The Making of an Artist: Part I – Talking to the Inner Critic

Shadow Tree

Shadow Tree © 2011 Bo Mackison

A lot can happen in a year. A whole lot!

Exactly a year ago, Sherpa and I went to the Tubac Festival of Art with a couple we knew from Phoenix. The woman had been an artist on the art fair circuit for 15+ years, and we asked them if they would come with us to the art fair. I wanted to walk the show, ask questions, learn the ins and outs of being an art show artist from an experienced show artist, from a pro.

I was at the earliest of stages of considering whether or not I might exhibit my photography at outside art fairs. I remember how overwhelmed I’d felt after walking the art fair for several hours. My friend had provided informal lessons on topics such as tent and canopy quality, and on weighting tents for the worst kinds of weather. I’d taken snapshots of canopies and attached awnings for sun or rain protection, of staking systems that held a tent firmly in place. I’d learned about different ways of showing my art — panel systems, grid systems, mesh systems.

I also remember looking at the many kinds of art that were at the festival. I kept looking…and looking…and looking.

Finally I gave myself permission to allow the tiniest thought to spring to life. It said: “I think I can do that!”

It didn’t take long before all the gremlins in my head joined forces and started spitting out their thoughts on the subject: “Ha, ha, ha! YOU aren’t an artist!” “You can’t make art that someone would pay REAL money for.” “You’re an introvert–you could never be a show artist. Why, you would have to TALK to people. Ha ha ha!”

“You can’t…”  “You aren’t…” You don’t…” Oh, those crazy voices in my head were so loud, so persistent.

I did want to share my art. I did want to see if I could sell my photography on more than just an occasional basis. But I had so many concerns, questions, fears, uncertainties. So many questions flooded my head!

Was my art good enough? Did I have what it takes to work the art show circuit? How would I manage the traveling, the overnights away from home, the packing and unpacking, the physical stamina required to set up and take down a booth, and work in the booth for two, three, even five day shows?

The last questions I asked were the hardest. Did I have what it takes to be an artist? Did I have any talent? Could I really be successful?

I returned to Wisconsin knowing I needed to give these questions some soul-searching thought. It would take me several months before I began to answer any of them.

Part 2: The Making of An Artist: Start Up


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is living in Tucson for the next eight weeks, exhibiting her photography in art fairs, taking photographs in deserts and desert gardens, and blogging about learning to live on her own. Her mantra is “Bo goes solo!”

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Very interesting introspection, Bo and very well written!

  2. Your gremlins and my gremlins must be related. Sets of twins, even. It’s obvious you managed to either silence them or work with them. Either way, good for you!

    Looking forward to reading the rest of the story.

    Hope your T’ai Chi went well this morning. 🙂

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Thankfully T’ai Chi is gentle, slow movements. That I could do. If I’d had to swim a mile or take a brisk, early morning walk, I would have started making up excuses. 🙂

      • Bo Mackison says:

        Oh, and Robin…my gremlins have not been exactly “silenced”– as they sit on my shoulder cackling loudly. I’ve learned to deal with them, ignore them, bargain with them. But they are still around…ya know? 🙂

  3. Oh..I think we all go thru so much of this ‘questioning’. Looking forward to reading the rest of this post…

  4. All I can say is that you must have a very strong spine, because I’ve watched this journey of yours and have been amazed, impressed, in awe of how you have kept moving forward, step by step, sometimes by leaps and bounds. I applaud you for telling your story, because in this we will learn more about what compelled you to say No to the gremlins, to not be tossed away.

    Also, this is such a life-changing event for you. I mean, it is for all of us who are on similar journeys, but you’ve really made some big changes and shifts, literally (I mean, physically, geographically, not just emotionally and mentally) as a result. Go, Bo!! You’re an inspiration for us all.

  5. This post speaks to many of us, Bo. Who hasn’t asked those same questions? But, more importantly, who among us have found their answers? I look forward to the next post. XO

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