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The Adjacent Possible: Art Is An Inner Journey by Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible: Art Is An Inner Journey by Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible: Art Is An Inner Journey


What if you trusted and believed in yourself as an artist?

In this blog post, an excerpt from Chapters 3 of our newest book (Book Excellence Award Winner) The Adjacent Possible: Stories Of Artistic Transformation you’ll see that creating art is about wrestling down the monsters of self-doubt, even if it takes a lifetime.

Your inner narrative, your mindset, your psychology affects everything in your art and life. Whether you’re facing a blank canvas, wrestling down the dark angels of self-doubt and wondering if you’re really an artist—or glued to the sofa and finding excuses not to go into your studio—your psychology is central to your creativity.

It may not seem heroic to walk into a studio and pick up a brush, but Hero’s Journeys come in all shapes and sizes, from almost imperceptible to the central challenge of one’s life. They all matter, and they all interact with each other.


Discover the power of wizards in the story of Maggy Herbert-Jobson.


Vignette: Maggy Herbert-Jobson


The Power of Wizards

Long long ago and far away, when she was about six or seven years old, M. loved to play with paper and paste and paint, but she was very, very messy, in the way little people can be–and some adults like her.

She was at a very grown-up school, where good people painted carefully within the lines– something she could not do. And so, for the first time, she encountered the power that bad wizards can hold.

She was told she was too messy and untidy and so forbidden to paint and told she should go and do math and English and other such subjects, but not art.

She followed the edict of the big person–because she sensed she was a very strong wizard with great powers. And so followed her prescription and did Mathematics and English but never again went into an art room.

That little person was quite shy and quiet, but in time, she learned the magic of the written word– and although she followed the wizard’s dictate of math and English, she also loved the magic of books, of stories, and of poetry and the images thus created.

And so, her life continued through school, through college, and out into the big world, but she knew she wasn’t allowed to paint.

At the age of 17, she made her first trip abroad, traveling solo to Hanover and encountered the incredible German expressionist painters. Their explosive work of color and mark making somehow registered that not all painters stayed within the lines. But still, she didn’t paint.

Meantime her life followed a pretty exciting path and eventually into a fast track career in consulting, offered an exciting smorgasbord of powerful visual and cultural experiences traveling from China to Guatemala, from the Pacific to Eastern Europe, from remote India and South Africa to the Americas, loving the window of color and difference–a powerful contrast to her northern European homeland. But still, she didn’t paint.

But then, one day some 50 years later, she managed to fracture several vertebrae in a nasty horseback riding accident and ended up in spinal rehab. With sticks various, she stumbled into an art room and found a small book of unusual watercolors by John Blockley and was entranced. An art therapist pottered over and asked if she would like to paint “just do some washes?” She asked what a wash was.

Incredibly hesitant and shy, she refused to be with other people, but learned to play on her own, behind closed doors and quietly fell in love with the magic of mark making and color.


Serendipity was a house move to the UK’s Cotswolds–an area of outstanding natural beauty. And even more extraordinary–as an almost complete novice, by chance was invited to join the John Blockley Group–an association of mainly very successful professional artists. It was terrifying but magical. And so yes, she finally began to paint, but always alone, hiding her work, horrified at the thought of being not good enough.

And so, it continued. Her love of painting turned into a passion. She devoured art books and sought skilled tutors, but despite being selected for many major national juried competitions and exhibitions, she remained nervous about painting with others–only willing to show her work when it was professionally manicured by mounting or framing.

But then one day, many many years later in 2019, she happened to find Nancy Hillis’ Studio Journey and there began an incredible transformation of not only her painting–but her very being.

The terror of being judged for being messy or worse, for being thrown out of class, was overwritten by a good wizard–who rewrote the journey.

The idea of many, many starts and then gentle counsel of living with the raw and the ugly–and the sheer magic of exploring. The change was slow, but built strongly, built step-by-step, week after week, art bundle by art bundle–and the shy caterpillar began to feel she might just have wings.

The fear of dismissal and not being good enough has been replaced by a love of experimenting and sharing–not just the manicured and framed, but often the very raw and experimental.

The magic of the good wizard–who has been her wonderful Guide along the path of Studio Journey.

Hallelujah for the power of Nancy Hillis and the support of the other Journeyers. The program has been absolutely transformational.

After nearly seventy years, Maggy is allowed to paint and share her work–the good, the bad, and sometimes the very, very ugly!

—Maggy Herbert-Jobson


A Quiet Path | Maggy Herbert-Jobson

Maggy Herbert-Jobson | A Quiet Path, 14.5” x 14.5”




Maggy Herbert-Jobson | Coonoor Via Ooty,

Maggy Herbert-Jobson | Coonoor Via Ooty, 14.5” x 14.5” Coonoor Via Ooty was selected for a major national juried exhibition in the UK.


Reflection: My Inner Journey Mind Map


Materials: Large sheet of paper, marker, or pens

In the center of the paper, write: My Inner Journey. Draw a circle around this title. Allow your mind to generate ideas, images, feelings, associations, related concepts, and anything else that comes to mind.

Write your associations to your inner journey of creating.

  1. What does creating art bring up for you?
  2. What are the challenges, aha moments, revelations, and observations you have encountered in your art?
  3. Where would you like to go with your art?
  4. What are the stories, images, symbols, motifs, and sources that fuel your art?
  5. What scares you?
  6. What stops you?
  7. What encourages you?
  8. What would you like to explore next in your art?

Connect your associations to the central title with a line and circle.

Are there recurring motifs? Ideas that stand out and energize you? Associations you would like to let go of? Are your associations mostly positive, negative, neutral, or some combination? Do you see themes emerging? Is there an overarching idea?

Notice and write about the connections and intersections between your associations.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. If you enjoyed this excerpt from our newest book which won the Book Excellence Award: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation, you’ll love the other stories and artwork by 25 amazing artists who are employing concepts from The Adjacent Possible in their art.

Now, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy and go check out Chapters 3 and more.

Get your copy now: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook * Stories Of Artistic Transformation






Click HERE to order your book. 







Nancy Hillis & Bruce Sawhill, Authors of The Adjacent Possible books and blog

Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD, Authors of The Adjacent Possible books and blog



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