Finding your inner artist
Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
It’s not that we lose the ability to create art. It’s that we lose confidence.
When you look at the art of a 5-year-old, you see the pure marks of someone who is just enjoying the process of applying marks and colour to paper. There’s no self-criticism in the act. A child will proudly show you their wobbly drawing with colour splashed all over the page and be joyful about the fact that they made it. It is their creation. They had a whale of a time making it and they love it.
As they get older, this starts to change. They will bring you their painting and say something like, “I did this, but it’s not the best cat/dog/house/person”. Whoa! Hold on. What happened to the joy and the confidence and the unadulterated enthusiasm for making art?
We happened. The grownup world happened. We don’t mean to dent their enthusiasm but gradually, the child looks at the adult world and starts to feel the judgement of their work. Subsequently, we start to compare our art to other people’s work and find our own work lacking. We forget what art is and start looking for perfection instead of expression.
I know this because I remember the phrase that, to this day, can still make me feel like an imposter in my identity as an artist.
Not fitting in the artist box
“You’re the numbers one. Your sister is the artistic one.” This was my mother’s way of describing our strengths. Sadly, I heard the opposite of what was meant. I heard, “You can’t make art” and that perception stuck. I watched my sister draw amazing images and create fascinating and dynamic art. And it all looked so exciting, I wished I could do it too.
We hear messages about our abilities, and they become labels we carry through life. Then we start to fear ridicule if our work isn’t good enough. We are afraid that if we try to make art and it isn’t perfect, people will judge us and find us wanting. None of this is true, of course. But fears like this are not rational. And the longer we live with them, the harder they are to break down. They become part of our identity, and this is when we hear people say
“I can’t paint.”
“I’m useless at anything creative.”
“I wish I could draw, but I am rubbish at it.”
My question is … “In whose opinion?”
Perhaps we really do believe that we can’t paint. Right now, that may be true – but that’s only because we haven’t tried, or we have tried and then given up because we expected to be able to paint like Michaelangelo the first time we pick up a brush.
How I came to be an artist
When I was at school you could either study maths and science, or you could follow what was called ‘the humanities’, which included subjects like home economics and art. Naturally, because I was ‘the numbers one’, I had to go down the maths route. But I remember having one art teacher who had the foresight to say that anyone could come and use the art room during break time – whether they were in the art class or not. I spent many of my break times in the art room. There was no teaching involved. However, I enjoyed using the art materials to create paintings on my own. Sadly that teacher moved on after a very short tenure and that was the end of my painting time.
Fast forward to 2009. I read an article that challenged the belief that you had to be born with artistic talent to be able to paint well. Not so, the author asserted. Painting was a learned skill and anyone could do it. That article was the catalyst that made me challenge my ‘numbers one’ label. We went on a 4-day trip to visit a friend who had been a high school art teacher before he and his wife retired to France. He took me through some basics of drawing, oil pastels, chalk pastels, watercolours and acrylic painting. By the end of those 4 days, I was hooked. The key was that I approached the whole thing with curiosity. I still had a high degree of self-criticism but my goal for the trip was not to become a proficient painter.
My goal was simply to find out whether I still enjoyed the process of making art. I started painting regularly, going to workshops and now have my own studio where I paint almost every day. There have been frustrating moments along the way, but far more joyful times. My painting stretches my imagination and feeds my curiosity. It has become part of my identity. Now I am not ‘the numbers one’. I am a wife, mother, daughter, friend, businesswoman, and artist – and a whole lot more.
Helping you with finding your inner artist
From time to time, I have encouraged a friend to start painting and sometimes even invited them to come and play with paint in my studio. I regularly (when lockdowns don’t prevent it) have experimental painting days with a fellow artist where we just try something new that we’ve not done before. I love nothing more than to see a friend discover the joy of creating art.
If you’ve ever said, “I can’t paint”, I challenge you to have another try. This time don’t try to create a masterpiece. Don’t even try to create a painting that will go on display.
Instead, paint purely for the curiosity of finding out whether you enjoy the process of making marks on paper. It doesn’t matter whether you or anyone else thinks the end result is any good. ‘Good’ is a subjective judgement that is simply unhelpful and irrelevant.
When it comes to art, the best piece of advice is to do it for the process. There are so many more valuable aspects of making art than the production of a masterpiece.
Painting and drawing can do so many things for us. We can get lost in the flow of the activity and feel the calming effects of painting. Expressing the way we feel through the marks that appear on the paper. We can find joy in energetic explosions of colour on the page. We can learn to observe detail more accurately, and so much more.
If you think of yourself as a non-artist, why not take off that label for a little while and join me for an exploration of mark-making on paper – just to see how you feel about it. You can always put your non-artist label back on later if you still want it.
In the meantime, just bring your curiosity and let’s have a bit of fun. This one is suitable for the whole family.