The Rules of Art, Life, and Delightful Creation

By Angi Sullins | Posted 8/18/09 | Updated 10/22/21

"To know delight, you first must be delight."

To know delight, you first must be delight.Have I mentioned that Mernie has been in our small Taos adobe for weeks?

You'd think it could feel crowded and tense with three humans and three dogs and a Houdini mouse in such a small space (especially given the relations of all involved) and you'd be right! But now that we've settled into a routine, things are smooth sailing and we're finding creative ways to enjoy ourselves and each other. We're all back to work with a healthy dose of plurk mixed in.

With business and household duties out of the way, Mernie and I sat down yesterday afternoon for a little mother/daughter collage activity. We haven't created or painted together in over ten years. And as I shared with her some of the techniques I've learned at workshops and through my own risk-taking (mistaking) I really heard myself clearly, as if listening to me with someone else's ears. As we painted, drew, cut and glued, it dawned on me that the "rules" for art (in this case, collage) are the same for life. Well, when I say "rules" let me clarify: rules are the codes by which one operates if one wishes to BE DELIGHTED, and enjoy the creative process, regardless of the results. (But the results are almost always better for having followed the rules. It just works that way.)

"To know delight, you first must be delight." This is the piece I made while contemplating the rules of delightful creation.

Rule #1 — Start where you are!

Pull out your materials and just play with them. Be inspired by colors, textures, patterns. Delight your senses. Then choose a starting point. Pick a color that moves you and put the paint down.

Rule #2 — Play spontaneously.

Once the paint is down, sort through shapes and figures, faces and places, pull out the images that feel most connected to the colors you've chosen. Instead of intentionally creating a vision from your mind, spontaneously make choices and let the images guide themselves into a story. Let them talk to your right brain and bypass all the anal-retentive "have-to's" of the left brain.

Rule #3 — Respond to What Is.

Regardless of what stage you are in, respond to What Is, rather than what you have in mind. Give your creation a little room to create itself. When one arrangement feels dissatisfying, try another, move things around until they feel harmonious. Pose them upside down. Look at your overall composition from multiple angles. Get a new perspective.

Rule #4 — Mess ups are fun!

Really, they are. Oh they don't feel so fun when you've worked eight hours on a project and then splashed black ink on top of it, resulting in an ugly smudge in the middle of your lovely Victorian landscape! Then when you relax and let go — after some chocolate and red wine and an ever so teeny bitch session about how you want to pull your eyelashes out and how you'll never buy black ink again and why doesn't anyone put the LIDS back on the BOTTLES ever ever EVER — you begin to loosen up and play again and suddenly the black smudge resembles an old oil stain, the exact kind you'd have found on a cool Victoriana steampunk engine.

Loosen up. I think maybe all great art and life comes from this one rule. Ultimately, mess ups are invitations to surprise ourselves with our own brilliance. Think of the students in an art college I heard about recently that requires its students, after every assignment, in each class every year of their schooling, to burn their art. Yup, after completion and critique, all the art is burned to ash. As painful as it sounds, the school turns out incredibly grounded students ready and willing to risk-take, to take themselves and their art loosely, prepared to greet a new genius each day.

Rule #5 — love the process, not the art.

Of course it's ok to love your art. But it's counter-productive to hate your art, to despise or degrade your results. If you keep your mind continuously flowing with What Is, however, you really give yourself a gift. It keeps you in the moment. And when you finish your piece (or in the best of circumstances, when it finishes itself and nods to you with a wink) it feels stunning to have taken the journey, to have been timeless, dancing with the muse. If, when all is said and done, you feel less than thrilled with what emerged, — and this is the kicker! — allow the result to simply be. what. it. is.

It's your judgment that creates the dissatisfaction, the misery. Allow your art (your project, your life circumstance) to be what it is. Allow that creation to be a creation. It's not a measure of your talent. It has naught to do with your worth. The joy of being a creator is in the creating. Move. Start another project. The results will change. And, once you've honed a skill (if that's your choice), even if you are a master, results will often vary. If your results don't vary, if they aren't creating eyelash-tearing, chocolate-eating, red-wine swilling meltdowns you're not taking enough risks. Risk takers inevitably encounter defeat, dissatisfaction. But only on that same risk-taking road do they also meet surprise, thrill, joy, and bliss.

Rule #6 — at the end, begin again.

I read a poet laureate's work recently that said "All of life is saying goodbye." Our world is built on change, on the life,/death/life cycle. Breath in. Breath out. And in our art we find, as in life, our end is our beginning. After the blooming of a really great project, I discover the seeds of the next project germinating. Open up. Receive. You've created, birthed and are being called by the great wheel once again. Move on. Don't get too attached to any triumphs or too depressed over any defeats. Just move.

Until. It's time to be still. You'll know it when that time comes upon you. Writers call it "Writers Block." Other artists call it "The Wall." No ideas come. Creativity comes in fits and starts, it stutters. Some days it has Turrets and screams obscenities at your self confidence or barks nonsense at your blank page. Just be still. Once again, "allowing" is the cure-all. Don't fight it. In fact, in your stillness, take a walk, look at the sky, watch a candle, court nature, both inner and outer. The seeds for the next project are there. They just need your field to lie fallow so they can settle into the ground. Be that ground.

Rule #7 — Feel free to break any and all rules. Even these.

In the name of joy and wild abandon, make your own rules!

©2009 Angi Sullins. All rights reserved.

Angi SullinsAngi Sullins is the President of Duirwaigh Gallery, representing mythic and fairytale artists around the world. She's the author behind A Knock at the Door, the little film that continues to make a big splash on the Internet. ...