I can fully understand and appreciate today’s practice tip, although I don’t think we should swallow it whole. First, here’s the tip:
Right Size the Shame
In unconscious ways we often shame ourselves when trying things that require new skills. We can disarm and de-escalate it by attempting small works. Scale up after your confidence is stronger.
The basic premise here is true. We often ridicule our efforts and put ourselves down as we begin learning to draw or paint — or when we first try any new skill.
I remember well how self-critical I was when I decided to learn to draw. I was constantly berating my decision with negative thoughts: Are you crazy? You know you can’t draw. This is just a big waste of time and money.
For the first several weeks I kept my drawing a secret. I told no one. I drew only when I was alone and undisturbed. I didn’t share my childish little scribbles with anyone.
And, yes, I worked on a small scale. My first sketchbook was 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ inch, and after a time, I grew comfortable with it. When I first tried watercolors, I started with a smaller size sheet. Same with oil painting. My reasoning had nothing to do with shame, however. I simply didn’t want to spend any more money than I needed!
But, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. After the first few weeks of my furtive drawing practice, I saw positive results — and I had to share! I was so excited to think that I had actually drawn something recognizable, I was about to burst. Little by little, I began to share more of my drawings, first with my husband, then with other family members, and then with friends.
About 9 months later — in March 2016 — I began sharing my art through this blog. In retrospect, I can’t believe I was bold enough to do such a crazy thing! Share my art with complete strangers? Subject myself to criticism from real artists? What was I thinking?
I’m glad I started this blog. Many of you have become very good friends, and I’ve received encouragement, inspiration, and lots of good advice. Thank you to everyone who is traveling this road with me.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Yes, I started small with my drawing, and yes, I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment over my first drawings. I threw one drawing — the hostas in our yard — into the trash. I still cringe when I see horrible painting attempts like my hideous lady in blue — and no, you don’t have to follow the link, unless you want a good laugh.
Even now, I can still be extremely harsh in my self-criticism. I have one inner voice I refer to as Miss Crabapple — the cranky art teacher. I know she means well, but I still dread her appearances. When she suddenly shows up, I’ll leave my painting and go take a walk.
I had been pursuing my art adventure for about a year when I finally sized up a bit. As with other milestones on this journey, I remember it well. I recall buying my first gigantic watercolor sheets — 11″ x 15″ — and wondering how I would ever complete a painting so huge. Yes, getting bigger meant getting bolder, getting braver, and over time, it meant getting better.
So, all in all, I agree with the idea of starting small in the sense of taking small steps at first. There are lots of old sayings and famous quotations that speak of the importance of small steps.
I found this little watercolor illustration online, and it certainly has a valuable message to share.
Vincent Van Gogh once said “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
With art, however, small doesn’t always mean easier. In fact, working on a small scale can sometimes be much more difficult than completing a larger drawing or painting. There are actually many reasons why we should practice drawing and painting on a large scale.
Of course, there’s the school of thought — such as suggested by today’s practice tip — that the bigger the drawing, the bigger our mistakes. Maybe so. Yet, drawing on a larger scale helps us become looser with our marks. It helps us learn to draw with arm and shoulder movements, not just limited wrist movements. Getting details right can sometimes be easier on a larger scale, too. It can be challenging to create on a small canvas or drawing sheet.
Today, I still use smaller canvases for painting practice — again, that’s mostly because I can pick them up at a great price in the “children’s art section” of Wal-Mart. They serve the purpose as I’m learning new techniques. But I find that I am more relaxed and that I feel more expressive when I’m working on larger panels.
So, to sum it all up, I appreciate today’s practice tip, but I don’t think we should confine ourselves — even as beginners — to tiny drawings and paintings. Art is fun. It’s also a means of exploration. We need to give ourselves freedom and expand our horizons. Above all, we need to keep our dreams big.
I like this thought. So, even if we start small and take little steps along the way, we should always super-size our dreams. With practice, we will grow into them.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: If your dreams don’t frighten you, they’re not big enough.