The Magic of Process (& playing in someone else's sandbox for awhile)


Even when you reach that point when you like most of what you create, you’re still going to make things you don’t like. 

There’s little that can excite me more than a weekend spent outside creating art. As we spread our supplies across the long table under the awning, little dogs ran around, growling at each other as they played fetch. Every so often, one would drop a little pink ball at my feet, and I’d pause paging through Traci’s new book to throw it at one of the cinder-brick walls that helped fence in the yard. Becca played in her journal, an altered children’s book rich in texture I keep telling her she needs to gather together to teach, music pumping from her iPhone. 

(And I’m a little jealous, as I’d love to play in Instagram and Hipsmatic as she has the past few days.) 

I’m working on a large parent sheet of my favorite paper, Stonehenge printmaking, laying down stencils I’d packed in my bag at the last minute before heading out that morning. Our artmaking was delayed as I visited my friend Dawn in town as she finished her latest project — painting those unsightly utility boxes at the corners with her trademark bright color and amazing lettering. But now I’m in flip-flops at the end of Becca’s table with my favorite spray inks, letting them mix on the paper. 

And then I’m playing with the printing plate I made from craft foam saved from the closet in the colorful room named “the office,” rubber bands coming off as I brayer on paint. 

It isn’t working well, but it’s working

The afternoon passes much like this. Becca works in her journal and I play around making marks on the giant sheet of paper. I try several of the methods outlined in Traci’s book, getting lost in the thrill of making new marks, brayering down layers and layers of paint over ink. Writing with fabric paint on laminating sheets since we can’t find the transparencies. Gluing foam shapes to sheets to make little repetitive patterns. Drawing with puffy paint and glitter. I’m getting my hands dirty and laughing and enjoying every minute of it. 

And when we break to run off to Jo-Ann’s to return something (which they wouldn’t take back, to our infinite sadness) and grab a bite to eat, I look down at what I’ve created and cringe. 

There are bits I adore. Little squares of space that, on their own, are amazing and fun and lovely, but when added into the whole get lost. I don’t like it. The finished piece is anything but satisfying, and I only add a little bit before we head inside where artificial light replaces the setting sun. Even in the heat of the desert, we have early sunsets in the winter, still surreal after over a year here. The thought that I’ve been sitting outside in the beginning of February in jeans and a sleeveless blouse only reminds me of the timeless nature of my new home. 

I don’t work on the piece again. The magic of the Process is gone. I move on to other things. 

That’s how it goes sometimes. I’m reminded of the lesson I learned awhile ago: not every piece of art you create is going to be good. In fact, most will be bad. Bad, bad, bad. But there’s something redeemable in every thing you work on, every time you put pencil or brush to paper. This is what I want to remind you of, that the magic of Process is the real juice of this creative life we’re living, and without it, you’re just making things to finish. Where is the thrill of discovery in that? 

I think this fundamental relates to another piece I’m working on for you about doing art as your job, in that once you start making things to finish them, to show them off, to gain followers or sell things, you lose your edge and stop having fun. 

I cleaned my art space today and pulled out this piece. Looking at it, I realized why I didn’t like it as a whole. It isn’t the colors, or even some of the doodles. It’s that I was playing in Traci’s sandbox and it’s time to give it back to her. Oh, I won’t stop making marks or experimenting with the tools she’s given us in her new book. But I can’t possibly create something I love when I’m playing in someone else’s sandbox. It’s theirs. Their heart and love and inspiration goes into it all, and I can’t possibly replicate that. And I don’t want to


No. I’ll keep playing, adding in more and more of myself until the dough tastes delicious when I lick it off my fingers. Just a sprinkling of her and all those others in the world that inspire me, multicolored dots added to the batter created of myself. 

I take shots of those bits I like, print them off, and get back to work.