“When I grow up”

Last christmas when I went to my Mum’s house in Queensland, I came across a book I made in primary school (it doesn’t have a date but I think I may have been around eight or nine when I made it). I am very grateful that Mum has kept the artworks I made when I was a child, along with my toys, books and memorabilia. My final year project when I did my Bachelor of Visual Arts utilised this collection as a way of reflecting upon my experience of the my loss of innocence and my nostalgia for childhood by capturing the memories contained within the objects that remained.

This is the book that I recently rediscovered, made by my young artist self:

“I am going to work as an artist, writer and am also going to help children and adults who have had problems or have them and am going to listen to them”

The story goes on to say that I am going to marry a black man and have a black child (this doesn’t seem so relevant in my life now!) but what was significant was that I intended to keep my little girl (named Aku) “safe in our home full of cats, soft toys and teddies. There will be no fear only love.”

Reflecting upon this makes me feel proud of myself and that I have lived out some of my prophecy. When I was in my last year of high school my art teacher asked me if I was going to apply for univeristy. I think I laughed at her. I had never thought about going to university, I actually had no real plan for life after school. So the first 6 months after leaving high school I spent travelling and trying to work out how to get a job while keeping in touch with my high school art teacher. She kept encouraging me to apply for Uni and offered to help me get my portfolio and application together, which I agreed to do. I spent the second half of my first year out of school back in the art room making art! I was accepted at Queensland Collage of the Arts in Brisbane and also Southern Cross Uni (SCU) in Lismore. I chose to go to Lismore as it was a regional Uni and a bit out of my comfort zone (having been born in and having lived Brisbane at various stages throughout my life). I loved my life at Uni and was pretty much making art seven days a week (I didn’t have a job while at Uni). I was totally committed to learning and creating. I was awarded the Kaske fellowship in my final year, enabling me to travel and further my arts learning after graduating from University.

Since obtaining my Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2005, I have tried to “emerge” as an artist and develop some sort of “Professional arts practice” (what that actually means, I am yet to discover). I have had a huge hang up about not being a real artist, measuring my worth against other people who graduated in the same year as me who have achieved some level of success as artists/arts workers. This does not mean that I have not been practising art – rather I have not been exhibiting my works! For example this is a snapshot of SOME of the artworks stored under my couch, not to mention the countless piles of prints, sketches, journals etc. etc. I have hidden throughout the house. Many projects which remain uncompleted. Ideas explored but not executed. I have attended countless professional development workshops in paper making, printmaking, visual merchandising, dance, movement etc. searching for motivation to get me to commit to this thing I call my “practice”.

A small snapshot of some of the artworks

stored under my couch

My life took a very different path from the one my young childhood self had imagined.  I had moved to Melbourne the year after Uni to “start” my arts career but instead had found myself in various retail/sales positons working in the outdoor industry. Which at the time suited me as I had discovered a new love – mountain biking. My new associates could hardly imagine me being an “arty” type considering I was always busy riding around in the mud and going in endurance events every weekend I could. My studio even turned into a place to store my growing collection of bikes and bike accessories, rather than the production of art. Mountain biking had provided me with a way to get out of the city (having been a country/bush dweller for most of my life) but somehow in the process I had lost touch with my desire for an arts career. I was never quite satisfied and I always felt there was something missing in my life. So before long I was rolling bike tyres over freshly applied paint on wooden boards and making art about bike riding!

In 2009, I was invited to be part of the X7 exhibition at SCU, featuring recipients of the Kaske Fellowship. “The fellowship is made to an outstanding graduating visual arts student who submits the proposal considered to have the greatest potential for launching their professional career” (X7 Catalogue, SCU Next Art Galley, 2009). I wanted to “prove” myself as an artist, when  inside I felt that I had failed myself and my lecturers as I had not developed a professional career after being awarded with the fellowship funding. Artworks from the exhibition:

“Grandma comes home from hospital”

multi plate etching & watercolour, unique state, 2008

“Aunt Ola’s Garden”

multi plate etching & watercolour, unique state, 2008

“These works document my journey through the New Zealand landscape on my mountain bike, a respite whilst my grandmother was in hospital. They also have given me a way to find balance between my three main passions: art, the outdoors and (of course) mountain biking” (X7 Catalogue, SCU Next Art Galley, 2009).

The exhibition marked a significant shift in my experience of having low-self esteem as an artist. And in 2010, after having had applied again and again to return to Southern Cross Uni to do my honours but then differing, I finally decided to make a commitment to my “arts career”.  One day, when working as a sales rep for my family’s bicycle wholesaling business, I made a detour from my usual sales route and drove past the MIECAT (Melbourne Institute for Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy) building on Victoria Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne, which I had discovered on a walk previously. I went in and was met by the lovely office ladies, who gave me information on an upcoming information night. So three years later I have just been awarded this certificate, which signifies the first stage in my post-grad training complete:

The graduate diploma has opened my eyes to a new way of being and helped me to develop personally and professionally. I have also had the chance to made endless art forms!!! There has been a huge shift in my expectations of myself and my art works through simply making “art for arts sake” or art as a form of expression. This year, with the encouragement of a MIECAT lecturer, Edwina Entwisle and the inspiration of another MIECAT lecturer, Amanda Woodford, I began running creative arts classes at my local neighbourhood centre. This experience has seen my old friend, the voice of my inner critic, return. I always wonder if I am good enough, if I am “qualified” enough to facilitate arts lessons – I’m making art but still not “exhibiting it”. Despite this the feedback I have had from the participants and through others engaging with this blog has been very positive. Those attending my classes have taught me a great deal themselves and inspired me in many ways. I now see my role as providing the tools, materials, space and for people to create in – and to encourage their inner creativity and find inspiration from the world around and inside themselves.

I now realise that I am always in a state of “becoming” – that I will continue to emerge as an artist. And just when I think I have the confidence, a plan or the tools to be “professional” something unexpected will pop up and throw my world upside down. This is all part of the process and I am learning to embrace this as part of how I am with others (when facilitating creative arts or companioning in other ways).

Now I’d  I’d like to introduce you to my most recent artwork my “Creative Self Emerging”.  I submitted this artwork as part of the Stella Mountjouris Memorial Art Acquisition, which coincided with the recent MIECAT graduation ceremony. Unfortunately she has been framed so the glass is a bit reflective in these photos.

 My Creative Self-Emerging

Drypoint multi-plate etching, collagraph embossing, chine colle, beads & threads

1/4 Variable Edition, 2012

Here is my artist’s statement, which includes a lot of what I have discussed so far but gives this artwork context:

This representation has emerged from many layers and has been informed by several significant overlapping experiences.

This year I began facilitating creative art sessions at my local neighbourhood house as a place to adapt the MIECAT procedures while doing the Masters by coursework. Last term I invited participants to represent “How they imagine their creative self” in the form of a wrap doll. This involved writing an affirmation on a piece of paper and then wrapping material and wool around it to form a head and a body.

I companioned the participants while making art alongside them.

My own representation became a starting point to inquire into my “creative stuckness” and contains the message:

“I imagine my creative self making art on a weekly basis and exhibiting it”

Successive inquiries have involved being companioned by a MIECAT PhD candidate and my own personal emergent inquiry that began as part of my first MA intensive. In the later inquiry I became familiar with my creative voice, which arrived unexpectedly in the form of a song. Through dialogue with this voice (and others) and immersing myself in the inquiry I arrived at an approximation to meaning:

“Providing a space for creative expression is vital for my wellbeing”

The arrival of this new knowing coincided with the gift of a printmaking press – an important tool in the expression of my creativity and the development of a professional arts practice. It seemed necessary to use this press in creating this artwork.

Through adapting the MIECAT procedures in my own art-making process I wrote descriptions, reduced, amplified, recreated representations in different modes, interwove parts of my collected data and allowed new elements to emerge. I used my journal as a companion and to record “content in process” during moments of self-doubt and also to reflect upon and rejoice breakthroughs and discoveries. Most importantly, I gave myself permission to be present to my own creative process.

­­My big heart is a platform – providing me support and self care as I tentatively share my artwork; the only slightly visible net embossed into the background provides the space and containment for my creative experience and the little silver bobbles represent the creative expression that is beginning to take shape. I am drawing out my creative self gently and offering my expressions to the world.

I am sharing all this with you as I ponder/ procrastinate writing my ethics draft for my research project proposal for the Masters in Experiential & Creative Arts Practice at MIECAT. After much deliberation about who I might co-inquire/conduct research with, I have become aware of a topic which has been staring me in the face.

I propose to inquire into people (who have a tertiary degree in visual/fine arts) experience of creative stuckness/blockage post graduating/obtaining their degree. I am yet to decide on a focus point for the topic but no doubt it will emerge.

Well, I best be off now to do some proposal writing, it is starting to makes more sense after having shared this with you. Until then happy creating to all of you, in whatever shape or from your expression takes. x

8 thoughts on ““When I grow up”

  1. This blog resonates so much! I too have been a blocked potential artist, even more so, not having done a ‘proper’ art course even, and always lacking the confidence to run anything arty. As for the ethics application, yes, I am procrastinating too! I think it’s about dealing with grief and loss, interwoven with Buddhist teachings and based on my work in palliative care nursing. …to be continued!

    • Hi Elizabeth, Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate you sharing your own experience of feeling like a “blocked” potential artist. This is why I feel that this may be a valuable topic to research. I look forward to discussing this with greater depth when I see you next. Best of luck with the ethics app! x Natalya

  2. Natalya, I have SO appreciated your blog, AND your commitment to your blog! It really is so wonderful to hear about your inner journey as well as your outer exploits – with your classes I mean. Having come to MIECAT by a very different route – that of a psychotherapist interested in expressive therapy as well as in my own art-making, I have always felt a rather poor art-relative of those of you with art degrees….we all seem to have our own particular inner critical voices! Hand in with your journey towards your topic – it’s a really growthful one I found.

    • Hi Di, Thank you and thank you! Its is so great to see your response. There are many times when I wonder if people read my posts, whether I am being too self-indulgent expressing these things about myself. So it means a great deal to me to hear about other’s experiences around creativity and “art making”. It is interesting how we compare our own ability to one another – especially in a learning institute such as MIECAT. I really value being informed by many different approaches and having peers with different backgrounds/skills from myself. Part of my journey and others who have an arts background has been that we feel we don’t know enough about the “therapeutic” field e.g. working with specific groups/demographics using. It is very exciting as this year one of the Masters students has organised presentations/workshops in which we can share our own work (held separately from course). Yes, It seems that we all have some type of “stuckness” about what we are capable of doing and/or facilitating for others. I am excited about where my inquiry leads me and what benefits it may have for others experiencing creative stuckness. Hope to see you soon x Natalya

  3. Thank you for sharing this Natalya. In my career as an Early Childhood Teacher, I was told by my lecturers to go back and do my Masters as I had a really great career ahead of me. I tried to do this and started with research while teaching 32 hours a week. The research was just so overwhelming for me that I never finished a Masters, and I found that I never lived up to my vision of this great career – there were always obstacles and some significant setbacks. My self-esteem suffered a great deal, and I became a retiring member of my profession. Whereas before, I created groups for beginning teachers, etc, I became a person who sat back and didn’t participate as much in the profession. Now, it is interesting, I am working 3 days a week as a Kindergarten Teacher, and 1 day as a step up, plus I have done a Leadership course this year which has been really interesting. I would like to take on more leadership in my career but I am worried that I am not good enough, etc… Although you look at other people’s so-called leadership and have some opinions about how you might do it better!!! I am not sure how this will all end up for me, I am now getting busy with a family as well, so I think there might be some side journeys for me (that may end up becoming the main journey). And, I loved my Art Therapy course at MIECAT, I would love to go on to Masters but, that too, is a side journey which might have to wait for the right time. I have done NO art since MIECAT, I feel so guilty and, at the same time, I feel like I’ve missed out a little, what a great journey you have begun! And, here I am having a journey which I am not living but not necessarily writing or creating about.

    • Hi Grace, Thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing your story. I have been pondering how to respond to you as your story is rich and meaningful. So I decided to offer you an “I poem” based on your words above. I was going to share it here but instead have chosen to send it to you privately. Although your story is here for all to see, I find that by reflection back and reducing tellings – things can emerge unexpectedly. So my duty of care as the blog “space holder” is to be sensitive in the way I share my responses. This topic is not just related to Art making but perhaps to something to do with the title of my post “When I grow up”. The expectations we put on ourselves and others, the paths we choose, the things we start and don’t always finish. I have a friend who says to me “You are doing the best that you can”. And I say this to myself when I find myself feeling down about not being all that I could/should/want to be. I also think it’s about finding the space and time to explore the things we are passionate about. I wonder if keeping a journal would be a way to keep making art after MIECAT (if that is what you want to do). And also that there are many ways to be creative and adapt what we have learnt in our lives in many ways throughout the day. I believe that acknowledging and noticing little micro-moments within our daily existence is what gives meaning to our lives.

      Once again, thank you for the dialogue and sharing – I am emailing you now with my personal response. Lots of love Natalya

  4. Natty, I love your blog – its so inspiring.
    This particular post brought tears to my eyes as I’m currently so STUCK.
    Wish I had the ability to express myself in (written) words, as there is so much I want to say.
    I put my hand up as a subject for your research. Happy to answer any questions.


    • Hello Kelly,
      Ah I have been thinking of you. Do you know that you were one of the significant people that inspired and encouraged me to facilitate art classes?
      I have your framed stamp artwork sitting on my desk right now. Thank you for your response. It makes me realise how important it is to share my story with others (sometimes I am hesitant) but it seems that many others resonate or share a similar experience around creative stuckness. I will contact you regarding my research project soon. xoxo Natalya

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