The Messy Middle Is an Essential Part of the Art Journey – EP 271

Are you in the messy middle? That part of creating where it starts to get a little uncomfortable or uncertain. Or maybe, that’s how you feel about your art practice as a whole. In any case, you have some decisions to make. On this episode, I’m going to give you insight on how to navigate the messy middle of both individual paintings and plateauing art practices while teaching you how to get to know your inner voice.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:13] Welcome to the messy middle
  • [1:55] Navigating the messy middle of individual paintings
  • [10:58] Overcoming plateaus in your painting practice
  • [23:36] Getting to know our inner voice

No turning back

Inspiration is the feeling artists have when we start a new painting. When we actually start making marks on the canvas, we are filled with some flavor of excitement, possibility, and optimism. It’s a feeling of openness. Anything and everything is possible with this painting! And as you paint, you make decisions about the painting. Every brushstroke, every mark, is a decision. Then at some point, we all come to a place where we have to make a course correction and we think, “I’m not sure what to do next.” or worse, “ I’m lost.” Maybe the inspiration and the optimism have faded a little. Maybe it has worn off entirely. Instead of a blank canvas, where anything is possible, you now have a canvas filled with choices that you made about color, line, shapes, and marks. You’ve made decisions and now you have to respond to those decisions. Help!

Not all who wander are lost

There is a very strong temptation at this point to judge those decisions as either good or bad. There is a very strong temptation to second guess and overthink what to do next. There is even a strong temptation to think, “I don’t know.” THIS is the messy middle. This is part of the journey. Expect it. Embrace it. We resist it because we think it shouldn’t be happening. But it happens. It happens because it is SUPPOSED to happen.

Sometimes the messy middle is super short. Sometimes it lasts a little longer. How long you stay there depends entirely on what you make it mean. I imagine it as a journey, and if you stick with the sailing metaphor, you set off in your boat for a destination. You’ve left the safe harbor. You’ve sailed out into the open sea and there is no land in sight. Are you lost? Or are you exactly where you are supposed to be?

Paint if you believe

Finding yourself in the messy middle with a particular painting means This is where your faith needs to be stronger than your doubt. If you have faith that you are on course, you will reach your destination. If you let doubt creep in. If you suddenly think I have no idea where to go next…that open sea becomes a scary place to be. And when you get scared, you lose your ability to think clearly and to make good decisions. When you create calmness and safety for yourself, you open yourself back up to your full capacity to think clearly, slow it down, and make your next best move.

You don’t have to know everything all at once. You just need to know what your next best move is and then take it. Then you take another one. And another one. With every single decision, you are giving yourself more information. More clues about what needs your attention next. Is it line? Color? Shape? Or something else? Where do you need to course-correct? What passage are you curious about? WHAT IF there was no possibility that you could screw it up? What if you knew that no matter what happens, you have the capacity to figure it out and get there? The beauty in creating is figuring it out. Painting the painting is where the joy is. The messy middle is part of that journey. I invite you to embrace it. Because on the other side, there is greater meaning and understanding for your work.

Resources Mentioned on this episode

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