Eloise Bound is an interior architect and artist who I met through Instagram. I reached out to her to chat more about her 100-day creative project titled #100daysofpenandbrush. As well as chatting about her creative processes, we also tackled some pretty intense topics like the connection between creativity and health, creativity and personality, and creativity as a tool for recovery.
Claire: Hi Eloise, thanks so much for making time to chat to me about your 100-day creative project.
Eloise: It's a pleasure!
Claire: Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your 9-5? Any other details you’d like to share?
Eloise: I live in Cape Town and have been in the furniture and design industry for many years. My last job was at one of the top hospitality design firms in South Africa as an interior designer. My story is kind of unusual because as of two years ago I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, and have had a pretty radical change of lifestyle. I had to stop working and really concentrate on my recovery. It has been a long slow road but my creativity has been what has actually helped me through.
For the first year of recovery, I wasn’t able to do much and it's only now that I’m finding my creativity again. Pushing your creativity down while working in a corporate environment can really destroy that part of you. I think I’ve discovered now that the creative part of me is actually much bigger than I thought. I’ve been on this journey back to myself. I think I got sick because I tried to be something that I wasn’t.
Claire: How did you get started on your 100-day creative project?
Eloise: Well, the first year after I was diagnosed I tried to do the hundred day project and I lasted three days! I had a really complicated idea, and it all got too much. I’ve learned now that there’s actually a bit of a knack to it - start with something that is relatively simple but that will sustain you. This time around I chose something that was more true to me. I went back to what I’ve always done, which is painting and drawing. On the 100 day project, I decided to do 100 days of pen and brush. I decided to pick two materials and stick with that. It has been quite therapeutic, and I didn’t think it was going to be that when I started.
Claire: What did you think it would be?
Eloise: I just thought it would be 100 days of painting and drawing, and I didn’t think much further than that. The first time I saw the challenge I thought it was a great way to connect with more people about a topic you’re both interested in. This year I just dove in on the day it started, with no preparation!
Claire: I think there is something to diving in and getting started! Research and information and mulling over it can pull you off course from doing the work.
Eloise: That's exactly where I’ve been stuck. What adrenal fatigue does to you is that it affects your brain chemistry, your energy, your hormones… everything. Some days you just can’t get out of bed. I was in stage three and there are only four stages. What it does is it gets you stuck. But even if you’re not ill there’s so much information around us to get us stuck.
Claire: You said this challenge hasn’t been what you thought it would be. What has it been instead?
Eloise: In comparison, it has been 100 times better. I never thought for a second I would find my tribe online. And I think I have! I’ve been through a baptism of fire last year, always looking to connect with people and never finding that space. I’ve always felt the odd one out, and I never thought I would find it in an online community like Instagram. I haven’t had one terrible comment. There has been so much encouragement, and I’ve connected with some really good people.
Claire: You said you feel like you lost your way in your corporate work, and that creativity is a bigger part of yourself than you thought. Would you mind talking more to me about that?
Eloise: All of this is becoming my journey now. I’m still in the recovery process but my life has taken a 180-degree turn. I went from a 9-5 career, being driven, working long hours, and dealing with constant demands. Although I was a junior designer, you still get sucked into what I can only call a ‘corporate beast.’
I think that creative people are looking for something else. Like me, so many people start to realise that they don’t belong there. They get caught in that world, feeling that they don't have any choice. I’ve had to relook at what success means for me. I’m still busy with that. It's a fledgeling thought that is blooming. Perhaps for me, success is doing something that is purely creative that comes from inside me that I can’t explain. That is completely different from what people in the world would call successful. I wonder how many people hit rock bottom before they feel they have to make a change.
I’ve had to spend the last year recovering. Im grateful that I have the opportunity to stop working and focus on my health.. I’m at a point where I’m a little bit rudderless and I’m not sure where to go. There’s no prescribed textbook. When you’re doing something like this and shunning 'the real world' and going out on your own, it's quite scary.
Claire: Perhaps there are many more people who feel like you but haven’t gotten to that breaking point physically yet. Maybe they’re there emotionally, but they’re forced to override that emotion because of bills that have to be paid and the normality of what everyone does. They haven’t been forced to ‘save their lives’ like you have.
Eloise: I never thought I would be in that position either. Fatigue is one of those things you brush off - doesn’t everyone get tired? I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. I developed hormonally caused anxiety. It is getting better. You have to hit that low place to figure out what is really important. If you neglect yourself and that creative part of you there is really a lot to lose.
Claire: I think a lot about creativity as a healing process or journey but what you’re describing sounds even more fundamental. This is creativity as a life force - creativity is keeping you alive!
Eloise: This is dawning on me every day. Creativity is like a force pulling me toward something. When you get into that corporate world your creativity becomes something that you push out because you have to - and some people can do that. I struggled with that because I felt it was a weakness that I couldn’t match that… “I can’t do that therefore I can’t earn money, therefore…” But I’m learning to trust that creative part of myself more and more. And it's bigger than I thought.
I don’t know what it has been like for other people. Growing up it was understood that you couldn’t be a ‘creative person.’ Although my parents encouraged my creativity, the message from other institutions like school, and the church was “You can’t be an artist. You can’t be creative.”
Claire: Why was that?
Eloise: The message was that you need to be a doctor or accountant or lawyer because those careers are useful. Even tertiary institutions, that are supposedly creative, have a bottom line. They have to offer courses that students want to study, in order to get useful jobs. I’m realising this is just not for me. Discovering a creative community on Instagram is the first time I have felt that I fitted. Most of my life I felt like I didn’t fit. And I don’t think I’m the only one - I think a lot of creative people feel that way.
Claire: It sounds as if you’re listening to a different drum beat entirely that no-one else is hearing. When it comes to corporate creativity, it seems like creativity becomes your servant: you tell it what to do and how to behave. We force it to perform circus tricks!
Eloise: I’m already a bit of an overachiever so I thought I could cope with that, but doing all those tricks actually kills your soul. I nearly landed up not being around! When it gets that close to your life, you have no choice but to adjust.
Claire: I wonder where this is going to lead you…
Eloise: I would like to document this journey in some way. This is really the first time I’m telling my health story. I’ve learned that you have to fight for your creativity. That’s not something I take lightly now. My creativity started to feel like a horrible mutant strangled thing, like an orc. And this started showing in my health. All of this has forced me to really start looking at food and diet and health remedies. My whole journey has been on homoeopathic remedies, teas, herbal remedies and food related treatment using alternative therapies. I’ve finally found a group of health practitioners who I can work with. I’m interested to see how many people have also been on this journey.
I’m interested to learn whether creativity is actually more important than we think. At the moment it is a very personal journey. I would love to eventually share my story more, but for now, I have to be very careful about managing my limited physical resources. Before I was all over the place because I had all that energy. You’re not grateful for it, but now I see it as precious. I’ve found it a lot more sustainable now. Creative people naturally have big ideas and I wonder how many other creatives struggle with their boundaries, with managing their energy.
Something I’ve learned is that you have to be quite disciplined about taking time off and finding the courage to say ‘No, I’m taking the day off.’ It's quite a feat. You can get exhausted and your work is affected. It's the same as if you’re in a negative frame of mind, it affects your work.
Claire: Can I ask you a bit more about your creative challenge specifically. Why 100 days of pen and brush?
Eloise: The 100-day project is actually quite tricky. You do need something that has a bit of constraint but is open enough to push you. I decided on pen and brush because I like to draw and I like to paint. I’m quite a tactile person. I thought I was going to do some drawings and painting separately but I ended up with the two mixed together. I painted backgrounds and then drew on top of it.
Claire: How did you do it? And do you feel like a style emerged?
Eloise: This is going to sound weird but every drawing I’ve posted to Instagram is very intuitive. I literally just sit in front of the page and hold the brush, and I feel what I feel and make the hand movement and see what happens. I can't think of the words to describe it but its very intuitive.
Claire: You literally just let it happen?
Eloise: What I’ve discovered is that the “brush” part of me is the fluid, intuitive part, and the “pen” on top is the more detailed and structured part of me. A pen has that kind of nature.
Claire: So those mediums have a different expression, accessing those two different parts of you?
Eloise: I’ve always had those two sides of me. The very organic, fluid intuitive side. Then there’s this very detailed, mechanical side of me. And I’ve always struggled to get the two sides together. But as I’m progressing with this work I’m finding they are meshing more. You were asking is this a style that has emerged? Yes, it is. But the idea of the two very opposite sides of me coming together is always present in my work. The last 5-6 years I’ve noticed that in my personal work.
Claire: I wonder if there is a power in what you’re doing to bring that integration and healing for yourself? With these two sides existing together on the page, I wonder if it is doing something in you?
Eloise: It's interesting that you say that. I’ve always engaged the detailed part of myself. The pen part. That part is very appreciated by the world. It's very logical, calculated, it thinks about money and deadlines. I think that side has dominated a little bit. The fluid, intuitive side of me has been a little bit forgotten, and I'm bringing that back and making the two coexist - I feel like I'm forcing them together. I need to do more of that to unify the two. It has probably been this splitting apart of these two that hasn’t helped me. I have to learn how to bring the intuitive creative side of me to boost that other side of me. It was coincidental that the hashtag was pen and brush.
Claire: It's quite symbolic really.
Eloise: It only emerged as the challenge went on. People were seeing different things in the painted side of the work, almost like ink blots. Everyone sees something different. I love that it connected with people.
Claire: I want to ask about your daily practice - what did it look like? What did you do every day?
Eloise: The challenge has given me a daily practice. I knew I wanted to get back to my creativity and I was doing it very randomly. One of the positive outcomes of the challenge is that it forced me to do it every day and I was quite strict about it. I would do four pieces at a time, working on them simultaneously, then photograph them. I found doing one a day - I did that in the beginning - was restricting. I had a lot of ideas and didn’t want to hold back. Doing four at a time also gave me time to work on writing captions. I’ve also discovered that I’m not a bad writer!
Claire: I've really loved reading your captions!
Eloise: Thank you. My brother looked at my writing and encouraged me to share more of my rawness. He told me ‘Your mess is your message.’ I think it's a well-known saying. You tend to want to hide what you do and how you got there. I also started using Instagram stories. People were asking technical questions. So I did some step by step tutorials on my stories. People asked a lot about watercolour. Water has a mind of its own and that’s what I love about it. It's very flowy and intuitive and changeable on the paper. It goes in a completely different direction and you have to make do with what it does. You have to let go. I think that's why I leaned toward it. You need to accept it for what it is and find the beauty in it. I can do pencil drawings that are photographically accurate, but I’ve lost interest in that because it doesn't really mean much. Watercolour is a much more physical process.
Claire: Were there any surprising parts of this 100-day challenge for you?
Eloise: Apart from a wonderful audience? That was the most surprising thing. That people were actually interested in what I was doing. I never thought anyone would actually care. I went from followers who were mostly family and friends to over 900 people who were asking me where they could buy my work!
Claire: Did you struggle with starting at all?
Eloise: You come to a point where you have to gather the courage to put pen to canvas. You can get caught up in being perfect but nothing is ever perfect. J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter at the lowest point in her life. That's how I feel now. You learn hard lessons when you’re at your lowest point.
Claire: Many people I’ve interviewed have said their best advice is to just start. What would you say?
Eloise: I would add to that. If you are really struggling to start something, it's usually because of fear. The best way to calm that fear is to break the task down into small pieces. In previous years when I tried to do the 100-day project, I used big canvases, storyboards, and a complicated set of processes. It was overwhelming. This time I decided to use smaller canvases, 10cm x 10cm squares, to make it smaller and more manageable. You need to make it easy to throw away so it doesn’t feel like such a bad mistake. Make mistakes. But if it's scary to make big mistakes, then make small mistakes. Don’t choose complicated things like oil painting if you’ve never done it. Do something you’re somewhat familiar with.
What I’ve been thinking about is writing a little book on how to do the 100-day challenge because I’ve been through quite a lot of things, and I’ve seen so many people start and then fall off the band wagon. What is unique about this challenge is that 100 days is a long time to press through that creativity. It's hard to keep at it. If you don’t go through the process, or only go through a quarter or it, you miss out on a lot of the learning. The really juicy stuff happens toward the end. And then finishing that final day and looking back is important too.
Claire: It feels like some of the themes that have emerged as we’ve chatted are:
- The critical importance of creativity for (your) well being
- The pen and brush - two sides coming together
Eloise: I think that is the new direction for me. Figuring out who I am through my creativity. I didn’t realise until this year that my creativity was actually part of my therapy.
Claire: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Eloise: One more thing. I followed Austin Kleon’s advice. I have an analogue desk and a digital desk. It is helpful to separate those two things. On this side, I have a desk set up with paint and pencils. On the other side are my computer and printer. That has been helpful to separate the two. When I was doing my degree our lecturers always said to separate the two. We never listened to them but they’re right. Nothing can kill creativity quite like a computer.
Places you can find Eloise online
Resources Eloise Recommends
Elle Luna's The Crossroads of Should and Must
Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist & Show Your Work
These Instagram Accounts
If you enjoyed reading this interview, you might want to have a look at these posts as well. If there's anything that stood out to you from this interview I'd love to hear from you. Drop me a comment, I'd love to chat.