As the end of another year approaches, I’m in a bit of a reflective mood. It’s always a good time to think about where we are, who we are, and how we came to this time and place in life. For me, I’m especially curious about how it happened that I became an artist. Honestly, that’s a crazy thing. Had you at any time before the last six years even suggested that I might someday be here, I would have laughed until I cried.
Art and I… well, we just never got along too well. Oh, I admired artists. In fact, I envied them. It seemed it would be such a wondrous thing to be able to create drawings and paintings, to simply have that sense of artistry so many of my friends possessed. But I couldn’t draw, and for me, that’s what being an artist was all about. If I couldn’t draw, how could I ever paint? If I couldn’t draw… well, I couldn’t. End of story.
Except that, surprisingly, it wasn’t the end of the story. In June 2015, I somewhat jokingly decided I would learn to draw. It was a joke, in so many ways. I couldn’t possibly be serious about it, could I? No. Of course not. Still, I promised myself that I’d at least go through the motions. Reluctantly I bought a sketchbook, thinking how outrageous it was to spend nearly $6.00 on a spiral bound book of drawing paper that I would — in all probability — never use.
But I did use it. I filled the pages with lines, and those lines became shapes. I learned to turn my shapes into forms, and somehow, here I am today, living proof that anybody can learn to draw no matter how impossible the thought might seem. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If I can learn to draw, trust me, anyone can learn to draw.
Recently I found myself looking back to that fateful night — it was late, probably about 10:00 PM — and I was staring at a complete set of Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils. Oh, my goodness! I had never seen anything so beautiful before. You know the story, of course, at least, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve read about how I’d become interested in the new “grown-up coloring books” that were popular at the time. I bought one. I then tried using cheap colored pencils, tried gel pens, and finally gave in and bought a small set of Prismacolor Premier pencils. Once I’d tried one, there was no going back. I quickly ordered a complete set.
But how ridiculous was that? To spend more than a hundred dollars for colored pencils so that I could color pages in a $5.00 coloring book. I could afford the pencils, no problem. Yet truly I felt a little foolish. Seriously, who does something so crazy? Nobody in their right mind needs a complete 150-pencil set of artist quality pencils for a simple coloring book.
I had to justify this somehow, and the only way I knew was to become “an artist” — at least, my version of what “an artist” was. My reasoning was silly, I suppose, but if I were going to have artist quality colored pencils and justify owning them, I had to be “an artist”. That meant learning to draw.
When I look back now to that night, I laugh, and I do ask myself, “What was I thinking?” Well, mostly I was thinking that if I at least tried learning to draw, I’d feel better. I was thinking that my husband probably thought I was ridiculous for buying those pencils. And, I was thinking he was probably right.
Of course, I didn’t think I would succeed. But even if I’d been filled with confidence, certain that I would, indeed, learn to draw… well, even then I’d be asking now, “What was I thinking!” Because, you see, the experience of learning to draw and becoming an artist has turned out to be much different than what I expected, much different even from anything I might ever have imagined. To put it simply, I had no idea how learning to draw would change my life. I had no idea, whatsoever, of the real relationship between “learning to draw” and “being an artist.”
Yes, there is a real connection there. Most artists certainly do have drawing ability, either a natural talent or an interest that they’ve worked and developed. But where I once thought that drawing was the “end all and be all” of artistry, I realize now that while it’s an important foundational skill, being “an artist” doesn’t stop with learning to draw. Quite the opposite, in fact. Being an artist begins with learning to draw.
What was I thinking? I was thinking that all I had to do was learn to draw and that was that. Imagine my surprise when after learning the essential elements of art and getting a grasp of basic drawing fundamentals, I realized that I still had to learn a lot more before I could successfully make use of those glorious Prismacolor Premiers. I’d had no idea that colored pencils required learning specific techniques all their own. And what an eye-opener when I went on to open a box of oil pastels only to discover that having some drawing ability wasn’t nearly enough. I had to learn how to use that media! No matter what new media I picked up, I had to start learning all over again.
It was fun, of course. I especially enjoyed charcoal and conte. I tried soft pastels and found them much more difficult than I’d ever imagined. Gradually I started playing with watercolor. I tried acrylic. Finally I took a deep breath and tried oil painting. All of these were things I’d never once thought of doing on that June night back in 2015. In all honesty, I’d never even heard of conte at the time. I knew little about pastel painting — with either oil or soft pastels.
So, again, what was I thinking?
I was just thinking, well, if I can learn to draw, even a little bit, I can feel like I’m an artist, at least enough to justify owning a complete set of Prismacolor Premier pencils. What I thought was that it would be simple, straight-forward, and that in a fairly short time — six months to a year, at most — I would either succeed or fail. Truly, I expected to fail. Instead I learned enough about drawing — and consequently about art itself — to whet my curiosity, to make me want to learn more and try different things.
Over the last six and a half years, I have done so much more than “learn to draw”. I’ve learned to do all sorts of different things with art. I’ve joined art clubs. I’ve created this art blog. I’ve won awards for oil painting. I’ve given presentations on art. Was I thinking about any of this? Was I imagining any of this? Would I have even believed any of this would be possible? Not at all.
It just goes to show that even if we think we know where we’re going or what we want to do with art, there are far more possibilities out there than we can ever imagine. So, think whatever you want. Just don’t be surprised when art takes you to places you never once thought you’d go and gives you experiences you would never have thought possible.