What are your art wounds? We all have them, but some are more traumatic than others. The teacher who ridiculed your drawing in front of the class or the sibling who got all the art credit. The choir teacher that instructed you to stay silent and just mouth the words. The kid that was told; you have no abilities for acting so stop acting out. Why is it that once a kid has claimed an instrument or a type of art, the other kids can’t also do it? If your older sister was good at the piano, then you needed to find another instrument to play or be good at painting or sports. Who writes these crazy manuals anyway?
You may find you are dragging around a lot of art wound baggage. You may not even want to call yourself an artist because of these traumas. You would think that we had evolved beyond shaming or criticizing creative abilities in children, but I hear from people that their kids are still experiencing these art wounds. I think the ones who are inflicting the wounds are afraid. The great unknown of the imagination is too frightening for them to comprehend. They have their own wounds and the cycle gets perpetuated. It is time to stop this nonsense.
I can’t keep quiet when I hear these things. Years ago, I was giving a monoprint workshop at the Children’s Museum. A woman and her daughter came up to watch the demo and create their own encaustic monoprint. I encouraged them both to make something, but the Mother stiffly declined. The girl was about 6 and she eagerly began to draw a heart with flowers. The mother stopped her immediately by saying, oh don’t draw that it is so trite. Remember I told you, you are better than that. Better than what, I thought! Before I knew it out of my mouth came, oh it is so beautiful. I have never seen a heart like that. The girl beamed and the mother fumed. Hey, that’s what we need to do. Encourage our wounded artists and shut the critics up.
I don’t know where to begin, you might say.
Think about that 6-year old girl drawing her flowers. She knew what made her happy, but it didn’t make her mother happy. The girl knew exactly where to begin; until the critic shut her down.
What makes you happy? If you wish to unleash your inner kid and draw flowers and hearts, then that is where you begin. You are doing this for yourself, no one else at this point. Just begin and don’t let the critic see what you are doing. Keep it a secret and here is another secret, art is fun and playful. You don’t need to be so serious and rigid like the mother. Let loose and scribble, dabble and dance. We won’t tell anyone how much fun this is, okay?
After you have broken the ice of the blank page ask yourself what do you really care about? Creativity fuels change. Are you drawn to color? Do you wish you could draw, or do you yearn to be more expressive in your realistic work? Give a kid a piece of paper and some crayons and they just draw, scribble and play. They don’t stress over the question of "is my subject meaningful or relevant?". I have an exercise in both my book and in one of my online Creative Soul sessions called Scribble to Structure. The current session of online students have just completed that week and I must tell you they made some amazing pieces, and they were all so excited by the process. Let yourself have fun!
Now you know how to move beyond the fear of the blank canvas. Begin with scribbles and dabbles, or another favorite way to jumpstart a painting is what I call the Accidental Masterpiece exercise. Always keep an extra paper, panel or canvas handy. When you have left-over paint, apply it to the surface. Clean your stencil off on it and wipe clean your brush or rollers. Think of it like a palette. After a short time, you will see a beautiful background beckoning to you. This is the beginning of your next painting.
Now, what do I paint or create?
The most important tool you have is your imagination. Develop this creative muscle and you will always be inspired. I believe that even before you begin to practice drawing, composition or color theory you should explore and discover your creativity muscles. Learn tricks and techniques to exercise your curiosity. When you have the key to unlock your mind, you will never run out of things to paint or create.
The correct way to explore your curiosity is not by serious study, but more play. Release the stress and anxiety and try some games. As you learn to be flexible and nimble in your imagination your creativity will feel safe to emerge past the art wounds. One of my favorite games is word association. Think of a concept or an emotion and come up with alternative words or things you associate with the ideas. Write the words or ideas on little slips of paper. Tip: use action verbs. Put them in a bowl and then pull one out and choose how to recreate it. I did this exercise in school and I pulled out the word create. I used clay to make a round dwelling like a nest and then I made eggs and put them into the nest. The eggs symbolized my creative ideas waiting to be born. Years later I returned to this idea and created a body of work for an exhibition based on this one idea.
You could make a painting, write a poem or even bake a cake based on the ideas. In my sketchbook you will find a lot of writing and not sketches. I am describing what I want to create. Just as in writing a story you want to bring all the senses into play including smell and touch. As you embrace your senses, allow yourself to play, experience joy and let the fear and anxiety drift away; you will nurture your creativity.
Skills take a lifetime of practicing, but you already possess the most important tool, your imagination. I invite you to join me in my upcoming session of the online Creative Soul Course. Check it out.