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The Adjacent Possible: Trust Yourself | Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD

The Adjacent Possible: Trust Yourself | Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD

The Adjacent Possible: Trust Yourself


Do you trust yourself as an artist?

In this blog post, an excerpt from Chapters 4 of our newest book (Book Excellence Award Winner) The Adjacent Possible: Stories Of Artistic Transformation you’ll see that the art of activating the canvas and bringing a painting to life with your own personal lexicon of mark making, expressive gestures, and brushwork is nothing short of miraculous.


To create art that is unique to you and your own voice and vision is the highest attainment for an artist and yet, the most elusive. I


t requires a willingness to say yes to the creative ideas that call you, even though you tell yourself you don’t know what you’re doing.

You must face the perils of self-doubt that emerge as you step into the terra incognita, the unknown territory.

Being an artist is risky and vulnerable. It can feel frustrating and torturous.

You’re not going to love all your paintings—the path is strewn with half-finished, abandoned artworks. And yet, the magic and the mystery that unfolds when a painting emerges that mesmerizes you—a painting you love—is worth the struggle.

All of this comes down to one overarching thesis—trusting and believing in yourself and your art.


Vignette: Betty Franks


I have a story about how I came to create this kind of artwork.

I didn’t start creating until I turned 50 and I’m 58 now. It’s been a wonderful journey so far, but in the beginning I was doing some work in mixed media that I had just stumbled upon on the internet and I fell in love with that.

To this day, I remember the feeling of falling in love with abstract art and it has stayed with me all these years. I grew from there because I was only working on small pieces on 5 x 7 or 4 x 6-inch index cards at the time.


I wanted to start creating larger works, but I also wanted to create abstractly. And that’s where you (Nancy) came into play and where I learned about you and your first online course back in March 2016.

The year before I had gone to a workshop in Canada, and that’s when I put the stake in the ground and said, I want to be an abstract painter. That workshop had nothing to do with learning how to paint abstractly—it was more about the inner artist. But I decided from this day forward, I’m an abstract artist. I had no idea how to do that, but I knew I was an abstract artist now.

And then I learned about you and took your workshop. One of the most important things I got out of your workshop was the freedom of loving my marks. Prior to your workshop, I questioned every mark I put down on paper.

I questioned all of my mark making in a very negative way. Why did I do that? And what does that mean? And I don’t even like that. I don’t know if I should like that. Should I like it? Shouldn’t I like it? I don’t know .

I want to get one thing out of every workshop that I go to because it’s hard to absorb all of it and pull all of that into your artwork. That was the one thing that I really got out of your workshop that I carry with me to this day. Now I love all my marks, every mark is excellent work.

After a couple of years of learning, stumbling, figuring things out, it was the spring of 2018. When I visited my parents in Croatia, spring wildflowers were in bloom. My mom loves going on walks and we walked around and picked all these flowers.

We made bouquets because my mom loves them and has a gift of flower arranging.

Mom placed each flower just so, in an exquisite and artistic way. We had little bouquets all over the house and I remember sitting outside, looking over the gorgeous view of the Adriatic Sea.


A Sprinkle of Love | Betty Franks

Betty Franks | A Sprinkle of Love, 14” x 11” 42



I was sitting outside, and I remember putting out my art stuff, my plastic to cover the table, my paints, my brushes.



My Own Sunshine | Betty Franks

Betty Franks | My Own Sunshine, 14” x 11”



And I said to myself, Betty, you’re on vacation. Just paint. I still remember that feeling.

I was giving myself permission to just paint.



Pink Love | Betty Franks

Betty Franks | Pink Love, 14” x 11”



After I created several paintings, I realized I was painting bouquets of flowers. I’ve always loved flowers, but I never connected them with my artwork or what I was trying to express or not express.

I knew I loved flowers, but I didn’t know how much I loved flowers. Having these bouquets of flowers and constantly being around them and enjoying walks with my mom became embedded deeply into my psyche.

It wasn’t like I created that first one and said, Oh, that’s what I’m creating . It took a little while to figure that out. And then to be able to look back and say, Oh, that’s what I was creating .

Since then, I have strengthened my skills in creating art that expresses my love for fields of flowers. My love for flowers in general, my love for color that mirrors my love for life, my joy in life, my happiness in life. So, it’s trying to bring all of that together.

And so, I’ve continued to grow as an artist in that way. And it’s quite different from what I was creating several years ago. I can see the progression, but I can still see that both my previous work and my current work are very much me.

Something emerged out of those walks with my mother, and I didn’t know where it was going to go, and I didn’t know it was going to become this whole journey of creativity. But I just went with it. And I think it was that ability to give myself permission that enabled this new adventure.

It was important to not think about it so much and not worry about it and just see that it was like this faucet that turned on and just started flowing. It was different from my previous experience where I struggled so hard.

Finally, everything just flowed.

—Betty Franks


Reflection: A Letter from Your Future Self


Imagine yourself in your future—it may be a year or several years from now. Write a letter to yourself about why you believe in yourself and what you’ve learned about yourself as an artist in those years. Talk about your art.

Project into the future some ideas and dreams for yourself. Imagine what you have accomplished and write about this. The idea is to envision how you wish to be and who you want to become as an artist. This will guide you through the perils of creating.



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.

Book Unboxing: Here’s Betty’s video of receiving the book! Lots of fun.

Now, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy and go check out Chapters 4 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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