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What I learned about being an artist while traveling

It's been a bit too long since I last had my passport stamped--2016 in South Korea to be specific--so I'd forgotten how much traveling outside of my home culture and language can impact myself as an artist. I traveled to Oaxaca specifically as a solo business retreat and with the intention to get inspired to create new art, but what I really needed was the time and lack of structure, outside of my comfort zone, to reflect and experience pure down time, in my favored quiet, introvert manner.

After wandering the city, meeting with a life coach and healer, exploring ancient ruins and allowing myself to both take steps out of my norm while also having permission to stay in and take a nap, I realized that this was exactly the kind of business planning retreat I'd needed--more of an internal retreat than an action-oriented one. It gave me the time and space to settle in so that once I was back to regular life I could have a ton more clarity and confidence (and surprisingly, a lot more emotion) about my next steps as a business owner. Here are some of the things I learned on vacation:

You don't have to explore what's expected of you.

I think that when we travel to new places, we sometimes feel some pressure to "do" the place--go to all the top tourist locations and take part in the tourist experiences. I love planning, so I put many of the popular locations in Oaxaca on a Google map I created for my trip, but when I got to Oaxaca, I noticed that I wanted to take things slower and explore the city in a more meandering fashion. I walked through the main square on one of my last days and immediately thought, "nope, this isn't for me" because of how bustling and crowded it was. Instead, I spent a lot more time in another tourist-friendly area near the aquaducts because it was so much quieter and peaceful. I didn't end up going to any of the large mercados, but did go to a smaller one. I didn't go to the best-known ancient site, but did visit a couple of less frequented ones.

I don't think there's anything wrong with being a tourist, and I'm not advocating for avoiding tourist locations, but I do think that it pays to be true to what's right for you. I learned that I can trust myself and take care of myself by having the experiences I personally want to have, even if they're different from what other people have enjoyed.

This carries over into art and business too. There's often a small sense of pressure to follow trends, particularly on social media or in creating a line of products. When that trend lines up to your own desires, then go for it! But when it doesn't fit with your values as a brand, artist or company, then it's okay to create your own trends for your own customer base. Making art because you love it is valuable for your own growth, just as making art more commercially is. There isn't a right or wrong way to go about things as long as your creativity is driven by what feels right to you and your brand, rather than what others might expect of you.

Inspiration and creativity are two different places.

One statement that I'd never heard before came about while in conversation with a life coach/healer/guide I met, Ines. We were at the ancient site of Yagul, and looking at a frog sculpture that represented feminine power. In describing the sculpture, Ines talked about how we can consider logic to reside in the head, inspiration to reside in the heart, and creativity to reside in the womb.

I loved this because I'd never clarified for myself that inspiration and creativity are really two vastly different states of being. Our drive to create, in whatever form it might take, exists outside of the inspiration that comes on so strongly we can feel it in our heart. And all of this works with our intuitive mind much more than in our logical mind.

I'm working to become more comfortable with trusting my gut and my intuition when it comes to making big decisions, and with that, trusting what results from the magical alchemy of inspiration and creativity.

Receiving to give.

There's something to be said for taking a break every once in a while. As someone with a lot of drive and ambition, it's easy for me to think that I always need to be hustling and taking action to grow. Even when I booked my trip, I thought that I'd use it for business planning, not just a vacation. However, filling up my own cup and replenishing myself--creatively, spiritually, or in whatever other way I might need it--is so necessary before I can give and produce and create.

This is something I continue to learn in many areas of my life. At one point in my day job, I knew that I was craving some sort of change in my work, so I pushed forward to take on more responsibilities in a more leadership position. While I'm grateful for that experience and what it taught me about being a leader, I realized that what I really needed was to take a step back in the job so that I could move forward as a leader of my own company.

We all have a place in the cycle of commerce.

One thing I'd never much paid attention to while traveling was the cycle of commerce, particularly when it comes to street vendors. I'm an early riser, so I'd often walk through a church square in the mornings on my way to get coffee. Each morning, the artisan craft vendors would be hauling their market tents and products into the square to set up with their families. This was something I recognized from vending at craft markets at home. I recognized the exhaustion from carrying heavy loads from a car to the market square, the friendly greetings from one vendor to another, and the comradery that comes from being one of many vendors hoping to have a successful day of moving products.

Noticing this made me wonder about where I fit into the cycle of commerce. So many people carve out a living for themselves in untraditional (or perhaps the ultimate traditional) ways around the world, by working in that old form of person-to-person sales in a physical marketplace. The habits and routines of vending remain pretty similar, whether we're selling embroidered dresses in a church square in Oaxaca or selling Pacific Northwest art prints at a craft market in Seattle. We're each doing similar things in commerce--using our entrepreneurial drive and perhaps our artistic skills to create a living for ourselves and provide a meaningful souvenir to our customers. And on the customer end, purchasing directly from artists and makers no matter where you are in the world, truly makes a difference in a family's bottom line. Vending at craft fairs for artists like me, and going shopping at markets as a consumer is one way that we can all bring the cycle of commerce to the level of the personal, and build community in whatever location we happen to live or visit.

Get out of your comfort zone, but you don't have to run away forever to make changes.

I think the main thing that I learned on this trip is just how much I need travel in my life, particularly when it means traveling to a culture I'm less familiar with than my own American home base. It's a safe way to get out of my comfort zone and experience new adventures, while helping me to appreciate where I'm presently at. I'm always grateful to come home after being away and that break from everyday routines is sometimes the kick in the pants I need to gain a bit of clarity.

Traveling as an artist, this time around, reminded me how much I love painting on location, en plein air. When I was in art school and studying in Rome, my friends and I would spend hours wandering the city and sketching what we observed. I've rarely done that as an adult and found myself more self-conscious about painting in public than I think I used to be when I was in the comfort zone of a group of artists. Finding a quiet square with a shady stone bench to sit on and paint what I noticed around me turned out to be one of my favorite days of my trip.

This is something that I can bring back home with me to take advantage of in the sunny summer months in Seattle. Although I stepped out of my comfort zone to rediscover this love of painting outdoors, I don't need to limit it to the times when I'm out of the country to enjoy. I can experience the same sense of wonder, rest and creativity at home if I put in the effort and intention to do so. 

Want to visit me at my next local or traveling craft market? Visit Yardia events to find out where I'll be popping up near you.

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