If owning art supplies makes one an artist, then, yes, I certainly am. My husband and one grand-daughter recently remarked that “you can never have too many art supplies.”
I’ve always loved visiting art stores, and I’ve always dreamed of being an artist. But, there was always that simple fact to face. I couldn’t draw. I had no reason to spend money on any of those beautifully-colored pencils or paints or those neatly-bound sketchbooks.
Of course, owning art supplies doesn’t make anyone an artist. And although most dictionaries give a nod to hobbyists who produce drawings or paintings, isn’t there really a lot more to being an artist?
Am I an artist?
For me, that’s a disturbing question.
When I began learning to draw last summer, I saw myself as “an aspiring artist”. It was who I wanted to be, not who I was.
Of course, my loving, supportive husband soon began referring to me as his “artist wife”. Even now, when he comes home each afternoon, his usual question is “What did my artist wife draw today?” I smile, maybe I even blush a little bit, and I show him whatever it is I’m working on. But that doesn’t make me an artist, does it?
The first time anyone other than my husband called me an artist came when I’d gone to the dentist for my regular check-up and cleaning. As I waited, I pulled out a sketchbook and scribbled a quick drawing of a tree.
When the hygienist came and called my name, I quickly closed my sketchbook, but not before she’d caught sight of my drawing.
“Oh, you’re an artist!” she exclaimed. This remark was immediately followed by comments I’ve now heard many times, the familiar disclaimer that she couldn’t draw at all, that she’d always wished she could, but she just didn’t have the talent. She envied me, she said.
I wanted to speak up and tell her that I had no talent either, that I wasn’t a real artist by any stretch of the imagination. I was just someone who wanted to learn to draw and that she could do the same thing. It’s hard, though, to say much when you have dental implements poking around inside your mouth, so the best I could do was offer a hesitant smile and a shrug. It was nice to be an artist in someone else’s eyes.
Of course, I felt like a fraud. I’ll admit, it did give me a rush of excitement to hear those words. “Oh, you’re an artist!” But did I deserve those words? I didn’t think so.
“Did you know she’s an artist?” the hygienist gushed when the dentist came in.
“Oh, really?” he replied, then turned to me. “Next time you come in, you’ll have to show us some of your work.”
Yeah, right. I silently hoped that maybe within the next few months, I’d be able to draw something — anything — worthy of showing off.
My first drawings were so awful, I wouldn’t show them to anyone. In fact, for the first two weeks, I didn’t even tell my husband what I was doing. It was too crazy. I could never learn to draw. I hoped to spare myself the agony of being laughed at — and later admitting my failures — by keeping my attempts secret.
But then, I began seeing improvements. I’d discovered that if I practiced, doing the same little drawing over and over, I got better. I improved. And then came the moment when I looked at a page in my sketchbook and realized it looked good. Very good.
I had to show someone. I told my husband not to laugh, but I was learning to draw. Instead of laughing, he encouraged me, gave me a boost of confidence, and asked if there were any art supplies I needed.
For a couple of months, I still kept most of my drawings to myself. Occasionally I’d share something with my husband, but only things I considered to be my best work. Gradually, though, I began to share a few sketches with others in the family. I posted pictures of “The Cat” in a private message to my cat-loving daughter. I shared another sketch — a mountain scene — with my “family group” on Facebook. It was wonderful to hear their kind words. Hey, that’s what family is for, right?
In time, I started sharing more of my artwork, not only with family, but with friends online. More and more, people started referring to me as an artist. Who, me? No, not really. I’m just someone who’s learning to draw, learning watercolor, learning oil pastels, learning color theory, learning composition.
Of course, on my next visit to the dentist, he and the hygienist both wanted to see what I’d been working on. I’d come prepared. No, I didn’t lug a portfolio of work to the appointment with me, but I had taken photographs of a few of my colored pencil drawings, like this sea-turtle, drawn for a lesson at The Virtual Instructor.
As I scrolled quickly through, he stopped me. “Wait, that’s a real turtle, isn’t it?” When I shook my head, his eyes grew wide. “You drew that?” Yes, I had drawn that turtle, and I’d drawn the chili peppers — another of Matt Fussell’s lessons at The Virtual Instructor. I’d drawn a few other things, too, things that really were worth showing.
I now do a lot of drawing — usually colored pencil work — whenever I accompany my husband to his medical appointments. This leads to conversations like this:
“Did you see what she just drew while she was here in the office? It’s beautiful.”
“Yes, I saw it. It really is beautiful. Last time she did a dolphin. She’s a real artist.”
Do I love hearing those words? Of course. Who wouldn’t? But am I a real artist? No, I don’t think so. I’m still nothing more than an aspiring artist who wants to learn all I can and who hopes to get better with each project I do.
Now, though, I do feel that I have the right to happily browse through the art supplies at various stores, buying sketchbooks, new drawing pencils, brushes, watercolors, and other supplies. I have an easel. I have an assortment of sketch books, instructional books, colored pencils, tortillons, and erasers. Those things don’t, of course, make me an artist, but they do bring me hours of pleasure.
The dictionary, however, along with my husband, my family, my friends and many other acquaintances, tells me that I am an artist. I do produce drawings and paintings, albeit not very good ones.
My usual response now when someone calls me an artist is to say, “No, not yet. But I’m becoming an artist.” I still hope someday to be a real artist, but for now this is enough. I’m on my way, and I hope my journey will inspire others.
Artist Daily addressed this issue in a July 2012 post: The Question that Never Goes Away