Guest Post: Creative Processes + failure by Hillary Butler

You guys! I am pumped to have Hillary Butler over in our corner of the internet today. Hillary is a super talented and super fun fine artist who brings such a unique style to the fine art world. I hope to hang one of her pieces in my house in the very near future! Also, she is such a rare gem and a girl after my own leap-of-faith-takin' heart.  So with out further ado, we will now give the floor to her. 

I've been painting for a long time and I'm learning more and more the importance of process and  vulnerability as a creative. Today, I'm excited to be here to share a little of my story and process and hopefully leave you with some encouragement to give yourself grace to grow and morph and know that you're not alone in this journey.

My journey from college to full-time artist was: art major freshman year to finishing with English literature and art history, an internship on Capitol Hill during my poly-sci phase, an English teacher stint for four whopping months, graphic designer, office job in the 'burbs, paint party instructor, and finally, the jump to full time artist.  The theme that ties all these together: failure. I failed at all of these jobs and was pretty depressed about each one failing (quite dramatically, I might add). But I've learned that failure is a pretty beautiful word. I've come to accept it as life's rudder, guiding us away from what we don't need to be doing and towards what we are best at doing. If I hadn't failed at all of these, I'd be stuck in an office doing a job that sucked the life out of me. And what kind of life is that?

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

So, I quit that office job and took a huge leap of faith to pursue art as a career. We had not planned on this jump and I cried for weeks as I was quitting, I was so stressed. I had no plan, no business training, and had not painted consistently in years. Yet, I somehow believed the fantasy that in 3 months, people would be flocking to my work and I'd be back up to my former salary. Boy, was I ever wrong. It's taken time, tons of time and consistent studio hours to get where I want to be. I've had to scrape together a business and marketing "degree" by self education, going to conferences, bending the ear of other artists who have found success (sending thank-you notes and paying them for their time as well!), and talking with other people who are in my same boat for encouragement. I had to call on a lot of courage and set up a lot of meetings and take some big risks and put myself out there and it's paid off!

It's easy to get discouraged when looking at your feed on Instagram and see how early everyone is waking up to start their huge awesome load of client work at 4:30 am and they are collaborating with huge names on projects so cool I can't even understand them and they have so many more followers and comments. I get overwhelmed and start playing the terrible compare game, and I forget to focus on all the amazing success and work that is happening in front of me. I want to define my life and career by what I do have, not by what I don't.

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

The more I learn about being productive as an artist, the more I stumble on the importance of process, and even more important is your own special process you use to create your work. It's exciting when you find your way, your voice, your path to tell your story over and over. And it's really exciting to see it morph and change as you grow. It's so tempting to look around and get discouraged, panic, and change what is working for me to become like everyone else, but we have to keep moving forward and keep our eyes on our own prize.

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

But good process doesn't happen overnight and it takes time to develop and grow.

I used to just stumble around without direction, feeling really lost and incompetent (some days I still do). I knew I had the skills and I knew the general direction as to where I wanted to go with my art, it just wasn't happening. My work was uninspired. And then I discovered something by accident. David had the idea of me doing some smaller paintings one Valentines Day to mix it up and I ran to the store, bought some 12" x 12" canvases, and got to work. I stacked them all up on my easel and started painting. As usual, this idea came in the 11th hour and I had to paint quickly to meet my deadline. I worked moving from canvas to canvas and I discovered something: I liked these small little dudes and the freedom it gave me to let each idea come out onto the canvas as the idea popped in my head. I didn't get bored and frustrated trying to make an idea happen on a large scale. I just got to experiment and be curious and test out ideas. The canvases have gotten smaller, perhaps the ADD has gotten wilder, maybe I just need that much more change in process. My design background kicks in and I like shrinking down little paintings to their tiniest "thumbnail" canvases and seeing how they look as a whole.

And I think that's where this huge shift in my work started to happen. I no longer viewed each piece as pass/ fail, but as an experiment. I read over and over again that creatives start to fail when they stop being curious. The minute you start to operate in a formula mindset, the mentality of "this has been working for a while, so I'll keep repeating the same thing without seeking to grow this idea" is a very dangerous place- a place I want to be careful to not find myself in.

Here's a section of canvases I've been working on lately. See how some of them work together and some are completely different? Neurosis, my friends. Complete neurosis. 

After I finish these, I sit with them a while and decide which ones I want to paint big or post them in the shop as options for customers to select their own size. And what's more fun than being able to pick which size you want?

I get color palette overwhelm. While I'm painting, I'll see a gorgeous color palette on the brush or my paint cloth, or on the palette that I'm mixing and need to capture it quickly before the inspiration fades. I grab a little canvas, swish around the colors, and move back to the one I'm working on, or completely abandon the current project to work on the new idea because what's more exciting than something new?

Another process came out of this new discovery out of resourcefulness. I had chunks of paint left on my brush that I didn't want to waste, so I started swishing them on blank canvases and these really beautiful compositions started to form. So here's the process in action. I liked this little one and chose it to paint larger. The bottom paper became my swishing canvas and a new painting will get created as that composition comes together. So it's this great never ending cycle of ideas and inspiration. Pretty cool, huh?

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

Photo & Art by Hillary Butler

Start experimenting! Read what others are doing and try a bunch of things and eventually, you'll discover your own process.  Find a system that works for you, not against you. As an artist, you get to create your own rules and the more freedom you find in your own unique process, the more life your work will take on.

Give yourself grace in the process. It won't happen overnight and hopefully, you'll look back in a few years and be amazed at how far you've come and how all those little failures come together to create a really beautiful masterpiece. 

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You can keep up with Hillary through her SHOP, BLOG, and INSTAGRAM.