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Failure, Intuition and the Creative Process

On failure, intuition and the creative process. And on transformation.

I had this image of a fanihi, a Mariana fruit bat, stuck in my head, along with the word transformation. Fanihi are a threatened species, and the one I was picturing lived on Guam, where my family and ancestors are from. I don't know why I was associating it with transformation. I avoided painting it. It didn’t really seem "on brand” with the rest of my work.

Then two things happened.

I got waitlisted for a big craft show I'd applied to and had expected to get into. It was a blow to my ego. I didn’t tell anyone.

I also started Tara Mohr's Playing Big Facilitator's training. In the first session, Tara mentioned how playing big has a lot to do with learning how to trust your intuition, and that one of the rules of the course was to avoid seeking or giving advice from others so that you could better listen within. These two statements were so powerful and moving that I could feel it in my heart in the same way as when I look at the art of Kehinde Wiley, Yayoi Kusama and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It was the feeling of awe combined with the need to create. Immediately.

I started the fanihi painting.

I figured that if I worked in a sketchbook instead of on real watercolor paper, then I'd feel less pressure to make something to sell, and instead make something for me, intuitively.

It started well. I sketched out the bat, added in a branch and leaves, drew in a waxing moon, and wrote “transformation”. It was magical.

Then I started painting. The bat was too light, then too dark. It didn't seem realistic enough. The branch and leaves looked…wrong. The composition was off. The colors in the background were buckling the paper. I shouldn't have used my sketchbook. Why couldn't I get this bat to look right? Maybe not getting into this craft show was a sign. This painting was awful. Maybe that was a sign, too. Maybe I should start over.

I kept adding more paint, adding more details to the leaves and fur to the bat. I splattered on some stars. I took a photo. The painting was terrible. Overworked. 

The creative process begins with the spark of an idea and the excitement of getting started. Then, every. single. time. there reaches a point where the artwork is terrible. Where I want to quit or start over. I remembered that the only way to really make art I love is to move through the terrible art and keep going. This is the moment where creativity comes out to play.

I allowed myself to start making the creative choices that I'd wanted to make the whole time anyway, but for whatever reason (my fear), hadn't. I grabbed the watercolor graphite pencil I'd known would be perfect for this painting but which I had to dig around in a drawer to find. I pulled out the white ink pen that didn't really work so well when I'd experimented with it before, but for some reason (my intuition) was calling to me. I used the pencil to shade in the entire background. I covered up the leaves and the branch and the background I'd spent so long painting. I used the white pen to draw on top of the bat. I realized that the pen hadn't worked so well in the past because I'd been holding it wrong in my fingers until tonight.

I loved the painting.

I started thinking that maybe the craft show hiccup really was a sign that I needed to get a bit more creative in my business, too. How could I stop playing by the rules I'd set for myself and start playing bigger?

Later, I looked up bat symbolism. The first thing that popped up in the search engine said, "Bat symbolism signifies the death of some part of you that no longer serves your higher calling. Therefore, follow through on new ideas, hunches and even emotions that are unfamiliar to you." [source]

In other words, failure, intuition and the creative process. And transformation.