Big Enough, A Guest Post by Liz Kalloch

May 31st, 2011

When Leah asked me to write a piece for Creative Everyday and told me that the topic for May was Big, I immediately thought of 6th grade. I know, not the usual synapse leap one makes when thinking about Creative Everyday but stay with me here.

When I started 6th grade I was pretty near to my full height. I don’t remember exactly how tall I was that year, I just know that I was taller than almost all the boys, and taller than my math teacher, who was a man.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed that I was taller than a lot of the other kids unless it had been pointed out to me. A lot. Yes, I was taller. But the message I heard was that I was taller than people that I really shouldn’t be taller than, i.e. boys and teachers. I internalised it as something not good about me.

So I started slouching.

I reached my full height some time in my late teen years, almost 5’ 10” (5’ 9-and-seven-eighths to be exact), and I slouched off and on into my 20s; and if I am being totally and utterly truthful, probably even into my 30s. After all, I had learned in elementary school that tall was not what girls were supposed to be, and tall didn’t help me fit in, and taller than boys didn’t get me dates to the dance.

Giving our power away to others often starts at an early age, and though we don’t call it that when we are 8 or 10 or 15, that is what it is. When we are 8 or 10 or 15, or hell even 43, it’s about wanting to fit in, it’s about wanting to be part of the pack and blend, and for each person it’s probably about so many other things that are personal to them.

So, what does being tall at a young age have to do with creating? We can’t control how tall we end up, that’s a matter for genetics and time to dictate, but we can decide how big our creative stature is going to be, and still, sometimes we slouch.
Maybe some people slouch with their creativity to fit in, maybe others slouch because they don’t want to be seen as bigger than their teachers or even their peers. A whole bunch of other people slouch when it comes to their creative expression because perhaps they were told by a teacher or mentor that they weren’t good enough, they didn’t get picked for shows over and over again, or they internalised an off comment and never let it go. Some other folks slouch creatively because they might be afraid they will be seen, really and truly seen for who they are and what they bring to the world.

One of my biggest slouches? Talking about my painting. Many people know that I am a graphic designer, that I have worked as a freelance designer for many gift industry publishers, and that aspect of my work I have no trouble talking about. Design industry. Trends. Paper. Licensing. Where my work fits in overall. Love to talk about all of that, and I do, while standing at my full height.
But talking about my painting, there’s where some of my slouch lives. People will say things to me like “oh, I didn’t know you painted too.” To which I most often reply with some variation of “mm-hmm.” And then I smile, do something awkward with my feet, and that’s pretty much the end of the conversation. {Slouch.}

We could analyse that scenario any number of ways and come up with a long list of psychological whys and wherefores, but the bottom line is my painting is important to me, and to talk about it makes it vulnerable. To step up and be the tall girl standing beside her painting could invite criticism. Or worse, someone might tell me I suck.
So how do you slouch?

In what ways do you duck your creative expression and step back in to blend with the crowd?
What are you avoiding stepping up to create?

In what ways do you feel too tall? too big? too exuberant? too noisy? too extravagant? too much?

When I am feeling the need to slouch and it’s time to paint, I have a few things that I do to get myself out of slouch mode. I step into my studio, and I imagine stepping away from all the tribes and packs that have gathered at the watering hole. The lions and the gazelles, the water buffalo and a hippopotamus or 3, an alligator hiding in the water, the small birds and the tall trees. I step out of the background and I consciously push my shoulders up and back (just like mum always told me to when I was a kid). Head high. Shoulders back. And I breathe. Sometimes for 5 or 10 minutes.

And then I start.

Be big and be who you are creatively: step up and address all the ways you might slouch when it comes to your expression and your creative self. Slouching is about blending. Blending is great, you are part of the herd, it doesn’t matter how tall you are, whether your hair is straight or curly, whether you wear glasses or not, you are travelling with a pack, and you are safe. The only thing is, in a tightly packed herd you are also part of the background.

Stepping out, stepping up to be who you are, stepping into your voice, into who you are is no small thing. It is Big. Your creative expression is big. You are big {shoulders back} and you are powerful {head up} when you stand up straight {breathe} and use your creative voice. Step out. Be big.

(All images in this post are by Liz Kalloch. The paintings are: Believe in Something, Bloom, Evolve, Finding Grace, Invitation to Travel and Enchanted Escapade.)

Liz Kalloch is an artist, designer, traveller, and writer who has worn many different creative and entrepreneurial hats–some of these hats she has even designed and knitted herself. Her artwork and life are focused on staying connected to her life path, clarifying and re-clarifying a life purpose and always trying to listen more carefully to that inner voice that speaks the truth. These days you can find her in the San Francisco Bay area where she runs her own freelance design and art creating business and blogs about it here. And you can see more of her work here.

15 Responses

I love your post! It is amazing how people do think you should be a certain way and you start to believe them and then you think… Wait a minute that is not who I am! Art does help you remember who you are and not to slouch.

what a wonderfully honest, enlightening post,, beautiful work,, beautiful person,,

Loved your post, liz. There is a great message here for everyone who ever held back or hid their light just to fit in!!

Love this post – I’m really good about standing up for my sculpture and jewelry, not so much my painting, and my writing is a poor step child. And now that you mention it, I know exactly where that comes from – but I had never connected it before. So many thanks (as I remind myself to sit up straight in my chair).

This is an incredible post. It gave me alot to think about today as I was just about to slouch instead of standing up tall and being proud of the work that I am creating. Thank you!!!

I love the part about stepping away from the watering hole….it’s so true that to make the most of our creativity we have to beware the herd mentality… it all, thanks, Ca

Beautiful words, beautiful art.

Beautiful post! So true how we shrink and minimize ourselves and our gifts… Self promotion seems egotistical so we hide behind “modesty” yet still hope to be seen.

I was sitting up STRAIGHT by paragraph seven.

THIS is an inspired message.

Wow. A professional painter who writes well and does
industry graphic design in … between it all.

Wonderful post Liz! I am loving your honest voice popping up in unexpected places I visit in the blog-o-sphere ;) I struggle with swinging from extremes and I am trying my best to embrace that part of myself. Even as a kid, I would go from being the quiet cute girl that giggles a lot but non one remembers her name to the exuberant bubbly girl who hugs everyone and makes herself known sometimes in aggressive ways that I would later feel guilty about. I guess I am both and that will and can show in my work, it’s okay to be whatever me I am at the moment.

Thanks for the inspiring and insightful post. I too have a section of my life where I slouch: it’s when I talk and think about singing and writing.

I’ve been singing since age five, and it is one of the things I love most in this world. I always envisioned myself as a rock star, performing on a huge stage in front of thousands of loyal fans.

Enter the real world…

By college, my parents were telling me, “You can’t make a living in music. You need something to fall back on.” My mother was a nurse and kept saying that I should get my nursing license. At that age, I didn’t believe in myself or my creative abilities.

And so I went to nursing school.

Now I am many years down that path, and I am a clinical instructor in a nursing program. I find teaching gratifying, but something is missing. My creative life has once again been put on the back burner. I have songs that want to be sung, non-fiction essays that want to be written, and even a piece for piano–which is something I’ve never attempted before.

I am hiding out in my own life, avoiding doing the things I’m most passionate about. I’m afraid that I’ve let it go too long, that I can’t get the spark back, that I’m too old now. All of these thoughts swirl and mingle in my head until I’m paralyzed by doubt.

I’m trying to find a balance between my nursing job (the “real” job, big and important and validated by the world) and my creative life (my love and passion and soul work). This is my ongoing struggle, and I haven’t won the battle yet.

i love your work, it looks to me like a person who stands tall and confident.

Beautiful post Liz.

Such a serendipitous and gorgeous post. My 9-year-old daughter and I have talking a lot about being BIG in the world and lo, here is your post. Sparked a great discussion. Big has been the theme for me this year as I release my writing into the world. A huge one to get at any age. Thanks!

I love “Finding Grace”. Nothing to slouch about! I can see where some of your influence may have come from graphic design and I love it. An inspiring post. Thank you.

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