so my art space consisted of journals and the giant 90s computer at the corner of our dining room, but with constant moving and technology shifts, journals and wherever my bed was, became my artistic, haven for a very long time.
I was 19 by the time I got into visual arts. Visual arts for me was a way for me to claim space (though I didn't realize it at the time), to take up space, in a way I'd avoided to that point. I was living in New York and someone was always... there. My "room" in that first apartment was also the living room and unless I was busy in a way that could be seen I didn't have space, especially not art space. I took over the room with my art supplies, and the kitchenware I used as the canvas. As I gained space in other apartments with other roommates and partners, my work also grew. My canvases went from salt and pepper shakers to ceiling tiles and wooden wall panels. It took about a decade, but I also re-entered digital spaces with my writing. Constantly adapting to spaces and people did the opposite for my art.
Over the years I've adopted many an artistic avenue, I've taken over living rooms and made recording studios inside of closets, and it's just occurring to me as I write this prompt: just as home is where the heart is, my art space is wherever I art in.
Day 3/The Process:
This one's a bit difficult. I had to take a step back and ask myself, "do I have a process?"
I must. right?
Does it differ depending on what I'm creating?
Of course. However, the before moment is almost always the same, whether I'm writing, painting, podcasting, or studying a script. I have to clean compulsively first. Creating in an unrelated mess is impossible for me. I clean my entire apartment even the areas I'm not working in. I think it's so my mind can't wonder to chores if inspiration escapes.
Another aspect my creative process as a whole shares is outlines/notes. Though the product often turns out very different than those notes they keep me focused.
So in simple, my process is: clean, take notes, light candles, set my phone to "do not disturb", and BOOM...I make a mess lol 😜
Day 4/ Showing up:
If there were a 6th love language showing up would be it. The deeper I dive into my artist/creative journey; the deeper I dive into my journey of self love. Just as I would ask any romantic partner or friend to love me in my love language I've realized I have to love myself in that language as well. So, being as showing up is my newly discovered love language I've had to do just that.
I use to take showing up as literally just existing in a space or place. I would "show up" to work or "show up" to functions; I believed being somewhere was enough. Showing up in only the literal sense left many a half assed or incomplete creative project. When I began podcasting and producing weekly episodes is when I truly starting showing up. I realized that thing i was doing before would crush my entire soul if done to me by a romantic partner or even a friend. Why would I expect something from someone that I was willing to give myself?
Now, my creative thoughts are constantly being activated in a way they weren't before, and with this new found energy I am able to show up and be present.
Day 5/ Inspiration:
About a week ago, I learned not everyone has an internal monologue chatting its way through their thoughts; some people solely visualize their thoughts and others live with dark silence. I am neither of those individuals. I see and hear every thought, and because of this my sense for creating "what I know" is vast. I am inspired by life but more by the bloopers, special effects, and deleted scenes that live in my head. I play with the "what if this was said/ done instead?", "what if this 'blank' was personified?", "What does this feeling look like?". In all honesty, this world definitely stimulates my creative ideas, however, sometimes I'm too inspired! At times, my zealous imagination leads to overwhelm which complicates starting/finishing projects, but more on motivation later. I believe that's a conversation for a different day.😉
Day 6/ Progress:
When it comes to my creative progression, I battle the Curse of Knowledge.
"The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with other individuals, assumes that the other individuals have the background knowledge to understand."
Well, I battle a version of this bias. Imposter Syndrome gave me a "Curse of Progress", where I often feel as if I'm standing still or not moving quickly enough in my creative endeavors. My mind forgets the hurdles I've overcome and tries to convince me, "you're not there yet". I forget that almost a decade ago I'd basically given up on pursuing a creative career, and 2/3 years ago I was extremely green in many of the creative arenas I'm now proficient. Less than a year ago, any money I made on a creative venture basically only paid to do that creative venture...whatever it was. Now any money I make on creative ventures not only pays for the ability to do it but it pays bills, and rent, aand allows for Hero not to be the only one fed in my house. Ha, that's progress.
No, I have not met all my goals yet, but progress IS the journey. I guess the only way to fight this "Curse of Progress" is to acknowledge the time before the ripening and remember to give myself grace. It may take some time...I'm still progressing you know. 😏💛
Day 7/ Then\Now:
I have had many a "Then" to many a "Now", especially as a creative, however, I'm not quite sure which "Then" parallels best to this particular "Now" ...Maybe it's not even a parallel I'm in search of... Maybe it's an intersection... Maybe it's something else entirely.Right now I'm an actress for an interactive gaming experience here in the Houston area (it's in Sugarland but I know non-TX readers probably don't care about that detail atm). My boss is a full-time dad who brings his daughter... let's call her Tater Tot, to work some weekends. Tater Tot is somewhere between 8 and 10, and lately, every time I see her I wonder, "Does she know how beautifully rare this childhood is?"
When I was her age, my mom was, an actress, about my age now, and I, like Tater Tot, spent a lot of time backstage in theaters and theater adjacent spaces.
I remember the cast of her shows letting me do my makeup beside them, and the costume designers making mini versions of my mom’s costumes for my Barbies and feeling safe and happy. I wonder if that's how Tater Tot feels when she lets us dress her as a pixie or when she decides to join the show.
"Then" and "Now" my life outside of the arts and creative spaces has been... complicated, and, as an adult, I know this time for my mom was harder than she made it look, but seeing Tater Tot, I'm reminded that, where there is art there is a beautifully rare community many aren't able to experience.
Day 8/ Mindset:
Mindset, like process, is very difficult. Just as I wasn't sure if I had a process for creating or setting up to create, I'm not 100% sure that I always put myself in any particular mindset. Honestly, being neurodivergent my mind's default is: Create!
Each creative venture takes something different and if I tried to get the same mindset every time I don't know if I would be able to get the work where it's supposed to go. I generally let my creativity speak through me, not the other way around.
Often after clearing the space and place to create, and going through the previously mentioned "process", allow me to feel whatever I feel, breathe, and create from whatever energy that brings.
With writing and podcasting, I know, I can always edit away the truths I didn't mean to tell, and with visual and performing arts I find the real within the make-believe. As long as the mind's set on creating something will be created...right? 😅💛
Day 10/ Selfie Share:
I grew up in a time well before social media, and with all the moving around I've done, I don't have very many photos from my childhood, but I have been taking selfies since well before the front-facing camera existed. At family functions, I would hijack the camera and commemorate everything. Proof I was a part of it. Once I got a camera phone sometine right before high school (or during high school), I no longer found it necessary to be in all of the pictures but I still documented EVERYTHING.
When I started performing again in 2018 I started back the habit of documenting everything, especially if it was something I was working on or got to be a part of. It's great in times of self-doubt or insecurity to see how far I've come as a creator/ artist, and to prove to myself I've there.
Day 11/ Risk:
I got my 1st ''day job'' at 15 and became a supervisor at that job by 17. The majority of my working life has been like that. I've known I wanted to be an actress since I was 6, and yet I was growing in things that were not leading me towards doing that professionally. Though I started performing again in 2018, it wasn't until mid-2020, after 4 months of quarantine, when I was asked to go back to my "day job" for half the pay, that's when I officially decided, "the 'day job' must be expendable".
I had to learn to pursue my creative career the way I pursued promotions. Now, if taking a creative opportunity puts me at risk of losing my "day job", I take the risk.
This risky business mindset came with many a struggle, both mentally and financially, but recently I've been getting "promotion" after "promotion" as an artist/creative and I realized, this creative life is not for the overly cautious. Take risks and be patient and your creative spirit will be rewarded in unexpected ways.
Day 12/ Nourishment:
My creativity is nourished by creating and other creatives. I'm an extreme introvert and often get physically, mentally, and emotionally drained if I don't have time away from people to recharge, but a one-on-one chat with a fellow creative, or working with creatives on a new project, is fuel. It's like drinking espresso without getting the jitters. I love podcasting and performing for this reason. A good creative convo or a good scene partner places me somewhere outside of place and time and allows me the opportunity to make new discoveries.
Days 13 & 14/ Connection & Experimentation:
Aaaahhh! I got lost for words and am now a couple of days behind. Connection was difficult to write about. I wanted each day to feel different but my Day 12 (nourishment) was all about connecting to creatives, so Connection prompt complete, right?
No, of course not. I pondered throughout the weekend, but it was yesterday's prompt, Experimentation, that set off the light bulb. Connection and Experimentation often go hand and hand. Just as I experiment with sponges and spray paints, we creatives are constantly experimenting to connect with our audiences, listeners, patrons, and supporters. We experiment with vulnerability. We put our hearts into the world and pray it connects to someone else's. This wonderful challenge is a beautiful experiment that connects artists' journeys, as well as, the artist to themselves. I am so grateful Stefanie's challenge slid across my page.
Day 15/ Unusual tool:
At 1st I could not think of what unusual tool I use in my work, and then I realized: I rarely use a canvases! I love painting on found objects.
When I 1st started painting it was because my job at the time was giving away a billion empty salt and pepper shakers and I was like "hmm, I should paint on these." I grew a soft spot for painting, adding images and textures to trinkets someone thought to be trash. Over time my "canvas" grew exponentially. I now find that stray ceiling tiles, dry wood, shelves and mirrors (my favorites). I don't get to paint often but dig my usual tools when I do.
Day 16/ Out of Studio:
When I'm outside of the studio or in a rut, I like to go on me dates, and friend dates, sometimes even date dates but basically I dig living up my senses. I love trying new foods and drinks, seeing plays and going to galleries, jamming out at karaoke. I enjoy...enjoying things. Lol I guess I like that part in and out of the studio buuuut yeah. Lol I feel as if I'm loosing words the farther we go into the month 😅
My art style is mostly some mash-up of abstract, fantasy, nature images. I like to avoid straight lines and nothing ever exactly matches up. I think it's also the easiest way to describe how images look in my mind lol. I like playing with layers, shades, and textures, but my style is pretty style free when it comes to visual arts for sure.
A cacophony of quotes invades my mind when I'm in need of a confidence boost, but there's one that echoes louder than the rest. I've been performing for most of my life at this point and many assume that makes a person "naturally confident". It doesn't. I still have a many panic attack before every audition, performance, episode posting, blog post (...😶🌫️lol), etc., and my brain finds the "Do it scared" quote and attaches it to the loud singing of my mother's voice saying "STRONG, AND WRONG! COME ON, STRONG AND WRONG!" My mom coached acting like an athletic coach, with motivational quote-spasms, "Come on, strong and wrong!", "It's only wrong if you don't commit!"
The first time she yelled this at me she was helping me with my Conservatory auditions, and I was making zero character choices, because I didn't want to make the "wrong" choice. She, like many teachers and directors since, pointed out that any choice is better than none. This is what gets me through doubt and uncertainty, I present my choices whole heartedly, and make them "right" later, if need be.
Honestly, I'm still not sure if confidence is something I have, but I have gained a willingness to risk "right-ness" for the sake of creativity.
I wholeheartedly believe that rest is one of the most important parts of the creative process, actually, the most important part of any process, however, it is what I struggle with the most. I spent most of my adolescent years working like crazy and healthy as a clam, but over the last few years my body hits points of forced rest. I highly don't recommend waiting for your body to tell you when to rest. I've been subject to a stomach virus, many high fevers, and even paralyzed by a foreign form of anxiety, just because I needed to do everything at once. I ignored my body's warning signs and worked without sleep on "day jobs", creative jobs, and "side jobs" and and and... my body just started saying, "NOPE". It was a major reality check, so now I definitely listen before the forced stop. I'm specific about what I can and can't juggle at any given time and prioritize accordingly. Rest is something I beg everyone to do, though I'm still learning to do it myself. The key is excepting that sometimes the most productive thing you can do it rest.💙
This creative challenge has been so wonderfully reflective and insightful. I started the visualization aspect of my creative journey in 2020 and these prompts have definitely helped to refocus me in areas I felt I was slipping from the mission.
A few years ago I came up with an acronym that summed up my dream, as well as a kinda universal creative dream:
Revel in your Passion
Aspire to Inspire
Navigate creative Thought
Trust your Voice
The dream for me is to have a life encompassed by art and creativity and assuring creatives keep creating. I aim to show people that their creative goals are valid and that they are far from alone.