Artist to Yogi – why art school and I had to break up

At the opening night of my last exhibition.

At the opening night of my last exhibition.

This post was originally posted on my old art website and blog, but I thought it was worth sharing with the people who follow me in the yoga world.

Ever had one of those times in your life when you meet someone great, but the timing is just so, so wrong. You might have amazing moments of connection but you just know deep down that you’re not ready, you still have some things to figure out, or the other person is feeling a bit damaged from a past hurt they haven’t quite gotten over yet, or perhaps one of you is about to move half way around the world?

Well this was me and art school, moments of great potential but the timing was all wrong. I wasn’t ready emotionally or physically and still had lots of things to heal and sort out, still had to find my inner strength, voice and wisdom. And therefore with much pain and heartache, art school and I had to break up.

If you’ve read my blog before and made your way to my “about me” page then you’ll know the basic story of how I got to this point in my life.  For those who haven’t, here is the long story short – back in 2008 I left my corporate graphic design job and started out on a journey to live a more authentic life. I did some freelance graphic design work, started up the Kraftbomb monthly craft market, created Stitch’d Ink making unique cross stitch kits and continued baking delicious, vegan cupcakes as my alter ego the NZ Cupcake Queen.

Oh and like that wasn’t enough, this was the time I decided to return to full time study doing a BFA at Whitecliffe College of Art & Design. Phew!

So how did I go from bravely following my dreams of doing a BFA to two and a 1/2 years later deciding to bravely walk away from the very thing I had always wanted? In moments of quiet reflection I have often pondered just that. And the answer seems to always come back to the same thing – art school was part of my journey, not a destination.

When I enrolled I was full of enthusiasm and dreams of making it “big” and finally being a “proper artist”. I had lots of high expectations and goals for myself – trying to get the best grades in all my papers, exploring new mediums and techniques in my practice, plans for exhibitions, wanting to get my name out there and known, learning everything I could about other successful artists – while at the same time running my businesses. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for dreams and goals but sometimes you have to be realistic about how many hours you have in a day and how much energy you have to complete them. And even more importantly you, you need to know yourself well to know the difference between what you truly aspire for with your heart and what your mind/ego wants for you.

I can look back on my time at art school with fondness and a heavy heart. I learnt so much, met some amazing people, both students and tutors, and produced some of the best art I’ve ever made, being pushed out of my comfort zone and into new territory. All things that are great to help grow as an artist and a person. But I also went through excruciating pains in my personal life during the time I was there and even though I have heard time and again how as an artist you can channel your pain into your artworks, I just never managed to do it. My life seemed to be speeding up with a never ending to do list, all the while I seemed to be slowly falling apart, living on energy drinks, coffee, eating terribly, never getting enough sleep and with a growing list of scary health problems.

Plus I was deeply unhappy. By the beginning of my 3rd year I contemplated not returning, I felt empty, my creative well was drained, my  health was an absolute mess. I was an absolute mess. But I continued on because I had made such a big song and dance about going to art school, how great it was going to be, how great I was going to be. I didn’t feel brave enough to say “hey everyone, perhaps this isn’t right for me anymore”. I wanted to save face and avoid the judgement that I assumed would come with me leaving. Plus I didn’t know what else to do if I wasn’t being “City Down at art school”. So I carried on even though I was miserable and my heart wasn’t in it.

But life is a great teacher and something shifted in me that year. A family tragedy that had devastated me the year before reared its ugly head again for a second round of heartache, but this time I didn’t fall apart. This time I didn’t run, I didn’t become a victim, I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I held my ground, I let myself be brave and experienced every emotion that arose within me, knowing that it couldn’t be painful forever, just the way things can never feel happy forever. Life is ebb and flow. The trick is learning to ride out the waves and not cling to the good stuff and push away the bad.

In my growing inner strength in facing huge challenges things started shifting. I got back into my daily yoga practice, I started to care again about what I put in my mouth. I started to care more about looking after myself, knowing myself and getting rest than about pushing myself to my limits. I started to see that trying to be perfect was killing me. I started to listen to the inner wisdom that was gently saying “stop”.

Eventually I did stop struggling to keep all my balls up in the air. But my mind didn’t – I wrote huge pros and cons lists about staying at art school vs leaving. I agonized over what people would think of me if I left, what I would do if I wasn’t an art student, if this would make me a failure, a quitter, a loser, yet another art school drop out. And then I realised that all this thinking was part of what drove me to do my BFA in the first place. None of it was my true self, my inner wisdom. It was all ego, crazy thoughts and a busy mind. I was driving myself, my friends, boyfriend, and flatmates nuts with my over thinking.

I still remember the day I finally made the decision to leave.  It wasn’t a big movie scene of storming out of my studio never to come back or a lightening bolt “aha” moment. It was simple, small, subtle. The second semester of year 3 had started. I was feeling overwhelmed with the workload and my studio practice had ground to a halt. I was sitting in my favourite sunny spot on the roof of the garden shed, eyes closed, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin on a crisp day. I was still, quiet and knew that it was time.

I didn’t know what I would do next, I didn’t know what the next day, week or month would look like. But I did know that it was time to stop living a lie and be honest with myself. It was hard telling my tutors and head of department that I was leaving. It was even harder telling my class mates and when I attended their end of year exhibition, which I was meant to be a part of, I had moments of sadness that my work wasn’t up on the wall with them.

But the freedom of following my inner wisdom has lead me to such a good place in my life now I am healthier, stronger and know myself so much better. It wasn’t all easy post art school, with plenty of uncertainty while I split my time between part time design work and WWOOFing on an organic farm, but I rode out all the uncertain moments and lived the great moments and finally ended up at next leg of my journey.

While I originally planned to return to my BFA after taking a year off, it became clear to me over the summer that this wasn’t in life’s plan for me. So I followed my heart this time and enrolled in my one year yoga teacher training course instead. I grew in such huge amounts spiritually and physically. I was pushed out of my comfort zone on a daily basis but I evolved so much faster in doing so. I’m open to one day finishing my BFA studies, but for now its not a priority. Right now my priority is yoga, both my own personal practice and teaching my wonderful students. I feel alive and in love with my life.

I hope that some of my honesty in this blog post helps a few people who might be feeling stuck, confused or lost in their life to not feel so alone. Be still, quiet and listen to the inner wisdom, it knows the right answer even if your mind fights it for a while!

Felicity (City)

Some things to ponder:

Where in your life are you feeling stuck?

Are you happy in your current situation?

What small or big changes can you make or truths do you need to face to move forward with your life?