My 2020 Project: Let’s Go Deep

Jan 15, 2020

This year I am taking a year-long course and mentoring program offered by Annamieka Hopps Davidson called Let’s Go Deep. The program is aimed at helping artists to create a cohesive body of work, something I have wanted to do for quite some time now.

I met with Annamieka a few weeks ago to talk about choosing my project. We had such a profound and emotional conversation. Rarely in my life have I ever felt so seen, heard, and understood as I was by this incredible woman.

The project that I’ve chosen is inspired by the quote from St. Isaac the Syrian:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her, that they be protected and receive mercy.

When I imagine the art I want to create, what I imagine is that each painting, every brushstroke, is a prayer for the “irrational beasts.” I have a heart for the creatures and if my work were to change the world, it would be to move others to tenderness for animals and the environment.

My original idea (which first came up for me nearly a year ago) was to create a series of illustrations and a written prayer text that would become a hand-bound artist’s book. Now that I’ve had time to process my conversation with Annamieka, I’m allowing myself to leave the form and subjects of the work open for now—it could be paintings, illustrations, or both. To begin, I’m brainstorming all the ideas I have for both the prayer text and the imagery. However, because this is such an emotionally charged project, I have found myself feeling very intimidated.

A recent Creative Peptalk podcast episode by Andy J. Pizza helped me put my anticipated emotional reactions into a different light. He asked: What are your automatic behaviors, the things that you can’t help but do? What are the things that you normally try to repress or stop yourself from doing? Andy says that these are my engines! This is my wiring that I’ve been caused to feel bad about but is actually my most valuable asset.

Because Andy has ADHD, he gets bored easily. He turned this tendency to boredom into a source of energy. It goes like this:

  • Get bored, start looking for a diversion.
  • Become curious and learn more and more.
  • Produce enough work to break into a new market (like illustrating children’s books).
  • Amass enough expertise to start teaching other people how to break into that market and then….he gets bored again.

Boredom is Andy’s “driver;” it’s the energy that pushes him forward over and over it to generate success for himself. He used to be ashamed of this trait and tried to repress it. Now he sees is as a valuable energy source.

For me, these kinds of traits include:

  • Acquiring knowledge like a sponge, without studying.
  • Thinking in visual imagery often so vividly that my emotions become triggered.
  • Feeling emotion with great intensity.

Next, I thought through what Andy’s process might look like for my Let’s Go Deep project:

  • Acquire knowledge about animals and the environment
  • Explore and capture the visual imagery that my knowledge brings up
  • Stay with the emotional response I get from the visual imagery, be tender with myself while I’m experiencing this kind of pain and turn it into prayer
  • Create art that communicates the learning, emotions, and prayer

As part of my process, I’m putting together some items to support myself through the emotional territory I’ll be traversing. When I was in therapy last year, my therapist suggested that I identify items/actions that I could use to sooth myself when I get triggered. One of the most powerful helps for me is scents like mint, clove, or sage so I’ve added clove oil to my toolkit. I’m also starting a practice of Tonglen meditation to support my journey.

While I still feel somewhat intimidated, I also feel excited because I know that in the past, my emotional responses were an obstacle to my creative process and now they are one of my most valuable assets!

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