Creativity is an interesting thing. It’s at once both incredibly social and entirely isolating. Our creativity inspires us to put work out into the world; to collaborate with others; to find ways to bridge the chasm between people and ideas.
And yet...the creative journey can often feel like a lonely one. A journey where much of our time is spent in our own heads; with our own thoughts; with our own limitations.
I’ve felt this when it comes to painting. As much as I (and you!) might enjoy it, spending a significant amount of time with only our easel and brushes out in nature or within our studios -- the isolating side of creativity -- can be confining when it comes to expanding our curiosity.
Knowing just how important curiosity is to this soul-filled, artistic journey, the idea that doing what I love most -- painting -- might actually stifle my curiosity if I perpetually do it alone has led me to build up a repertoire of catalysts for curiosity.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how I let my curiosity both guide and be guided by books. This month, I’m talking about another external catalyst for curiosity: Finding a mentor.
Years ago, I didn’t necessarily set out to find a mentor. I did, however, soak up every educational opportunity I could find to enhance my painting skills -- taking classes and workshops from a plethora of people who’ve come through the Finger Lakes area, or whom I’ve traveled to see.
Through these classes, I realized one thing: While workshops are fantastic for practice and expansion, there is nothing quite like the experience of studying under one specific guide who knows your work on a deeper level and is present in your life and work consistently.
It was through this realization that I worked up the courage to ask Lori Putnam, an artist whom I’ve admired for years and whose work I most resonate with, to be my mentor. She’s created beautiful works of art; she’s led workshops and retreats around the world; she’s went from graphic designer to full-time painter.
All goals I have of my own.
I’ve now been fortunate to call her my teacher, my coach, and my friend. But most importantly, she’s emerged as an amazing mentor.
Mentors, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. They might be with you for one day; they might be with you for a lifetime. (It was years before I realized that my high school teacher, Dick Trick, was much more than teacher; he was a mentor.) Here’s what I’ve found to be important in the mentors I’ve had:
A mentor asks the right questions. A good mentor won’t just affirm what you’re already thinking, planning, or doing. A good mentor will ask questions that can broaden, clarify, and amplify your thoughts, plans, and actions.
A mentor speaks your language, but pushes you past your comfort zone. I’ve taken classes from potential mentors who inspired nothing but confusion. A good mentor will understand your language, and be able to speak in it -- but not to the point of confining you in places where you could expand.
A mentor knows the present and future you intimately. A good mentor knows your work; your goals; your true aspirations. Even if you haven’t had hours of one-on-one time with this mentor, they’re the type of person who gets you -- maybe they’ve been where you’ve been, they’ve gone where you want to go, or they’ve worked with others who have.
None of us can embark upon life alone. Likewise, no creative can stay curious -- and let that curiosity guide unlimited creativity -- without a healthy amount of outside influence.
When you have the opportunity to create, make something. When you have the opportunity to study, learn something. When you have the opportunity to be mentored by someone who can help you expand beyond even your own imagination, run after it with all you have.
P.S. If this resonates with you, and you're a painter on your own journey, I highly encourage you check out Lori Putnam's online learning and mentorship programs.