The Total Artist #0: The Most Important Thing You Will Do
How to make a reflective space that you will love
In a couple of days, we will be officially kicking off our journey with The Total Artist.
All you need to be part of this experiment do is show up with yourself - however you can, in a way that works with your life.
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There is no wrong way to do this.
There is however, one thing you can do that will be the single most important factor in how much you get out of this year-long journey…
Making a reflective space for yourself.
Welcome to your cocoon!
Our lives exist in a perpetual pursuit of transformation (of one kind or another).
Throughout The Total Artist, you will be encouraged to explore, experiment, and interact with the world in new ways.
We only get the full benefits of reaching outwards if we also look inward.
Just as caterpillars crawl into the safe refuge of their cocoon, you also need a retreat.
(Throughout this programme, we will be referring to this interchangeably as your reflective space, journal, creative diary, and most of all, your cocoon.)
This is the place to process your discoveries, to be vulnerable, and to witness the ways you change your life - and that life changes you.
Designing your reflective space
This reflective space can take many different forms:
A hand-bound journal
A folder on your phone for voicenotes
A secret instagram that only you can see
An email thread to yourself (just keep on hitting ‘reply’!)
A private blog
A video diary
A WhatsApp group that only has you in it
An album where you paste in notes you have taken on whatever is at hand
There are endless formats that will work brilliantly.
The goal is simply to set up a space where you can have a conversation with yourself.
Any artist can tell you that our reflective space is often the source of our greatest discoveries. This is essentially the place you are giving your imagination and soul a workout.
Like going to the gym, the payoffs don’t only come at the moment you are doing the exercise - they ripple through your whole life.
You might be surprised by the way huge breakthroughs can be born out of tiny moments.
Creating a dialogue between art and life
The point of this space is to create connections between your art and life.
It’s quite a personal choice to decide for form of cocoon you want to create. The biggest challenge is to make sure you actually use this tool and take time to reflect!
There are two key strategies to set yourself up for success:
Make it enjoyable
Make it easy
It’s a matter of judgment, and also trial and error, to figure out how to balance these things.
You might have an incredibly busy life - working, raising a family, even managing health issues, on top of whatever your creative practice is.
It might be that the best cocoon for you would be a folder in the Notes App on your phone. You always have your phone in your hand, and your priority is to choose something that you can dip into effortlessly. This way, when an idea occurs to you while doing the dishes, or just before falling asleep, or while you are on a train, you can easily capture it.
For some folks, this approach would be a lot more beneficial than a beautifully illustrated journal that they can never make time to engage with.
But the opposite may also be true.
It may be that you find that the pleasure of sitting down with a beautiful notebook and a set of coloured pencils is hugely motivating. The feeling of the pencil on the paper, or beauty of the colours helps you slip into a state of flow. This enjoyment is the thing that makes sure that you carve out 10 minutes (or more!) to sit with your own thoughts about art and life.
Bottom line: Anything can work as long as you use it.
I’m worried I don’t have the time!
That’s okay - think small!
There is no need to find huge amounts of time, or try to make your journal an exquisitely crafted piece of art. Remember, your only goal is to have a conversation with yourself.
Nothing is too little to be of value within the reflective process. Even just taking a moment to write down a single sentence about how you are feeling is a way of being in touch with your creative self.
As with most habits, little and often tends to offer greater rewards. If time is a big concern for you, but you still want to create a cocoon, it might be useful to bundle this into something you do already.
Do you brush your teeth every night? What if you put a notepad next to the toothbrush? Then after you finish, take one extra minute to take a deep breath and write down one thought from the day?
Will something so small really help? Absolutely. Imagine the story of your own life and growth that pad can eventually tell over the course of a month… or a year. It all adds up.
Consistency in the realm of creativity is not about being relentless. It’s about how many times you choose to come back to your practice.
No, seriously, I really do not have the time!
Okay, okay! I hear you.
And I know what you mean. I have been there too. (Hugs.)
There are seasons of our lives where this does not work for whatever reason - whether these are internal or external.
Or maybe you just don’t feel like it right now.
Just showing up however you can is enough.
Remember that is possible to make a cocoon within your mind, rather than treating it as a physical object. It can exist within the space of a single breath. Breathe. Think. Feel. Hold a moment of space for your spirit.
If even that feels like too much, it is possible to embed a kind of reflection into the life we are already living - simply by looking at the world with fresh eyes.
Be kind to yourself, and celebrate whatever bits of art and magic you manage to add to your life.
It all counts!
Forget perfection - it’s all about the journey
Throughout The Total Artist, we’re going to be trying out a lot of different things…
Which means we want to take a fun and playful approach…
Which means we want to feel welcome to step outside of our comfort zones…
Which is something we may very well need to remind ourselves about!
Your reflective space is your absolute best tool to liberate yourself from feeling self-conscious.
Because it reminds us that this adventure is less about what we make than how we make it.
Prioritising your cocoon keeps the focus on the reflective process: the place where we learn, where we question, where we make connections, and where we surprise ourselves.
Even bad art can lead to amazing self-reflection.
And this may very well be planting the seeds of a future breakthrough…
What happens in the cocoon?
You might have noticed that all the formats outlined above are private. This is intentional. Your reflective journal should be place to explore your own inner landscape in a way that is completely protected and uncensored.
Only you will ever know the full truth about what happens in your reflective space.
So what do you do while you’re there?
This is something we will continue to explore. but in the meantime here is a good rule of thumb:
If you don’t know what to do, just do something.
A lot of people swear by ‘morning pages’ as popularised in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. You may also have encountered this style of journalling as ‘automatic writing’. Essentially, you show up, keep the pen moving, and just write (or talk, or draw, or…) to see what comes out.
Automatic writing is a great approach. But it’s not the only one. (If I’m honest, it always felt restrictive for me - I am at my best when I have space to be a bit more spontaneous.)
Essentially, reflection just boils down to this:
Notice what feels important to you
This can make the process sound linear - but it’s often not. Writing about one thing may spark new tangential ideas. You may find that have questions for yourself that you need to return to later.
Dare to give free reign to your feelings, desires, joys and curiosities. You may need to grieve, or rant, or simply sit in silence for a while and record the one word that comes to mind.
If you show up, and keep showing up, you will come to know yourself better.
And exciting sorts of change will start to happen.
Now: create the frame
There is power in holding space for your own artistic practice and discoveries. This is a way of committing to and valuing yourself.
Follow your gut. You can always pivot if you discover that you need something different.
Also, don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a bit of experimentation to work out what feels right for you. If you try something, and it doesn’t work, that’s okay!
You can always try something different if you want to.
In the meantime…
Choose your space and dedicate it to this adventure.
You are ready for what is to come!
More in the comments…
If you are happy to comment to share what you have chosen as the container for this journey, I would love to hear it! This may also inspire your fellow travellers.
In the comments, I’ll also share more about a few of the reflective spaces that have worked well for me over the years.
I look forward to seeing you on Thursday.