Art & Life: Finding the New “Normal”
A lot has happened since March as I’m sure your lives have changed as well. It’s been about two months and I’m still figuring out what the new “normal” looks like. Around mid-March I was redeployed in my day job to do contact tracing related to COVID-19. I usually keep my work life in healthcare separate from my art practice but this was the time where these two worlds collided. In the beginning, I didn’t have the energy to make any art. Even when I was tired from work, I could push myself to go to the studio but there was no way I could do it this time.
I was so immersed in information related to the pandemic and I couldn’t escape it when I came home. My friends and family were talking about it. Not only was I doing this work, but I was trying to do my previous work projects on the side. All my projects had shifted to address the emergency food response to COVID-19. I haven’t shared many details about my day job until now because many people have misconceptions about what I do. Often it becomes the definition who I am as a person. I work as a registered dietitian in the community and I aim to facilitate not only food access and food literacy but also to support a positive relationship to food. Food is very personal which is why I say this. This work is often invisible and yet it has shifted more into the forefront because food access for vulnerable populations has been greatly impacted. It has been a challenge to straddle these two roles. This day job is one hat that I wear and I take it seriously. But it doesn’t stop there. Making art is one the few things that I can do without having any restrictions over me. Needless to say I had a lot on my mind. People everywhere were and are still feeling the whole spectrum of emotions. I wanted to do more to support other artists but I had to recharge myself much more than ever before just so I could keep going.
As things settled down a bit in my work life, I decided to simplify my art process as much as I could to minimize the number of decisions I had to make. Before all this happened, I wanted the freedom to express how I was feeling through painting. However, I discovered that collage offered me the structure that I lacked in my day to day life. At the same time, I became more deliberate in what I chose to do and forced myself to slow down. Early on, I was keen on trying some of the things I proposed in my residency while I was waiting to hear back. So I began exploring new colour palettes and shapes through small studies on paper. The strange thing is that I have less time than I did before as I’m needing to do more things to help care for myself. Art used to help me cope with my day job but now I need a greater variety of things to pull from—listening to more music, dancing in my studio, yoga, meditating, reading and going for walks. Feeling emotions are normal but it was not something I could freely talk about growing up or even let out. So Carissa Potter’s book It’s OK to Feel Things Deeply is a simple yet poignant book that helps remind me that everything we are feeling now is part of what makes us human.
Was I doing valuable and important work in my day job? Yes of course. But did it take a toll on me? Yes it did. My natural tendency to be a hermit was all out embraced in this situation. It was hard to be motivated but I knew that I needed to keep making things with my hands especially after being on the computer all day. There is always a part of me that feels like I need to be “productive” but there were days that doing “nothing” was the best thing for me.
So I figured I would learn new things to help me find focus and get excited about making art a little more. I looked for things that would help me relax. When I heard Grace Lee from Eikcam Ceramics was offering clay kits, I jumped on the chance to finally experiment with clay. It was one of the few things that I could lose track of time doing. I’m relieved that these looked a lot more promising than when I last worked with clay in high school. I can’t wait to see how these pieces look fired and glazed.
I also tried some punchneedle which is a form of rug hooking. It reminded me a lot of embroidery and the motions of punching through the fabric felt very meditative. If you’re curious there are lots of videos online but the most popular tool is the Amy Oxford punchneedle and she shares some tips here.
I cut up old monotype prints to collage with new colours and shapes. Working small has been fun and it’s feels very satisfying as I don’t always have a lot of time.
I also began experimenting with graphite powder and incorporating them with leftover paint on scraps of paper.
What I’ve learned is that life will continue to change with warning and I need to keep adapting. It’s been a greater time for experimenting than ever before. Trying new things just for fun has been one of the best things for me. Many people don’t like to not know what they’re doing. For me, maybe it comes from being self-taught, but it lets me really dig into the process. Eventually I will get back to painting. I know it might look a little different when I do get back to it. I’m still riding this wave however it may go but doing my best to find some balance. So for now, I’m trying to make the most of the present moment that I’m in.