If Only It Were So Simple

A NOTE ABOUT THIS POST: Because I do a lot of art and have a lot of different thoughts to share, I usually have posts written and scheduled several weeks ahead. This means that events you’re reading about have come… and maybe gone already. One thing that has come and gone in recent weeks has been what I might describe as an “art break-down”. While playing with my “simple” drawings from Craftsy, I encountered some very painful feelings about art, feelings that went far back to childhood but which were still very raw. In chats, comments, and private messages to many of you, I’ve mentioned my personal “art therapy” sessions as I’ve worked through these very difficult feelings. It’s been quite a process. This post tells where and how it started, dealing with a morning when I first came face to face with all those awful feelings. As this post says, please, don’t cry for me. I’ve come through my “break-down” and I believe I’ve emerged now as a better and stronger artist.

Don’t cry for me… don’t feel sorry for me… don’t pat me on the back and tell me that everything’s going to be all right. Yes, it will. I know that. But this morning I’m near tears right now, having just ruined an insignificant little watercolor in my little handmade journal. It doesn’t matter. I know this. But still I can’t quite shake off those feelings of having failed once again.

Lately I find myself going back to my childhood art experiences, none of which were positive. So why explore them? I guess it’s part of the process of getting older, a way of integrating different aspects of ourselves, coming to terms with our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an attempt to achieve some sense of unity or harmony in who we are.

Lots of pscyho-babble there! Probably all meaningless, but it’s the nearest way I can find to explain my feelings this morning.

One of my early-morning projects was with the little Craftsy “class” I’m taking — 10 Easy Pictures to Draw for Beginners. Recently I shared my first hand-made “book” — another throwback to my childhood as I finally completed a project I’d wanted to do for decades — and I decided to use it for my easy drawing practices. Childhood, meet childhood. Inner child, come out to play. Come sit on the floor with me, just as we did in Kindergarten, and let’s forget all about being grown-up and having responsibilities. Let’s just take out a few art supplies and have fun.

Another recent project, you might recall, centered around design principles. Again, in a very childlike manner, I sat on my studio floor playing with cut-out shapes, moving them around on a large piece of watercolor paper, creating what I hoped were good designs. During that project, I discovered how much I love sitting on the floor — I’ve always been a floor person, but not so much here in the studio. It feels comfortable to sit cross-legged, to pretend to be a curious little girl again, and to focus on fun, not art.

The problem, though, is that as a child, art was never fun. It was discouraging. It was frustrating. It was, quite simply, a humiliating experience for me. While all my friends could turn out good “works of art” in elementary school, and while some were highly gifted artists whose work was always praised, I was just the clumsy kid who “did not do well with scissors.” Or paintbrushes. Or pencils. Or any other “art” tool.

Now, though, I’m a grown-up version of a child. I still have the same playful creative mindset. I still love to play with colors and shapes. The big difference between who I am today and who I was when I was younger is that I have learned basic drawing skills. So, art playtime should be fun now, right?

This morning’s drawing started off being fun. To be honest, I was skeptical about the “easy drawing” from the Craftsy list that I would be following. It was TREES, you see. I love trees. I’ve spent years and years trying to draw and paint trees.

Making a simple, “childish” drawing almost seemed a bit beneath my newfound artistry. I’ve learned not to create those “puffy” trees, but to draw the illusion of foliage. Some of my trees are starting to look good in graphite, and even the trees I paint are beginning to feel more “natural”. So, wouldn’t I be taking a step back if I were to draw a few simple trees?

No, not really. The point of what I was doing, I reminded myself, was not to learn how to draw perfect, believable trees. It was all about having fun, getting into that child-like mindset, and maybe going back in time to who I used to be, successfully completing a simple art project, and happily saying, “See, I can do this!”

I took heart from the encouraging words of the Craftsy class:

Even if you’re a beginner, trees are a cinch. It’s hard to go wrong because there are so many types of trees and so many ways to portray trees that are recognizable. Whether it’s a simplified triangle turned into a Christmas tree or a cloud-like puff atop simple linear trunks, trees are accessible to artists at any level.

Trees are accessible to artists at any level. Trees are accessible to artists at any level. Trees are accessible… yep, that became a mantra of sorts as I opened my little sketchbook journal and began to draw. Trees. Three simple trees.

I did the trunks and branches, and I felt good. What I had on my page was an illustration of three trees, minus their foliage. I’d even sketched in a simple horizon line, and I was pleased with the simple drawing I was making.

Next, I would use my gansai to add color overall and paint in those “cloud-like puffs” of leaves atop my trunks and branches. The results weren’t great, but they weren’t bad, really. But then I kept fiddling with it. The more I fiddled, the worse it looked. Without thinking, I added color when the paper was wet and ended up with streaks and blobs.

That’s when I felt myself totally reverting to that hurt child part of me who still feels like a failure when it comes to art. The intensity of the feelings surprised me. I guess I’d never fully realized before how wounded that child part of me actually was. I’ve carried those negative feelings around with me for a long, long time. Maybe now, art is becoming a sort of therapy for me, putting me in touch with those feelings so that I can begin working through them.

What I’ve discovered today is that sometimes easy things aren’t simple, and simple things aren’t always easy. Drawing and painting my three little trees was easy, and it was simple, yet at the same time, it released a flood of emotions that were neither simple nor easy to deal with.

So bear with me, please, as I take you through the ups and downs and all arounds of my personal art therapy experience. Thanks for being here to share this with me.

12 Comments

  1. A simple thought regarding your very real emotional moments of worthlessness. Maybe your heart and soul simply needs more space within to expand your creativity. To accomplish that, the old needs to be let go so your fresh new ideas can blossom.

    Dr. Deb

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s been a good experience overall to do my personal “art therapy” over the last few weeks. I’ve learned a lot about that “hurt child” part of me, and it’s helped me understand a lot about how I approach art now, and why I can sometimes “sabotage” what I’m doing. The end result, I think, has been not only new awareness and greater understanding, but definitely increased creativity as well. So, yes, Dr. Deb, you’re right and expanding creative space. Many of the projects I’m doing now and things I always wanted to do as a child — and yes, you’ll be seeing posts coming up about these new projects. Doing my own version of “art therapy” has really been important. I’ve learned a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I vividly recall in kindergarten a teacher asked us to draw a cartoon. I drew stick people, sketched a house with uneven walls, the child sitting beside me drew a professional looking cartoon in half the time. I wonder if that child turned out an artist. Some people are born artists. I can’t draw a straight line still.

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    1. I think the only “fun” art projects I ever did in school were in Kindergarten where we would color a sheet of drawing paper and then fold it to make fans. That I could do! No drawing involved. Beyond that, I was awful. Being forced to switch to my right hand made me clumsy and awkward, so I was the kid who was always spilling things and… yeah, I made a lot of big messes and ruined a lot of art projects. 😦 Working through all the emotions has been quite an experience.

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    1. It has been! But it’s been a good experience overall because I’ve learned a lot about how I approach art and especially why I sabotage myself so often in the process. I was astounded by how strong the feelings were when this hit me, and for a few days I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. Doing a lot of simple “therapy” projects kept me going, and I learned SO much!

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      1. Looking back over my life full of very nasty things from childhood, I won’t write about because the energy of it was so bad. Years later, while meditating on the word “optimism,” everything shifted. If I don’t ground myself everyday, I can still slip into the “negative” side of life. Thankfully, there is lots of trees to lean against where I live. Dr. Deb

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, yes, trees are so wonderful. I have to get out and visit our hiking trails! It’s so helpful in staying grounded and connected. For me that is very important. Getting in touch with those very painful emotions from childhood was far more powerful than I expected. The memories have always been there, but I’d kept them tucked away. Letting them out was an experience that’s difficult to describe. There’s still pain there, and I’m sure I’ll have to continue doing a bit of “therapy” with art from time to time, but I think I’ve gained a lot of understanding over the last few weeks.

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