Painter and ceramicist Hana Ward on finding balance in your creative practice – The Creative Independent
Artist Hana Ward talks about nurturing your art routine, focusing in the studio, connecting language and visual images, and taking long walks.
You are the owner and designer behind Uno+Ichi, a brand of ceramic ware, but has recently turned to paint. How different is your process or way of thinking with this medium?
Making ceramics felt really difficult to me, like I was going against the grain to make things happen and make them work. It was stressful. At the same time, things were going very smoothly for the painting – in a crazy, weird, magical way. It was just like, “Whoa, that was fun to do.” And then that show sold out, and all those things [started] happens in such a way that I was like, “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s definitely flowing, and this other thing, I’m struggling with.” It will always be a part of my life, but I don’t need to force it now. It’s good to put it down for a bit and take a break. That’s what I decided to do.
Seems like there’s a benefit to saying “this may not be the end, I can put this part of my creative practice aside for a bit”.
Yeah. And I’m curious to see how things will evolve. It’s hard to always hold everything together. I think of artists throughout history who have taken much longer breaks than me. They say, “I put that aside for five years” or something like that. You still know them for the work they created, but they took long breaks. It’s weird, at the time, to make this decision. On Instagram, I used to get messages like, “When’s your next ceramic drop?” And now I get messages like, “Hey, are you still making ceramics?” And I want to answer with “I think so”. I just want to give him some respite.
In terms of focus, what are the things you need, or avoid, when you’re really up to speed with your painting process?
I will have some days [when] I have a few things on my to-do list that need to be in a certain place, by a certain time. If I have a few in a day, I’ll go through my day thinking about the next thing I need to do, making sure I’m ready…I can live all day not really present at all.
I’ve had days where I have several things scheduled and I also have to paint. And when I try to paint with that energy, I can’t quite get the hang of it. I can’t really concentrate, I’m not really relaxed. I’m not really here, I’m on schedule. I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate that “I’ve arrived, I’m here, and now I can do this” feeling into my routine. Going for walks really does that for me. It helps my body meet my spirit.
Do you normally start the day with a walk and then paint? Do you listen to anything while you walk?
I really like listening to audiobooks, but sometimes, if I’m really overwhelmed, I just have to listen to nothing. Last month, I was like, “I think I just need to sit in silence for hours. Everything is too noisy. I just need silence.
I wish I had a schedule where I walk every day before I paint, but it hasn’t worked for me yet, to set up a routine. I walk at different times now. I like to go there, sometimes, just before sunset. If I can walk in the morning, it’s really rare and special. But usually I go between the two. I go to work for a bit and then I go for a walk, then I come back to eat, and then I have another work session.
Interiority and focus – and noise versus silence – are interesting to think about in relation to your work. I was looking at some of your piece titles recently and liked an oil on canvas titled “That kind of thought to drink wine.” I immediately thought: “Yes. I know that feeling.” How does painting as a medium help you explore that interiority?
It comes from a subconscious place. Sometimes I feel like my throat chakra is blocked. I express myself through my creations. I don’t know if it’s because [of how] I grew up. My family is very loud and talkative and I’ve always been the quiet person who listens to everything that’s going on. Sometimes feelings don’t come to me verbally at first, they come visually.
I’ll draw something or paint something and then interpret what it’s about, but it’s not like I’m using my brain to think what I’m going to draw. It just came as the way a feeling arises, and then I can kind of analyze that feeling. It comes from an inner place. But I also constantly read things that have to do with spirit, soul and mental connection. I tried to work on my own personal power, my own ability to choose what I want in a day or in my life – and focusing on intentions and not reactive living.
I like the word “reactive”. Do you mean in terms of reaction to current events or social media?
Anything that can happen in your day. Sometimes, especially if it’s something that takes us off course, we can react to it and get caught up in reacting to the circumstances or the activities or actions that happened during the day. There’s a lot of power in setting an intention and thinking about what you really desire and want, and holding that in your mind. I’ve read a lot about this, but I think it’s actually hard to do. It’s like using a muscle that’s really weak. It’s easy to forget or not to do because it takes a certain amount of intention.
It’s easier for us to be reactive and feel a certain way because of something that’s happening, rather than taking action from a clear slate in your mind and thinking, “D OK, what do I want? What do I want to feel? And from this space. I tried to incorporate that more, even before painting. I tried to set an intention of, “What do I want to achieve in this space?” Right now, I tell myself that I paint with faith, joy and presence, because the only reason I paint is to have a fun experience and to be in this state of flux.
Do you think you also have to balance that flow with being aware of the business side of creating art?
I have been truly blessed. Things sold very well and were well received in a way that I didn’t think too much about. I thought of it as, “Okay, it’s the gallery’s job to sell the work, and it’s my job to make a practice that’s enjoyable and lasting.” That’s how I see it, like who does what and whose job is what. I just focused on my ability to not cling to doubt and stress, and those things that can mess up flow and productivity.
I focused on feeling good, healthy, and interested, and staying curious and invested in the work. I consider this my job, and I hope the rest will work out… If I don’t feel good about [my] job or something, that’s not really how it’s been received, that’s usually my opinion on it, because I’m like, ‘Oh, that didn’t really hit what I was trying to touch.” I have many internal and personal goals. It keeps me from thinking what other people will think, because I’m always trying to achieve what I set for myself.
Are positive comments also included?
Yeah absolutely. I used to be stuck when I was living with my mom and painting outside and she would come out and say, ‘I love it. It would be such an early stage and I’d be mad at her because I’m like, ‘I need you to not like these things in their early stages.’ Because I started to feel like I didn’t want to change it. I’ve found that if the painting isn’t finished, but there’s something I care about—maybe I’ve already painted the face, but [the painting] isn’t done, but I don’t want to lose what I have by continuing to work on it – sometimes I have to consciously let it go because that’s where I’m going to get stuck on a board. I try not to be precious about things that way. I must have actively remarked, “Oh, this is blocking me and I have to get things done. “It’s going to morph and be something different – I have to accept that it’s going to change.
How do you decide when you see a painting and you think, “Okay, I’m done.” Or does it not really happen?
It’s mostly a question of balance, especially towards the end. You can feel, as you add different things, that the scales become more and more balanced. That’s how it feels. When I feel finished it’s because it’s balanced out.
I know your mother is a writer and a poet. Did growing up around poetry and language influence your art?
I have such a love for language, but I’m not a language maker. So I have the impression of transforming it. I will hear something, like the lyrics of a song or someone’s words, or I will read something that has been written or [listen to] an audio book, and the words and phrases stand out for me. I will write them down. That’s really what inspires me, but I can’t reverse that and write words with it. This is the entrance; the output is images.
I know we talked about introspection, but there are a lot of other themes in your work, like nature and history and black identity. How do you hold on to these themes, especially when you encounter creative block?
These themes are also what interests me and what I learn, therefore what I read. These things feed me. They feed my curiosity for the world, which makes me an active and engaged person in the world. I’m really, really curious about transformation and awakening. To think about that in all these different areas, like in regards to nature or black identity, is really interesting to me. Like I said, I paint without really thinking about it initially, so sometimes I get confused…I’ll think I want to work on what I think and read, but what comes out doesn’t look like that initially. Sometimes I feel that gap between them and kind of get like, “Oh, what am I working on?” Or, “What am I doing?” And I think that’s good – it might be what it is… I’ve always loved school, so I always feel like a student. I’m creating my own program now, and one thing leads to the next. I’m just curious to learn as much as possible.
Yeah. I think we’ve talked before about how we both want to be a “student forever”.
Yes. Which is definitely part of a creative process in terms of curiosity…there is always something new, always something to discover or explore in some way. I forgot where I heard that from, but it stuck with me and I felt like I said it like my mantra: Stay curious about how things are going. When something happens, instead of thinking “Oh no, this is bad or this is good”, it’s like staying curious to know how it’s going. It makes me happy, to be honest. I can take things more lightly and be slower to judge them, which often leads to a better outcome.