I am a planner. I plan; it’s what I do. From the big to the small: I make lists that’ll guide the few spare hours I have in the afternoon; I am on-guard, remembering what to shop for to keep my family going and you’ll rarely find a time when I’m not working out how I’ll get myself towards the things I long for in my life.
I’d always considered it one of my strong points.
And being able to plan is really useful…
….unless I’m using it to try and control.
Which often I am.
And who’d blame me? A life left to the vaguaries of the wind seems scary. I just don’t know what’s going to happen next – a deep part of me is terrified of that, and by planning and steering my ship it seems like I can control what life hands me.
And I can to some extent. I can move forwards towards the things that are important to me. But lately, I’m realising too much planning and controlling comes at the detriment of other parts of my life.
And I’ve noticed, if I stop trying to plan and control so much, often not only do I feel looser, more rested and more joyful, but often something better than what was in my plans turns up.
Before my son was born, I ran an online coaching business. Yes, I wanted to be a Mum, but there was no-way I was giving up my business. I’d worked on building it for many years and it was my life. I had big plans for it.
So, whilst pregnant, I planned what was going to happen next with it. I was determined to get back to work (and write a book) a few months into my new son’s life.
But then everything turned upside down. Oh my gosh, there was this baby who needed….well, everything. Gabriel couldn’t breast-feed and I spent the first three months of his life pumping milk and getting less than an hour’s sleep a night. My health fell apart. We had a horrendous time with medical authorities after choosing to feed him raw milk. My stress was off the charts. And then I hurt my neck meaning that I couldn’t do the simplest task without pain, and couldn’t pick up my son. Life became very difficult.
And in recovering from this horrible mess, life showed me that the idea I had to control and ensure my future wasn’tt what I thought it was.
I couldn’t work. I didn’t want to work. I started to feel that there had been something not quite right in my business. I withdrew and stopped using Facebook (my tool of choice from pre-pregnancy days). And somewhere, in all of this, the idea of painting landed like a seed in my psyche and slowly and surely grew.
I never went back to my business. And it was OK, because life has shown me that it had other plans for me. It wanted me to be an artist. It knew it was in there, but that I, with my controlling – and the myriads of habits, conditiongs and fears that had led to that – just couldn’t let it come out.
I still have plans in and for my life. I want to go back to Italy – the country where I lived for 5 years before Gabriel was born. And in 2016, my husband and I came up with a long-term plan for how we could do it, and yet still have the other things we want in our lives. Before, I would have been clinging to this plan, not accepting anything else. Now it holds a different space in my life. Yes, I’m working towards it, yes it motivates and informs my actions…but I’m open to it not being the only way, and I’m open to there being something different, something that’ll actually serve me better in the long run.
Letting go of control like this isn’t easy for me. I’ve lived by it for 40 years. It’s a strong habit. And habits require practise to break. This is where my creativity come in:
My creative practice helps me see where I’m holding too rigidly to a plan and to let go of it. It helps me flex my ‘don’t control so tightly’ muscles which in turn makes me realise that it feels good to let go!
Like it did in the making of my most recent print, “Leaves”.
Its creation is a lesson in letting go of control.
It started as two different pieces. Both of them I had plans for. The first I had a dream about: “make a colour, dot-based landscape of autumn, rolling hillsides”, so I started. The second was an exploration in the natural pigment Mica and I had a plan to cut it up and somehow fashion into earrings.
But as time went on, neither of them really sat right with me in their respctive planned places. The initial enthusiasm I’d had which had guided me to start, along with choose and place the colours felt a little bit off.
And I didn’t like that. It was awkward, frustrating, unknown. I like to have things in their place, to know where I’m going.
I tried adding more layers to both the pieces, but I’d lost my spark with them. So they sat, for a while, on my art table, in a pile of ‘kind-of-in-progress-but-not-sure-where-they-are-going’ paintings.
And then, I got my leaf stamps out for another piece…and an idea crept into my head. I wanted to stamp leaves from these gorgeous dotty colours I’d made. So I took the leap, and did.
Now I had a new plan. I was going to cut them out and collage them onto a sweeping hillside that I’d yet to paint.
Gabriel helped me with this bit (cute picture alert!).
I started the sweeping landscape but couldn’t get it to look right. I was using a new brush and it dropped hairs on the paper. Trying to remove them saw the worked get scratched and I didn’t like how it looked.
So the leaves sat on my art desk, in the corner in a pile for several weeks.
And then, one day, still loving how the leaves looked, I started to play. I took out other unfinished pieces and laid the leaves against them. Soon, I liked what I saw. As I added more leaves, a really pretty piece appearred before me – so I started snapping with my camera.
I loved it, and yet, I didn’t think it was one of my pieces…I mean, it was just a photo of my work, not ‘real’ work. (Oh, how much I have still to learn!) I posted the picture on social media and got great responses and then showed it to my husband, Rob, that evening who immediately said, “save that somewhere, it’s lovely!!”
So I did, and I have had the result beautifully reproduced by my art printers here in Cornwall on luxurious, eco-friendly bamboo paper. “Leaves” – my lesson in letting go of control:
It’s up in my shop, if you fancy a bit of unplanned gorgeous colour on your wall!