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Just Show Up

Yves-Olivier Mandereau
Teaching Assistant, Ceramic Artist

As an artist, it is all too easy to sit around and wait for some elusive and imaginary muse to tap you on the shoulder. If we fall into that expectation, we will never get anything done. But as Woody Allen said, “80% of life is just showing up.” That is especially difficult for us as artists, because for the most part, our studio practice is up to us. Unlike working at a cafe or an office where you have to essentially punch your time card upon arrival, studio habits have to be diligently formed to induce the creative process. Creating art is less about motivation to create something beautiful, but more about forming habits of making.

During my sophomore year at school, I got frustrated when my pottery wasn’t yielding the results I wanted. I would sit at the wheel and throw for a bit, but would quickly dislike what was in front of me. In my frustration I would go for a walk, or grab a coffee, and wait ‘till I felt inspired.’ Maybe I was waiting for the right form or shape, who knows. This went on for about a month. When I realized that I wasn’t experimenting with the material enough, I committed to 5 hours a day on the wheel. This was essentially a way to experiment all the tricks and techniques I had been compiling from online videos, and books.

What I realized was that as I was futzing around, I would get bits of inspiration and would ‘run with it.’ In the span of the week I had managed to experiment with the material, and I had enough work to fill a kiln—and I liked what I had made. None of that inspiration would have come to me had I waited on my couch for it to come. Had I not experimented to see what cooking oil would do on the wheel; or what happened when I poured lighter fluid inside a piece and lit it on fire; I would not have gotten the expansive results I had. Within all the experiments I picked my favorites, I wrote down my process for each, and crossed off experiments I had on my to-do list.

Just show up to your studio and put in the hours. At some point in between all the ugly paintings and scribbles that you’ll never show anyone, you’ll get some beautiful work.

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7 responses on "Just Show Up"

  1. Granting permission to yourself to make bad art is so hard, but so worth it. It helps you stumble upon something you would not have done with all your guards up. Love this article, Yves, you touch upon habits and that is essentially what we had to craft during school. Learning habits is the key to building a consistent practice. In addition to showing up, I like the idea of forcing yourself to be present during the time you go to studio, to give yourself that permission to just make but to also allow yourself to pay attention to how you are feeling and working, and to really let your hands do the making and if you become stuck try not to think about what you are doing, but to just respond. Responding to each movement and mark you make and let it take you to unexpected places! that is where so much excitement can happen! Thanks for this excellent reminder, Yves!

  2. I feel like I need to bookmark this post, Yves. It’s really helpful. After painting like a maniac for several months, I’ve hit a serious dry spell this week! I just don’t want to go to studio and feel pretty depressed about it. It makes me remember some advice from a couple of my professors, though: 1. “Treat going to studio as a matter of hygiene like brushing your teeth.” and 2. “Nobody cares how you felt when you painted on so-and-so day.” Like anything else that matters like getting fit or being in a relationship or being a parent, it’s not rainbows all the time, there’s really a lot of hard work and problem solving involved in maintaining those studio habits!

  3. I find that having a system-based approach like this works the best. It’s easy as an artist to become overly goal-oriented; but I think it’s crucial to let yourself off the hook a little bit… Don’t tell yourself that you have to make a GREAT drawing every day, just that you have to make A drawing. Give yourself permission to make bad art! More often than not, churning out something that doesn’t work will only give you clarity on how to make something that DOES work.

  4. Reading this made me excited to get to work! 🙂

    I absolutely believe that inspiration comes from the process of “just doing”. Messing around and making mistakes is always better than staring at a wall. Somewhere along the way you’ll have an “oh wow, I actually really love this” moment, and all the frustration will be worth it.

  5. Same here! I always have to make myself do at least a page of warm-up sketches before I’m “in the zone” and ready to work. If I try to be over-dramatic and arty I put on a turtleneck and try to just begin…and it always ends horribly. It’s work, and the more we remind ourselves that then the better we become!
    Disclaimer, sometimes turtlenecks are just comfortable and that’s ok too.

    • I hate turtlenecks! I always feel like I’m choking…. although I guess I do fit the stereotype of wearing black all the time! It’s not to look cool, it’s because if I wear light colors they are doomed to be ruined!

  6. There’s a common misconception that being an artist is a very romantic profession where you are struck by lightning and inspiration and creativity just comes pouring out of you. Sometimes that does happen, but very rarely. It may sound very unromantic, but so much of being a visual artist can be a tough slog that you have to get through. I agree though that simply showing up is seriously half the battle. Once I’m physically in the studio, with my bare hands on my materials I’m frequently surprised that things end up happening, no matter how uninspired I feel!

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