Overcoming Anorexia & Transforming Shame into Freedom through Art with Taylor Lee
How did your journey with art begin? Take us back to the very beginning!
Whoa, the very beginning? Well, it goes back pretty far. I learned about creativity and painting from my grandma. She was extremely crafty, doing things like building bird houses and then painting them. She always encouraged me to create, from teaching me to sew, to making beaded jewelry, dreamcatchers, and of course paintings. I remember her making me take a photo on one of those disposable cameras, of myself standing in the yard with the two ribbons I won for an art contest (3rd grade) pinned to my shirt. My paintings hung in her house until she died last year and I reclaimed them. My first ventures into abstract painting were when I entered treatment for an eating disorder almost six years ago. That’s where I was introduced to art therapy as a concept. We had a group each week, where an art therapist would come to the treatment facility and help patients express themselves via art. This was such a foreign concept to me, and it took me a while to lean into it. I’ve been making primarily abstract pieces ever since.
For someone who makes a living through producing art, how do you stay inspired? And what do you do when you hit a creative block?
Like Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” It can be a struggle to stay inspired in an artistic sense because as an entrepreneur, I’m constantly inspired by ideas for my business. Usually I have TOO many ideas for my business and can spread myself a little too thin if I try to do it all. Artistically, when I find myself hitting a creative block I do two things: First, I re-read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, which is basically my holy text. Second, I find another way to express creativity that may not be painting. For instance, recently I’ve been fascinated by floriculture. Also, I have the Pinner’s Conference coming up so I’m working on my DIY (with Pinterest, of course) booth backdrop, which is made of fabrics. Even cooking is creative to me. In all of these, you can still learn a lot that can be applied to painting. Texture, color, composition… All of those happen in other acts of creativity, and they usually will trigger something that inspires me to paint again. Omg, now I’m craving mac and cheese hardcore.
How did you make the transition into doing art full-time? Any tips for an aspiring artist/creative ready to take that leap of faith?
I made the transition into full-time painting last spring. Overcoming my hang ups about money was essential to making it work. If you’ve read Jen Sincero’s “You Are a Badass” or her follow up on money, you know that Jen believes that if we act out of abundance, not out of scarcity, then we will manifest the money that we want. That sounds super leap-of-faithish and abstract, but it really works. One mistake I see a lot of newbies make is acting out of fear. You have to trust yourself to take risks. I’d advise everyone to hire a business coach. Even if you think your business is “too young” for it, you need one! In fact, it’s better to hire a coach during that time because they can help you avoid a lot of mistakes. My business coach is Cyndie Spiegel, and she is phenomenal. Hire her immediately.
You talk very openly about surviving an eating disorder. As women, most of us face body-image issues, stress, insecurity, and other emotions that may lead to a similar experience. How did you overcome this (and continue overcoming it every single day even now)?
That’s exactly how - reminding myself that this is a battle that I fight one day at a time. It breaks the overwhelming task of healing into bite-sized (pun-intended) pieces. It’s like with New Year’s Resolutions. Oftentimes, we fail at those because we try so hard to be perfect in a cold turkey sort of way. “I will start going to the gym three times a week and NEVER skip,” or “I will go to the beach when I look good in a swimsuit.” These are unrealistic expectations of ourselves that honestly never happen. It’s also unrealistic for me to expect myself to never struggle with body-image again. But it is realistic for me to remind myself not to check how much body fat I can pinch around my waistline today. And then remind myself not to buy that scale at Target tomorrow. And then remind myself that dessert is ok the next day. One day at a time is possible, even when all of the other stuff seems impossible. Another important step for me was to recognize and allow myself to have feelings. You can’t help feeling a certain way - feelings just come to us. We cannot control them. We can, however, CHALLENGE them. So, training myself to challenge my feelings was so important, instead of taking my feelings to be true facts at face value.
As an artist, I’m sure you encounter people with very similar work to yours. How do you face “imposter syndrome” that might creep in suggesting that your artwork isn’t original or good enough?
It’s kind of like dealing with body-image issues! I may feel amazing in jeans one day, and the next day not be able to stop thinking about my muffin top. Similarly, some days I feel like I’m this master innovator in painting, and then the next I feel bored by my work and want to change it. Sometimes my art feels entirely unique, and other times it feels like just a mash up of a bunch of other people. When I feel imposter syndrome creep in, I have to take a step back from looking at other people’s work. I never doubt myself more than when I’m endlessly scrolling on Instagram. It’s okay to be inspired by others, but I’ve learned to respect the distance that is possible with social media. It’s not like you have to be rude and run out of the room at an actual social gathering - you can simply close out the app. I remind myself why I got into this in the first place and sit down to be with my art - and my art only. If you have any experience with learning another language, you know that when you’re trying to speak in that language you have to first think in your native tongue, then translate it in your head, and then say it aloud. Art is like that, too. It’s like discovering a language in the back of your brain that only you know, and creating in that language. What is the native tongue in your process? What marks will you make naturally because it’s literally fluent?
What’s your biggest tip for creating an engaged, online following that believes in your vision?
Be yourself and stay true to your purpose. I tried for a long time to do things the way others demonstrated them. Like, “post how she posts, and write captions like her captions.” That kind of pantomiming is the worst thing you can do! People can smell bullshit from miles away, and they won’t engage with it. If you don’t know your purpose yet, think about fear. It acts like a compass, pointing straight at the thing that clearly matter most to you. There, lies your true calling.
Please provide a picture of Frida and 5 things you love about her here…
1) I love the scent that Frida leaves on our blankets. She still has a very sweet puppy smell, and the animal side of me finds it very comforting.
2) I love the little squeals she makes when she yawns. She does it every time!
3) I love the velvety texture of her ears! I absentmindedly rub her ears all of the time because of this.
4) I love how she stands up on her back legs to look out the window when my husband goes outside. It’s like she’s making sure he’s ok, and she stays by the window until she can hear him coming back inside.
5) I love this thing she does when she wants to cuddle. She uses a paw and taps on my arm or pulls at the top of the blanket that she wants me to lift up so she can crawl under.
Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish through your artwork? How do you hope to impact the people who see it?
I want to show people that they aren’t alone. I hope that they will see my paintings and recognize an emotion in my pieces that they feel themsleves. Then, if they see beauty in my art, they will see it in themselves too. Grief. Anorexia. Anger. Insecurity. All of these feelings and more are totally valid. No part of you deserves to be destroyed - all of these feelings can be transformed into beauty. I hope my viewers will come to self-acceptance through this process, transforming their shame into freedom.
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Taylor Lee is an abstract painter, motivational writer, and an eating-disorder survivor. She is from North Carolina and currently works out of her studio in Charlotte. She uses her expressive artwork to stir feelings within her audience, and to help them see the beauty in themselves, despite their flaws and scars. Taylor hopes that her paintings will inspire others to move into a place of acceptance and self-love, and to ultimately end the loneliness that plagues those who are mentally ill.