Like you, my life as an artist began with paper and crayola crayons. Over the years it’s kind of converged, back there, to that innocent place again. Mainly because making art can be so intimidating that you never even try.
In college, I became an art major not because of inherent talent or encouragement but because I was fascinated by the symbolism contained within the images of art (a precursor, certainly, to my love for astrology).
Because I felt it was a good idea to learn from the art I was studying, and I was curious as to whether I could make art, I took the 101’s and 201’s. I learned that good art was more a learned skill than a talent. Printmaking interested me (a precursor, likely, to my love for publishing). I remember at my final exam, my printmaking instructor told me that she thought I was really hard on myself; she told me I was good, and the confidence I craved would come with practice.
By graduation year, my advisor suggested I stay an extra year to solidify my skills, so I had something solid to offer (sour face).
Over a decade later, while in Vienna for a month, I sought out a week-long intensive with a local artist. A fastidious Virgo, she wanted to turn me into a “real” artist – whether that was my goal or not. I was to spend 8 hours a day in her studio, drawing. It was stressful, and productive. She also had a fabulous espresso machine to keep me going, and me, a lover of coffee, I had upwards of 6 shots most days. I returned home with some fabulous drawings, the likes of which I will never be able to recreate. Nor would I want to; they were too perfect. I also came back with a case of bad adrenal fatigue.
My path to art-making has been one of ongoing permission: To make just okay art, explore myself, or take a break from other things. I’ve learned to not: Turn what can be fun and interesting into an arduous, tedious goal hellbent on perfect realism, and to not use art-making as more fuel for the inner critic.
Confidence, as my art professor told me, is acquired through experience, practice.
…but TRUST in oneself? That is acquired through feeling SAFE enough to play loosely and freely.
It feels like safety has been lacking in our world lately, which is why it feels good to sketch.
I have not sketched in maybe over a year or more. This definitely means starting all over again.
I use blind contour drawing to begin; I draw what I see without even looking down at the paper or pen. I accept whatever shows up. It helps me to loosen up, and work through self-doubt. Blind contour drawing teaches you to observe the subject so closely, become so intimate with it, to know well: that curve, that shine in the eye, that downy feathered tail. But, since you do it without looking, self-evaluation doesn’t get to join the party (ha!).
I also commit to working with a pen so I won’t be tempted to erase mistakes. Mistakes, of which there are many, are a part of the process, and some become a part of the art.
I’ve also learned that unless I intensely love the subject, I don’t get results I enjoy. My dog. Animals. Nature. Whatever it is, it must fill me with elation, fascination, love, while studying it. I can see the love – in the most modest sketches (often my favorites).
Most of us are struggling with self-trust, and confidence, nowadays. Life has dealt heavy blows.
After being so long at a stormy sea, we are finding our sea legs all over again. When disembarking from a disorienting journey, certain behaviors: Perfectionism, self-criticism, force, pressure, tedium…are utterly useless, if not severely disabling. These will not help us find our way back to safety and self-trust. Uninhibited, spontaneous, looseness will.
We can do this through reconnecting with our heart—a felt sense of the Lover loving its beloveds, be that bird, bee, pet, person. When we are the Lovers beholding, appreciating, and loving the Beloveds of the world… love is easy to find.
Art facilitates heart reconnection (it’s no accident art is in the word he-art). Find something you’d love to spend time appreciating, and then give yourself permission to explore it in any medium. Write, color, sketch, collage, take a few moments to be imperfect, messy, and intimate. Art can be anything you make, and anything can become art.
Most of us are well-seasoned in using criticism, rigor and perfectionism to get results from our Self. Art combats this for me. I create until I fall in love, or till I’m bored with, what I’m working on. Maybe it’s only an hour, maybe I only like one sketch, and maybe it’s something only for me. It’s all okay. No rules. Only following inspiration to see where it leads.
But you know what this act of creating gives me?
Safety. A safe place, for the self-trust I’m newly nurturing, to land.
-Jessica Shepherd, author, Follow the Moonlit Path