What my art taught me during this pandemic were  some vital lessons.  

Hands up who struggled to paint in the first lock down? Did you hear that whooshing noise? That was my hand shooting past my ear.

Once we reached the point of lockdown, I really struggled to get painting – or so I thought. I felt  I was lost in my studio. I tidied up, I worked in sketchbooks, I experimented with new materials. But all the time I felt as if I really wasn’t engaged with my creativity.

The voice in my head was repeating that dreadful ‘should’ word every day:

‘I should be able to do this.’

‘I should be creating more paintings.’

‘My paintings should be selling more.’

Does this mean I should give up painting? 

(Yes, even someone who has been painting for years can have doubts about their work).

I didn’t give up painting. Instead, I paused to reflect on what was really happening in my studio. I realised I was setting myself up for disappointment. I was trying to live up to expectations I had imposed on myself. And strangely, those expectations weren’t even mine. They were what I thought I should be doing; what I thought other people expected from me. 

What my art taught me that I already knew

My outlook on life has crystalised this year. These things have always been true, but they are now also things I embrace. 

  • I am an introvert who is happy spending time alone –  and that’s OK
  • I don’t really care about what I look like. Scruffy painting clothes are very comfortable.
  • I’m not concerned about what other people think of me. It doesn’t affect me unless I allow it to do so. 
  • Other people’s expectations are their business, not mine.
  • I am happy with a very simple life. 
  • I get a huge amount of satisfaction from the process of creation.

When I sat down and consciously processed all of this, I stopped being stressed about how much I was creating. We spend far too much time trying to live up to what we think other people expect of us. 

Once I stopped stressing about my studio output, I started creating new paintings. Four of those were good enough to be selected to the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists’ Selected Exhibition.  I wasn’t convinced they would get into the exhibition. In fact, for the first time, I submitted work for a selected exhibition without really being concerned about whether they got into the exhibition or not. I had really enjoyed the process of painting them, and they were all breakthrough paintings for me. New medium. New style.  And all because I stopped worrying about whether anyone else would like them.

The main reason I stuck with it through the hard days was that I love painting. Simple as that. I thrive on the experimental elements of painting. I love the colour, the discoveries and the ‘wow’ moments that come with painting.

What my art taught me during the pandemic was to be kind to myself and paint for the sheer joy of it.

(Image: Detail from Uncontained: Watercolour painting by Stephie Butler and Vandy Massey)