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  • Writer's pictureJanet Federico

The Practice of Art

a hand holding a sphere that reflects art supplies

Owl Medicine was born as the result of a greeting card. I had spent years working with trauma survivors and had so many women tell me that they wished “there was a card for” [insert traumatic thing], so I created one. It was simple and merely said, “You’re doing hard work, and I’m so proud of you.” I published the card and then created a few more. I never really planned to take it further than that. 

A few weeks later, a friend and poet reached out to me and proposed a collaboration. Over lunch, she told me she’d always wanted to do greeting cards and asked if we could work together on a line of cards. I said sure. The art bug had bitten me, and the cards I created were unexpected best-sellers. We formed a partnership and began creating what became our {#NOWORDS} line of greeting cards. Within a few weeks, I went from burgeoning artist to artpreneur. I plowed forward, never looking back. Then, my husband almost died, and everything I thought I knew was upended. 

As this was happening, I had coffee with a writer friend who gave me a copy of Gail Sher’s book, One Continuous Mistake, in which she details the four noble truths of writing. My creative career began with writing, and I published eight novels before I ever began drawing. So, when she gave me this book, I happily accepted it. I quickly saw that it applied to art just as much as it did to writing. I have edited Sher’s truths for art below:

  • Artists create

  • Creating art is a process

  • You don’t know what your art will be until the end of the process

  • If art is our practice, the only way to fail is not to create art

If I had to summarize Sher in 100 words or less, it’s this: Schedule your practice. Guard that time fiercely. Create every single day. Let go of any assumption of what the end result should be. 

After reading the book, I made a note about wanting to write about its impact on my perception of my art but somehow never got around to writing it. It felt too nebulous, this new understanding. Like a bubble that floated into my palm, and I was holding it gently, trying not to pop it. I could feel a major shift happening, but I wasn’t sure how to wrap my head around it. I just wanted to hold onto this new idea for a while.

A few weeks after finishing Sher’s book, Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act crossed my path, and I picked up a copy to read. Here again, I was confronted by a whole new way of approaching art. Rubin’s premise is fairly simple: art for art’s sake before anything else. The only thing that matters is the art. The artist should have only one goal: to create the best work possible. Any other consideration is secondary and should only be considered once the art is finished. Again, I made a note about wanting to write about the book and this new way of thinking. Again, I never picked up the pen to write it. 

That bubble that I’d been holding onto after Sher now felt like it had taken on a slightly more solid form. Instead of a bubble, it was now a sphere of delicate glass in my palm that I was desperately trying to hold onto as it gained substance and form. I held it gently, not wanting to mar the surface, doing my best to simply be a place of safety for it to further its gestation.

More recently, I’ve been reading Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing and again, I’m seeing how her message applies to creating art as well as writing. DeSalvo’s core message is the act of writing is one that heals when we are able to tie our emotional state to our actions and perceptions both in the past and the present. She advocates for writing about the work you are doing and provides many examples of famous writers who kept journals of their thoughts about their work. I adopted this practice myself as I’d begun to feel so conflicted about the work I was creating. That sphere I was holding in my palm became more solid with each journal entry until I could no longer avoid drawing a simple yet powerful conclusion. 

My art journey had begun from a space of commercialization. It had begun with an intent to sell. The reason I was so dissatisfied was because I needed to create, but the compulsion to create what was salable was disrupting my ability to do just that, and I wasn’t happy. 

When I don’t create art, I get anxious and grumpy. Art is where I find my Zen. It’s where I find joy and where I lose myself in the moment and can simply be. There is no other area of my life like that. I haven’t written a word of fiction since I graduated from my MFA program in May of 2022, and I haven’t missed it at all. I like to cook and consider it therapeutic, but I could hire a chef tomorrow and not think twice. If I go more than 48 hours without creating some form of art, even just doodling, I feel it in my bones. I begin to hunger for it no differently than I hunger for the food that nourishes my body when I go too long between meals. It is essential to my being. 

With this knowledge sitting in my gut like a lump, I went on vacation with my husband. We went to the Gulf of Mexico for a week. I adore the beach and find it healing for my soul. We had no itinerary, no big plans, just a week together at the beach to connect with each other and with ourselves. During our time there, we visited antique stores and ate amazing food. My mind felt clear, almost scrubbed out. As if the sea air with its salty bite had cleaned out my mind the same way salt cleans my cast iron pans. I gained clarity about what I needed to do next.

I decided that for the next year, I was going to create for the sake of creating. I decided that salability and profit were off the table. I would — as Rubin advocates — put the work first. I would concentrate on creating the best work I could without concern for anything else. Being goal-oriented, I gave myself the measurable goal of 100 original patterns and 100 hand-sewn books. Both of which I’m well on my way with.

I don’t know what the future holds. I’m not allowing myself to reconsider my business until 2025. I’m not taking anything down. I’m not deleting my shop. But, I’ve decided that for this next year, at least, when I sit down to create, the only question that matters is how can I make this the best it can be? And not, how do I sell this?

It feels a little nerve-wracking when all the big names are out there telling you to consider trends first and look at what sells before you design if you want to be successful. I very much want to succeed in this, but I also want to be true to myself. I want to truly practice art. Until I have ingrained what that means to me, anything else is just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks. 


Janet Federico, MBA, MFA, is a licensed artist, award-winning author, trauma educator, and speaker from Washington, DC, now based in the Midwest. Her art has been exhibited at the Wichita Art Museum, the Wilson K. Cadman Art Gallery, City Arts, and InterUrban Art House. Janet’s writing has been featured in Elephant Journal, Writer’s Digest, and The Mighty. Want more? Get Janet in your inbox.


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