My husband and I are shifting to new jobs which has led to a season of transition for our family. To top it all off, my husband was in the States over his birthday and Father's Day which made all of us a little emotional being apart. So Sunday afternoon my son went to a friend's house, and I took my 10-year-old daughter upstairs to my art studio/writing space/office in the attic. We wanted to make something as a gift for my husband for his return, but more than that, we wanted to both have a time to create. For two hours we scribbled and scratched and rubbed in pastels and charcoals while we listened to music. My soul settled, and my daughter's mood improved after being rather grumpy. Because I found that when I create something, it's healing.
Until several years ago, I never considered myself an artist (at least a real artist). I had taught myself how to make costume jewelry and could glue decorative crafts together, but that was it. I couldn't draw or paint or create anything on canvas. It seemed that when I tried, these negative voices would scream in my head, 'You can't!', 'You don't have any talent!', or 'If you even try, you will fail!'.
Five years ago that all changed when a friend (who actually couldn't draw either) brought over her new set of pastels. She wanted me to try out her new purchase with her. Yes, my creation looked like a muddy, deformed wart (I think it was supposed to be a rose or something). No, it wasn't pretty. But it was the first time I didn't let those 'voices' stop me.
I realised that I was letting voices of my past, or what I thought I heard from other people (or that deep part of me that feared failing) dictate what I could and couldn't do. 'Who told you that??' became my new phrase that would challenge those voices. I decided I had nothing to lose and enrolled in a beginner art class.
The following is an excerpt in my novel from the last half of a chapter about becoming an artist. It's a true 'confession' from my life (though the character's name is Jenna).
. . . I enrolled in an adult continuing education art class, mostly filled with people over 60. The first time around, I dragged a friend with me.
I walked in and at once noticed everyone with kits, portfolios and supplies. My friend and I didn’t even bring a pen. We introduced ourselves to the instructor, she said her name, which was difficult to pronounce, and said to call her ‘Vee’ for short. She explained the format of the class, and we searched for seats.
‘Is that Sean Connery over there?’ I asked my friend with a smirk.
‘Sure looks like him. He has two free spaces by him; let’s sit over there.’
‘Yesh’, I said, poorly imitating the actor’s smooth Scottish accent.
‘Yesh,’ she said.
We sat by ‘Sean’ as we waited for our first lesson, and he didn’t seem too amused when we noted his similarity to the actor, or when my friend and I kept saying ‘yesh’ at everything. Vee passed around an object for each of us to draw; the purpose was to assess our individual levels as artists. I picked some spare paper with a few pastels, the only medium I had ever tried. My object was a sea shell.
As I attempted to copy the shell, I noticed Sean’s work of art: an intricate box drawn in pencil and charcoal. It was beautiful and in my beginner’s opinion, could have been framed and sold. Sean looked with pity at my object on the paper: a smudgy blob.
Vee came around, praised Sean’s box for a few minutes, and swapped a few arty kind of comments as I tried to cover my blob with my hand.
‘Well, let me look at yours, Jenna.’
I kept the blob covered. ‘Erm, this is my first attempt to actually draw something. I’m not an artist.’
‘Sure you are, love. Everyone’s an artist. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone has an individual style. And you have to start somewhere, don’t you,’ Vee said, motioning me to move my hand.
Vee stared at the blob, and she said what I heard a few more times that year. ‘Huh, interesting.’
‘I told you, I’m not an artist, Vee.’
Vee breathed a light-hearted sigh and rolled up her sleeves. ‘Let me show you how to hold your pencil.’ We got a little tutorial on how artists, who are different than common people, hold their pencil which was quite fascinating. I practised the next few days on holding my pencil like an artist.
Every week, Vee introduced us to new and exciting mediums. I still couldn’t draw, but I was captivated by the blending of watercolours, the variety of paper surfaces, and the different techniques with paints. Vee was always encouraging, though I still got the ‘huh, interesting’ comment.
Near Christmas, we were introduced to pen and ink. I decided to draw an old English cottage with my purple ink and feather quill. I really enjoyed it, and when Vee came around, she actually seemed excited.
‘Jenna, I think we have discovered a good medium for you!’
‘Really, are you serious? Does it actually look like an English cottage?’
My friend leaned over and agreed; it did look pretty decent. I was starting to become an artist.
The next term, Vee put the beginners into an afternoon class. I learned tone, perspective, colour wheels, and other basic skills that could help me actually look at something and draw it with more accuracy.
Eight months later, after a summer break, I started a fresh class. I sat next to a girl who was in the same position I had been in a year earlier. As customary, we were given our objects to draw, which would assess our skill level. At the end of the two hours, she sat staring at her blank paper.
‘Are you feeling overwhelmed?’ I asked the girl.
‘Yeah, I don’t know how to draw. Always wanted to, but I thought I’d go on a course to help me. This is really intimidating. I mean, look at yours; you could frame that.’
‘I was in the same boat you were in last year. Really, couldn’t draw a stick person without breaking into a sweat. Vee is a great teacher; she believes in people no matter their level. You are an artist. You just need to learn a few things.’ The girl seemed relieved.
‘Has anyone ever told you your voice is as smooth as treacle? I’ve never actually met a real American person before,’ she said.
‘Ah, no, never heard that one. Thanks, though.’ I went home and had to look up the definition of treacle.
A year and a half after the initial class, Vee sat down with each student to give feedback on how she had seen him or her grow as an artist. She pointed out my strengths and encouraged me to draw with the style she saw emerging, and then she told me to enter the city-wide art show that summer. I did, and they accepted a few of my works.
I am an artist. With the roadblocks removed, and the mocking voices quieted, I am on the path to following a fulfilling dream where I can contribute to creating beauty in this world even if I stay an amateur and do it for my own personal enjoyment.
Pablo Picasso was once quoted as saying, ‘All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ With all their scribbles and scratches, I tell my children they are artists. I also tell them they are writers, musicians, poets, leaders, and the list goes on. I will let them make up their own minds whether they want to pursue it or not later in life and will not be the cynic in their formative life stages. My job is to cheer them on, and help them believe in themselves, and build up their confidence.
These days, when I have coffee with a friend, and she tells me about a dream to design hats, write a book, start her own business, or even to learn to draw, and she says she can’t, I ask her the same questions I ask myself: ‘Who told you that ? And what’s stopping you?’ Then I smile.
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