Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
One of my first real memories of drawing was a picture of a bird. I remember having a real fondness for Robert Bateman’s work – the attention to detail, the natural settings and one of my favorite subjects: animals.
I remember being really inspired by a particular picture and spending so much time trying to recreate it – crafting each line, blending every shadow with my fingertips in an effort to make it as realistic as possible. At the time, I didn’t only enjoy drawing, I loved it! I loved how it engaged my mind, heart, imagination and hands.
The experience of drawing for me was kind of like a journey through a good story. It would start out slowly, gradually bringing you to its climax as you finally hit the point where you could actually see that the lines you were adding to the page were actually forming something real. Then it would take you from that place to the bitter sweet end – a finished piece – satisfaction that the journey was complete, but equal sadness because now the experience was over.
That day, when I was done with creating what I thought was my masterpiece, I showed it to my father. And in an effort to “help” me, he proceeded to erase the head and re-draw it to show me how to make it better. In mere minutes, my time and effort disappeared before my eyes. I was gutted! Not so much by his need to correct it, but moreso because by the time he was finished, the picture was worse. Even he admitted it.
But this experience and people’s other attempts to “help” me, later took all the joy out of drawing and trying. I can’t blame anyone one person specifically, my bruised ego had already gotten used to the habit of auto-correcting itself. I no longer needed “help” convincing myself that everything I did needed fixing, so I stopped drawing.
The one thought that I let torture me the most was: You’re not a real artist, at best you’re a copycat because you can only draw what you see, not with your imagination. I didn’t realize that the lines on the page were my imagination – my interpretation and my creation. Despite how the journey started, it was mine. It kind of sounds foolish because don’t a lot of artists draw that way – from inspiration? At the time, I had no idea.
When I was younger, I used to look back at that day and wish my dad had shared his insight using words instead of his eraser. Or maybe at least instead of re-drawing my version, drawn a version of his own – at least, I’d still have my masterpiece. I even thought that maybe without that experience and several others like them, I’d still be drawing. But that’s silly. Those experiences didn’t take it away from me, I chose to take it away from myself!
Case in point, when I first started learning how to ride a bike, I fell, a number of times. But I still kept on trying and that determination has me riding to this day. Funny enough, I even gave up my car and now it’s my transportation of choice. Falling down, being corrected and “helped” didn’t hinder my desire to ride.
On the flip side of that, I didn’t learn how to swim until adulthood because I struggled with floating and would often sink. For years I didn’t bother trying because of that and by the time I was willing to take lessons, I hit adulthood and felt embarrassed to try to learn with a bunch of kids. Eventually, my desire to learn outweighed the potential embarrassment and now I can swim. My earlier decisions only delayed the process.
For every situation where I let a weak start, an unkind word or negative thought discourage me, I can think of several others where I didn’t.
As you can see failure didn’t really stop me, my choices did.
The artist, the cyclist, the swimmer, the author, the dreamer etc were all inside me. They’re inside all of us. It’s not a question of ability but of choice. There’s no need to ask yourself “Can I?” but only “Will I let them remain?”