How many ‘things’ in your daily life do you find joyful? Does your phone sitting dumbly on your bedside table bring you joy? What about your kitchen table? Maybe that’s a bit more joyful? Maybe not.
We fill our lives with tools. Often these tools are expensive like cars, computers, instruments and furniture. Though their monetary cost may be relatively high as compared to most daily purchases, these things are pretty basic when it comes to emotional value. They’re usually one or two colors and designed for things like ease of use, innovation, comfort and luxury. While my computer is quite speedy, clean looking and functional, it doesn’t make me smile when I look at it lying closed on my desk.
What if our lives were filled with joy everywhere we looked? What if the feelings we felt with our friends, our pets, our art or our joyfully healthy plants existed in more ‘mundane’ everyday objects?
Joy and its occasional cousin, love, shows up in many ways. We may find joy in a brilliant cartoon or meme, it may show up in a smile or conversation with another human and it can be conveyed through the unexpected. When our normally boring daily objects defy our expectations, they can become a joyful surprise, reminding us that our stuff is just stuff and we have the power to make it special on our own terms.
I’m not the type of person who promotes heavy bumper sticker usage, but I do think there’s something there. The folks who cover their vehicles or computers in stickers often share jokes or colors through their pasted messages and affiliations. The car itself is transformed into a moving message, hopefully one that spreads love and joy.
I discovered that our tools can become literal vehicles for joy when I started painting cars and taking them on epic road trips in 2017. I did this in the midst of recovery from a brain cancer diagnosis just after surgery, radiation and chemo. Facing mortality transformed my creative impulses into a core part of my healing protocol. It quickly became apparent that my healing could also bring healing to those around me.
I was a bit nervous when I started painting the 1995 Honda Del Sol, here was this multi-thousand dollar investment that could be re-sold in the future, would I destroy its value by painting it? What if my painting wasn’t good? Would it matter?
Fortunately I jumped beyond my apprehension and took the risk. Life is never promised and I had just been given a huge reminder of that fact, these physical things seemed less important than the experience of expressing myself through them.
On the other side of my apprehension I discovered the incredible joy a painted car can spread. Everywhere I’ve driven in my painted vehicles I’ve found people taking photos, smiling and laughing. Motorcyclists talk to me on the streets when my windows are down and old couples give me their thumbs up. I especially enjoy young kids who often react in awe, stopping on the sidewalk to gawk at my colorful cars as their parents offer their supportive commentary.
In Los Angeles, a city normally associated with a car culture that separates people through closed windows and traffic filled highways, I found my painted cars bringing people out of their shells to connect. This is even more true during pandemic times when any sign of freedom and joy is a welcome respite.
The biggest thing I learned from painting cars was that our stuff is OUR stuff and we can choose how we want to interact with it. While I’m not yet painting Rolls Royces, I did recently paint my 1979 Porsche 928 (see video above).
Painting older vehicles and giving them new life with colors, shapes and patterns feels low risk and I look forward to painting more vehicles and discovering their potential for joy spreadage. In addition to my Honda Del Sol and Porsche 928 so far I’ve painted two Prius’, a Volvo Wagon, a Ducati motorcycle and a Nissan XTerra. Some of these vehicles I bought and sold, others I was commissioned to paint. The value of this work has proven itself for me as an artist / driver and those who choose to paint their cars and spread love on their own adventures.
Cars aren’t the only vehicle for creative expression. There are tons of objects and tools we interact with every day that can become canvases for joy.
- This piano in San Diego (below) became a canvas for my work and a source of visual inspiration for whoever sits down and plays it.
- The hemp chaise lounge chairs on top of the new Soho Warehouse in DTLA are similar, the poolside lounges are intended to bring a sense of play and joy to the roof. Shoutout to my friends at Mooncloth for working with me on this amazing project.
A few months ago I enjoyed painting this set of metal and canvas side chairs with orange and navy brushstrokes covering the fabric. The controlled lines, dashes and curves of these brush strokes aren’t as free-form as that first car or piano but my intention is that they still convey a joyful sense of freedom and ease to whomever decides to purchase them.
If you’re interested in having these in your space please contact me here.
The purpose of this article is not purely to promote my work, though I hope it brings you a smile as you see it and I’d love to paint all of your stuff :) I want to encourage you to find your joy in decorating your life. That could mean taking some paint, fabric, paper or markers and doing it yourself or commissioning your favorite local artist to make you a functional work, who knows, maybe they’re game to come over and paint your fridge!
There are so many artists and designers who take risks and communicate joy through their work whether it’s home goods, fashion or other formats. Many are very likely open for commissions. Here’s a few I love:
- Dusen Dusen
- Frankie Zombie
- Block Shop Textiles
- Peggy Noland
- Roberto Lugo
- LJ Roberts
- Bunnie Reiss
- Nicole Mclaughlin
- Alby Guillaume
- London Kaye
While there’s plenty of products and artworks ready for purchase, don’t just accept what the commercial marketplace serves you. Find pieces that speak to you directly and work with artists to make the functional canvases in your world full of beauty and play. Heck, if you feel inspired, get some paint and start expressing your joy however it comes out!
When you release the preciousness of your stuff and open up to the possability of more joyful expression, those tools and daily objects begin to support you and those around you in every way; physically, spiritually and emotionally.
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Ethan Lipsitz a visual artist and founder of Extremist Love, a platform that advocates for love activism with media, art, technology and experience. Find him every week spreading love with his podcast Love Extremist Radio and traveling the world as an artist and facilitator. Got questions about artist commissions? Contact Ethan here.