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Attention Deficit Disorder Association

Creativity Reigns: ADHD and the Artist
An Interview with Duane Gordon

Judy Brenis

It is devastating to an artist to feel that he or she has lost the inspiration to create. However, artist's block is one fear Canadian artist Duane Gordon says he doesn't worry about. "For me, the ideas have always come so fast, I'm overwhelmed by them," said Gordon, who believes his ADHD probably plays a role in his mental hyperactivity. "I doubt I will live long enough to paint all the ideas I've already had."

"The disadvantage of my ADHD, however," Gordon explained, "is that no one appreciates your ideas. Ideas aren't enough. You have to create something. And that means, you have to carve out time in your schedule, you have to stop procrastinating, you have to get your paint and your brushes and get your butt in the studio and paint. There's work to be done if you're going to create anything," he said.

"I have every excuse in the world not to make time for my art. I have a full time job, I have a wife, kids, commitments - lots of reasons not to do this." But he was committed to his art, so Gordon worked with an ADHD coach to learn how to master time management. He now schedules a whopping 20 hours each week to sit in his studio and create.

"It would be so easy to just let my ADHD take control," Gordon admits. "It would be easy to procrastinate, to watch television, to give in to that voice that says 'I don't feel like painting tonight.'" But instead, Gordon strictly adheres to the demanding schedule he has laid out for himself, balancing work, volunteer commitments, family and his art. "If you don't control how you use your time, there are plenty of people who will!"

It wasn't always like that, however. Gordon didn't know he had ADHD until about 16 years ago when his then five-year-old daughter was diagnosed, and he began reading, "Driven to Distraction," by Dr. Ned Hallowell. "We wanted to understand what my daughter was dealing with, but my wife and I immediately recognized my symptoms, perhaps even more than my daughters (after all, she was just getting started)."

Gordon said he struggled for years, especially in university, to keep jobs, to manage his finances and with personal relationships. "For me, my worst symptoms are forgetting stuff, not paying attention to important things and making impulsive decisions. The older I got, the worse it got. After all, as we get older, life just gets more complicated," he said. "When you're in school you have your teachers telling you what to do, you have your mother telling you what to do. But once you're out on your own, it all falls apart. At least it definitely did for me."

Even after Gordon was diagnosed and began taking Ritalin, he still couldn't seem to get his life together. Finally, despite the high cost involved, he decided to participate in a study he had read about which looked at the effects of training and coaching on adult ADHD. He said he went through classes, which helped somewhat. "I learned a lot, but still wasn't able to put it into practice," Gordon said. At least, not until he hired his own personal ADHD coach. "I worked with her for six months and it was phenomenal! Taking what I learned and step by step putting it into practice in my life, at work and at home."

Meantime, Gordon's once all-consuming passion for art was reawakened. Having dreamed of being an artist as a child, he said he gave it up when his father refused to let him attend the prestigious Banff School of Fine Arts, even after winning a scholarship. Instead, his father insisted he attend a military college. "My father said, 'You're not wasting your life pursuing art. You're going to military college, get a career and when you've done that, if you still want to paint, you can pursue that."

Gordon said he reacted like a typical teenager, deciding that if his father wouldn't let him pursue his interest in art, "I would never create art again." And he didn't. It was years later when his wife noticed the pictures he would draw upon requests for his young daughters. "One day she said to me, 'Did you know you could draw!?' For Christmas that year, her gift to me, one of the best I ever received, was a drawing class at the university. I didn't want to go at first," Gordon admits. "But, I did and that completely changed my life."

In fact, soon after the drawing classes, Gordon, who had always been nervous about painting, signed up for a beginning painting class, followed quickly by intermediate and senior classes. "I began working on bringing my drawing and my painting together and realized I could really do some interesting things." Then about six years ago, Gordon said he figured out he might just be good enough to really do something with his art even though he had started late.

Since that revelation, Gordon has displayed his work in numerous shows and exhibitions. "The city, the people, the architecture of Montreal inspire me," he said. "My love for this city, my admiration for its landscape and my passion to express its distinctive character allow me to explore and share its unique qualities."

"Painting is the easiest thing in the world that I do," Gordon said. Unlike many creative ADDers, he never worries about ADHD medication extinguishing his creativity, "At least for me, it has never happened." He finds his inspiration is almost always there, and he loves the constant rush of ideas and his ability to quickly enter a state of hyperfocus.

"Painting allows my heart to sing."

Judy Brenis is an ADHD coach based in Santa Cruz, California. ADHD has touched her life in the form of her 22-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD at age five, and Judy is passionate about helping those with ADHD create successful, happy, and healthy lives. Reach her at www.judyadhdcoaching.com.

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