I have a secret and I’m just not gonna hide it anymore. I’ll just feel better when I admit this.
I am not really an artist.
Wait! What? Not an artist?
Yep. This has to be true because as soon as start thinking of myself as an artist, Mean Girl in the back of my brain hears about it and fires back a text that might go something like this:
• You have no clue what you are doing.
• If somehow a piece of your artwork looks okay, it must be by random accident.
• If you get compliments on your artwork, people are just being nice.
• Or pitying you.
• You have not suffered enough to be an artist.
• You did not go to art school, so you cannot be an artist.
• You are too __________ to be an artist.
• If you could just pull-off (technique here) as well as (real artist’s name here), you, too, would be an artist.
• But you never will.
• You don’t have the right kind of art supplies to be an artist.
• You don’t deserve the right kind of art supplies.
• You will never get into that show, so do not waste your time entering.
Mean Girl has a crappy attitude, and I don’t know why I listen to her. But she’s persistent, and loud, and she’s had a lifetime of practice.
I’ll bet you know what I am talking about, and you might not think you are an artist, either. Unfortunately, most of us have a Mean Girl hanging around. Yeah, maybe she is just trying to keep us safe, but she can also prevent us from trying new things, from daring, from dreaming. She can prevent us from believing in ourselves.
And she kind of pisses me off.
Unfortunately, Mean Girl has made herself at home. I don’t necessarily want her gone, but I think she would be fine in a guestroom somewhere sharpening her nails on a different issue. So until I can get her attention on something else, I turn the tables on her as often as I can. Here’s how:
• I call myself an artist. When people ask what I do, it’s my choice how to describe myself. There are no label police hanging around saying, “Hands-off that job description!” And saying to folks “I am an artist” feels pretty great.
• I’ve rounded up all the nice things people say about my art into an “Applause List.” When Mean Girl sends me one of her blasted memos, I read the Applause List instead.
• This is gonna sound so trite, but it’s really true: every experience is part of the whole journey of life. I try not to get too bummed when there’s a roadblock because sometimes roadblocks are really “Danger – Bridge Out Ahead” signs.
• When I complete a piece of artwork, I share it on social media. My friends give me great kudos and, amazingly, some of them even call me an artist. My friends can’t be wrong, right?
• Every once in awhile, I enter a competition, and — important! — let go of the outcome. (“Can’t win if you don’t try, kid. Lightning has to strike somewhere.”) And guess what? Sometimes I do get in. And sometimes I even win a nice ribbon or two.
• If I enter a competition and don’t get in, or don’t win a ribbon, I simply figure that losing this time increases my chances next time.
• I buy something I think an artist would wear, and boldly wear it. (Check these out!) When you are trying to “fake it until you make it,” a costume always helps.
These techniques don’t always silence Mean Girl, but they sure do shut her up from time-to-time. In fact, she hasn’t said a word for awhile now.
Maybe this means I really am an artist.
Either way, I sure don’t have a secret anymore.
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Normally, you can’t wait to get the chores done so you can grab the colored pencils and dive-in. It’s bliss.
But every once in awhile, for few days or a few weeks, you hit the wall. It’s like some dark ick seeps into your bloodstream and you feel kinda bored with your art. You feel dry. Creativity has fled. The thrill is gone.
What do you do then?
I’ve been there, too. Many times. And my advice is simple: When you stop being excited by what you are doing, stop doing it. Walk away from what you are working on. Just pack it up and set it aside.
When you are excited about creating art, you peak, you soar; but when enthusiasm goes flat, so does the quality of your art. Pretty soon you find yourself in a downward spiral: no-joy makes bad-attitude makes bad-art.
The longer you wait to walk away, the harder it becomes to break the cycle. Pretty soon you find yourself gladly ditching the pencils for, say, bathing the cat. Or worse: reaching for some plastic flowers and a hot glue gun.
Don’t fight the boredom. Take it as a sign that you need to recharge, and take time off. Just let your art call you back in its own time. Believe me, it will.
So in the meantime, what do you do with all that built-up creativity?
One of the smartest ways I have found to keep your skills hot when your mind is not is to grab a coloring book. Get yourself a coloring book just for this purpose, one with simple shapes and patterns.
My friend, the brilliant watercolor and colored pencil artist Elizabeth Kincaid, keeps one of these coloring books at-hand for times when she wants to relax and de-stress, usually in the evening. (Her current book is “Beautiful Patterns,” by Beverly Lawson.)
She flips through the book, finds a page that catches her eye, then studies it until she begins to see what wants to emerge from the patterns and shapes on the page.
Then she begins embellishing, perhaps turning a page of triangles into colorful fish in an underwater scene, or a pattern of circles into strings of balloons with a cloud background.
There’s no pressure to create here. For Elizabeth, it’s all about playing and relaxing. Eventually, she will have the entire coloring book — even the margins — filled with vibrant color.
As soon as I saw one of Elizabeth’s coloring books, I knew this would be a super way to take a break from my artwork while still keeping my skills sharp.
Here are some ideas to help kick-start your coloring creativity:
• Add a background to the objects on your page.
• Play with gradients, dissolving one color into another.
• Select a colored pencil you never use and make that the main color on the page. Which other colors work best with it? Which colors don’t?
• Add some of your own lines. Play with the shapes and patterns to create new ones.
• Try different shading techniques: cross-hatching, straight-lines, stippling (dots), even spirals.
• Color a page in cool colors. Color another page in hot colors.
• Try layering colors in different orders. Are the results different?
• Experiment with transparency. What if you could see a background behind the main objects on the page?
This should be plenty of ideas to get you started. Before long you will have a bunch of your own.
The really amazing and unexpected side benefit to coloring book play is that it helps you discover new ideas and techniques that you can bring back to your studio art.
And best of all, this play gets you revved-up. You’ll find yourself ready to hit the art-making again, with new ideas and a fresh spirit. The excitement is back. Your inspired artist-self is back.
Pretty mighty feat for a simple little coloring book, right? Next time you find yourself in a creative Bermuda Triangle, give it a try.Read more →
When I was a kid, the original Vans store was a bike ride away. and it was where we all got our shoes. Heck, some friends of mine even worked there. Plus, for a few extra dollars you could bring in a hunk of your favorite canvas fabric and Vans would turn it into a spiffy new pair of their comfy slip-ons.
Though I’ve been away a long time, the California surfer culture is soaked into my bones and it’s no surprise that the other day, while wasting a few minutes online, I got to thinking about those custom Vans and found myself exploring their website.Read more →