For as long as I can remember, I have considered myself an artist. Which is strange, considering that the word “artist” usually points to someone who actually makes art. Which, I do not. Well, not any more.
I used to be quite prolific. I have folders and pages and pages of my pencil drawings, and a few of my paintings hang on my walls. I even have digital files of my short-lived web-comic. Over time, though, I slowly stopped producing anything. Part of it was my time being taken up by raising smalls. It’s hard to work up the drive to get even a pad of paper and a pencil out, when you know they are going to be grabbed at, leaned over, and even critiqued by your mini-mes. Waiting until the littles were in bed also proved to be difficult, as one of my weird anxiety driven quirks is that I cannot stand explaining myself when I do something that’s outside my normal routine. And when I say “explaining myself,” I mean any acknowledgement at all of the activity I’m involved in. This includes, but is not limited to, being asked what I’m up to, being talked to at all while I’m doing said activity, being glanced at (most likely involuntarily) while I’m *struggling* with said activity. Looking over my shoulder at any time, ever, is RIGHT OUT. Coupled with my paralyzing perfectionism, it makes for a very unfriendly mental state for creative expression.
I can point to a couple of occasions over the past year, when I tried to put pencil to paper (while no one was looking). To my horror, the pencil felt clumsy in my hand. Everything I drew was ugly, and did not live up to the beautifully pristine blank sheet of promises. I hid them away, and lamented to myself that I had “lost it.” I wanted to get it back, to bring myself back to putting pencil to paper again, so it would feel as naturally as breathing. Every day I would wake up thinking, “today I will draw something, after I’ve done all my chores,” but after procrastinating on the internet all day, only to be faced with a growing pile of mess at the end of it, I never had enough time. “Tomorrow,” I would think, but the next day would look exactly the same as the day before.
Then March happened. I decided to try the Flylady method of getting it together. While I did not follow every step to the end, I did manage to get a daily routine that I am happy with. My house is still clean, and I spend surprisingly little time actually cleaning it every day. I’m not even sure what changed exactly. I’ve tried making cleaning schedules and routines before, and they never took, but this time was different. The habit of regular cleaning times is engrained into my day now, and I do it without thinking.
That brings us to a week ago. Now that I didn’t have to feel guilty about and avoid cleaning my dirty house, it freed up a lot of my time. At first, I still spent the day on the internet, or playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, in between feeding the kids (which takes up a lot of time all on its own) but I knew that wasn’t right. I decided to use the extra time to get to all the things I said I wanted to do, like draw and write. I kept getting hung up on the “what to draw” part of the equation, and also scared of producing more imperfect things that I would have to hide. The thought came to me that when a musician wants to improve their basic skills, they play scales. What’s the artist equivalent? I wanted to get right back to basics and start from the ground up, so I looked to the internet for advice. I found pages upon pages of Youtube videos featuring artists doing drawing tutorials. It’s a freaking gold mine. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to look before.
The really strange part is that many of the drawing exercises they teach are things that I used to spend my whole days doing, but I never knew they were actual techniques for improving your skills. I have, admittedly undiagnosed, ADD. I developed the habit of doodling in the margins of my notes as a way to focus on what the teacher was saying. I found that if I could keep my hands and eyes busy, I could stay present and keep my ears open. I never realized that this was actually helping me to draw better. This habit has followed me any time I need to pay attention to words being spoken at me, but it’s been so long since I’ve needed to do that, it’s been years since I’ve doodled. It’s also been years since I’ve been able to draw anything. Coincidence?
This revelation makes me want to kick myself. All this time I could have been happily doodling away, without the pressure of feeling like every blank piece of paper has to be turned into a masterpiece, without knowing what to draw when I sit down to it. It’s frustrating because my drawing muscles are weak, and I physically am unable to draw like I am accustomed to. But at least I’m putting pencil to paper now.
Wow. To all of it. I’m fascinated to hear about your creative process, since my creative outlet is and always has been writing… I thought I was crazy because if I’m writing, and someone innocently says to me “what are you writing?” it almost always ends up in the recycle bin. Something about being asked just kills that spark that I tend when I’m writing anything, even as simple as an email to a friend.
I’m so happy that you’ve started again.
I heard something at a team building seminar for my work which made a lot of sense to me. I doubt it’s really been researched or proven in anyway, but it has the ring ot truth.
You have to wrack up 10,000 hours of doing something in order to become an expert in it. Just TIME. No matter how talented you think you are at something, if you don’t have the 10,000 hours, you will never achieve greatness. Too many people try something, and then decide that they are a failure because they didn’t become fantastic right away. But you have to work at it. You need practice.
This explains to me how Sidney Crosby reached greatness – he probably racked up 10,000 hours just shooting pucks in the laundry room. It explains to me why PH, who was once a talented a curler, is frustrated with his own performance on the rare occasion he goes out and throws a few rocks.
It also dovetails well with some interesting psychology research that has emerged – that telling children that they are smart actually impedes their success and lowers their self esteem.
This comment was turning into a super long post, so I think I’ll make a response on my own blog and link back! Thanks for turning on the thoughts.
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