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More Than a Hobby
I’ve been a painter for as long as I can remember. Art class was the only place in the entire world where I felt I was making sense; I could communicate and suddenly not confuse everyone around me. I wasn’t communicating with words. I had color, shape and pattern on my side. I could convey a mood with a brush stroke and explain a feeling with color. Color theory was just ‘Theory’ to me. It was a certain color, or it wasn’t. I didn’t understand it at the time, but art class was sacred to my sanity. 
 
Somewhere along the way, I stopped. I stopped for 10 whole years before I used painting as a tool to deal with difficult feelings again. I should have never stopped.
Painting by author
Once I entered college, I started trying to conform to whatever the world wanted me to be. I started out as a painter, but quickly joined a design program so I could monetize my creativity. I no longer created work to communicate my personal feelings. It was all about the brand. I struggled with social communication and communication of general ideas, but was praised for the design work I produced. It was less of me and more of everyone else in my work. I was so worried about what other people thought of my design, or how my audience would take it, that I lost my creative voice.
 
Even though my medium changed to digital, everything about the core basics of design held true as I entered the working world. My personal design voice was much less important than the user experience though. I also didn’t have hobbies; my work was my hobby and it was super unhealthy.
Painting by author
When I was told at the age of 27 that I might be on the Autism Spectrum, and truly different from the rest, I resisted. A part of me was like, “Yes, of course, this makes so much sense.” The other part of me was tired after a long journey of being misunderstood; tired and worried. Worried that now it is proven that I don’t communicate like everyone else, I’ll be dismissed for being different, and worse, with a label.
 
This loss of creativity hit me hard and without a way to express myself and cope with these emotions,  I burnt out. Creative burnout is disheartening and draining. When you no longer create artwork because you are passionate about it, a light flickers from your eyes. Art was a job now, an exhausting job, and unlike other jobs you cannot just go through the motions.
Painting by author
I’ve come to a conclusion after 14 years of deliberation. Find your passion project. It’s so important to have a truly creative outlet and the creative industry sometimes will not fulfill that need. I like to paint and started painting again 3 years ago after I found out about the Autism Spectrum. I could only communicate my complex feelings and emotions through my paintings. I started a self-portrait series in acrylic — here I try to document how these strong emotions affect me in the moment. Some days I don’t paint that much. Some days I paint a lot.  

I also started talking about my journey at conferences to get better at communicating with others about what was going on in my head. I speak in a way that connects typical brains to my story. I am out of my element, get occasionally jumbled, and worry that I come off as confusing. Sometimes, I get so overwhelmed I have to run from the stage to my seat when I’m done. But I do it so that others less vocal than me might also be brave enough to step forward, showing companies that differences in forms of communication aren’t bad... just different!
Painting by author
Don’t lose sight of your personal wellbeing in this crazy design world. Find your passion, practice it, and share it. You’re not alone.
Amy Johnson is a Senior Mobile Visual Designer at Arity in Chicago, IL. She can be found on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.
Art used in this issue: “Mayacamas No. 6” by Bernice Bing
Desk Lunch is a community for all creative people of marginalized genders.
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