Before I started knitting, I was a full time painter. At a point near graduating with a BFA on the deans honour roll, during exhibits, gallery openings, university critiques, and a new demand for custom commissions, painting became my job. My artistic success had been redefined and became based on painting things that pleased others and their motives. That’s when I lost art. You see, for me, art came from a profound desire to express and communicate things of emotional power and intellectual stimulation. Art was a vehicle through which I attained meaningfulness ….when I painted for meaning, even though it was not easy, it was a pure joy.
When I make paintings, every minute is filled with decisions and I enter a hyper-aware yet intuitive state that is mentally and physically demanding. After building up an idea for months, I pour it onto a canvas in one comprehensive go. These energetic creative bursts are as exhilarating as they are exhausting.
When art became my job, it was less spontaneous expression and more ‘aiming to please’. While there is a place for art as a commodity, trying to fit myself into that role was like forcing a rabbit to eat meatloaf. My entire being suffered. I began to dread waking up to face the canvas and I was as moody as one quitting smoking. I turned to my favourite vices: eating to avoid work and forced-focusing to the point I wouldn’t leave the house for weeks at a time until I made progress. In a desperate attempt to re-create the relaxed but active head-space needed for me to create genuinely, I decided to follow the advice written on a herbal tea-bag-tag ( like a fortune cookie for yogis and modern day hippies ). The tag urged “meditate, and let things come to you” …. I was willing to try anything. Never being good at classical style meditation, I’d heard that knitting was the-new-yoga, so I dusted off an old pair of needles that slept in my junk drawer.
The slow, steady rhythm of repeating stitch patterns occupied my mind and stilled my body. I embraced the knitters mantra: knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1 … With a soy-milk latte, a cat and my new skill I’d head out into the early morning sun or late night stars. I’d take my knitting to forests and cafes and I’d listen to intriguing news, lectures new music and books on tape. I was discovering outside for what felt like the first time in years and a healthy blush returned to my cheeks. My eating improved too upon slowing down. And there was excitement in learning the techniques: cables, fair isle, double knitting, lace….jumbo knitting ….. within a year I’d tried it all and more. I was hooked. I was healthy once more, inside and out and bursting with new inspiration.
I now juggle both a painting career and knitting business. In a half-hazard assembly line fashion, I use high energy times to fuel artworks and knitting days are used to generate products while recharging. The disciplines are unexpectedly complementary for me; the knitting, Inspired by colour and comfort, nature and the places of memory and imagination. The painting inspired by science, current events and all things mentally and emotionally fascinating and both disciplines cross pollinate from time to time. As my own job creator I am able to work with myself as a whole and unique being. I learned to maximize my output by testing my limits and respecting my creative process.
For those of us in the arts or crafts business, it’s vital to understand how we work, what makes us tick and what we need to keep going when things get tough. For some, that’s becoming a master within a single discipline, for others, it’s developing complementary disciplines etc. While some say I’m a dreamer for letting happiness be my North Star, in an age where heart disease brought on by job related stress is rampant and can end our journey altogether, it seems pragmatic.
To all who’ve made their vocation an occupation, I hope you find your knitting.
You can see all of my work as a visual artist here: jesserobertson.com