Let your hair be pulled by the stars

Top 3 learnings from #VenusOnMars, my first solo art exhibition

 One of the cool things about making art is its physicality. Reflecting on my creative process through artifacts. (Photo by Bernadette Cay)

One of the cool things about making art is its physicality. Reflecting on my creative process through artifacts. (Photo by Bernadette Cay)

I recently completed my first solo show, #VenusOnMars, at the SFMOMA Artists Gallery. I'm thrilled and thankful for the important conversations it has sparked and for the community it has brought together.

This exhibition has pushed me to grow along so many different edges. There were a lot of "firsts," including: my first time making art at this scale, first solo show, and (through my talk) the first time truly coming into my own voice.

After the show, I spent the next few weeks in Mindful Recovery, culminating in a vacation to Medellín and family time in Chicago. This period of Mindful Recovery has been a chance to reflect, to celebrate how far I’ve come and to note improvements for future projects. From one creative to another, I’d like to share with you the top learnings I’ve distilled:

Ask for help

As a polymath with a can-do attitude, I’m used to rolling up my sleeves and doing everything myself. Working at this scale and with a compressed timeline, I soon reached the limits of how much I could do on my own, physically and mentally. I practiced asking for help, a big growth edge for me.

Our Western narrative of individualism, especially among creatives, isn’t always the most effective. (Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk is spot-on about this.) Art has shown me I can create something larger than myself. But even more beauty can come through with help from others. I’m so thankful for the chance to work with the amazing team that has come my way.

I now have practice integrating collaboration into my process. This also showed me where I could use help going forward, on an ongoing basis in my creative practice.

Own how you roll

From my painting classes, I know what it feels like to be comfortable with your materials. From my previous role in product marketing at a large tech company, I know what it feels like to have a fully-resourced and fully-staffed creative project.

As I was preparing for this exhibition, my inner critic would tell me I was “high maintenance” for wanting to use certain materials and for wanting extra help. One story I was telling myself: “Other artists could do more with less, so why couldn’t I?”

I spent a lot of time trying to substitute alternative materials to little avail. It just wasn’t the same. Owning my desires later on had extra costs, like expedited shipping. The lesson: the sooner your own how you roll, the better.

Let your hair be pulled by the stars

This was inspired by a quote by Anais Nin: “I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” A body of work can go many different directions. Where should it go? Sometimes your body and your soul are pulling it in directions your thinking mind doesn’t quite understand.

Sometimes the stars want you to move. Listen to the thing that won’t leave you alone. Originally, this body of work started with the theme of movement. That felt directionally correct. Yet after a few weeks, it didn’t. I kept asking myself, “What would I rather be doing?” A previous project kept coming up, one I was working on last year about the feminism and the future. As I was having coffee with a colleague, it all clicked. With a sigh of relief and a surge of excitement, I merged the projects and continued with the show.

Sometimes the stars want you to stay still. As opening night drew near, it was all about "Quality > Quantity." I learned to be ok with taking fewer paintings to the finish line that I felt great about, instead of starting a lot of new pieces and risk leaving them half-done. I practiced feeling enoughness–a theme that's come up in several facets of my journey.

I needed to listen to these feelings and be open to changing direction. When your hair is being pulled by the stars, it’s telling you something.

I'd love to hear from you: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from a recent creative project?