When I was in Kindergarten I sat in a classroom with 20ish other little five year olds and had a lesson on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. In order to teach us this concept the teacher had taken a picture of a monkey and colored it three times. One just had scribbling all over the page, one was in the lines, but colored in all different directions with white patches showing, the third was carefully and neatly colored inside the lines. She pulled out three ribbons and had us rank the pictures in order 1st, 2nd and 3rd based on how well they were colored.
I am sure this lesson was planned innocently enough, but what it taught my 5 year old impressionable brain was that people were judging my art work, being the best is very important, and you better color inside the lines. From that day I decided I wasn’t an artist and didn’t like art. When we had assignments that required coloring or drawing I quickly blew through them with a half hearted attempt or scribble then moved on. I didn’t think it out quite so clearly at that age, but I realize now that I had decided I would rather be known as not trying than try my best and be found lacking.
This one small moment in my education has carried lifelong consequences. I have spent 32 years squashing my own creativity. I have avoided learning about different artistic mediums and techniques. I have labeled myself as “not good” at art and therefor I shouldn’t do it. My artistic self has tried to break free of these barriers I placed on my own creativity a few times in the past, but has never succeeded in doing more than poking a few holes.
In 2008 I decided to begin my degree in Digital Design. I reasoned with myself that I could be an artist on the computer because if I made mistakes I could just undo and start over. This was the first baby step towards letting my creative self really escape the cage I had put it in. I really enjoyed making T-shirts, word art, and logos, but it still wasn’t completely fulfilling my need to create. I didn’t really know how to identify that emptiness, I just knew it was there.
My next step was photography. I didn’t have to actually paint or draw anything at all. I could capture what had already been created around me in new and interesting ways. I read “Understanding Exposure” and learned my settings and began to create images I was proud of. This was much more fulfilling, but there was still a hole. I then read “The Photographer’s Eye” which is all about the artistic principles you can use to improve your photo composition. As he was discussing all these art principles I began to feel those old stirrings of “I wish I was a good artist”, but once again told myself that wasn’t something I could do.
Recently three things happened that have blown the walls right off of the prison I locked my creativity inside, and I have finally given myself permission to explore my artistic desires.
First, a little over a year ago I had the opportunity to attend a CreativeLive workshop in person taught by Julia Kelleher. The title of the class was “The Creative Newborn Studio“. At one point Julia gave each of us a dish of different colored clay and told us to create something. She spoke about the joy of creating just to create without judgment or fear of what others would think. As I sat and molded that clay I felt a little something begin to come alive in me. Looking around at everyone’s creations I was inspired by what we all had created and the joy that we each felt from the exercise. During that class Julia discussed the Corel Painter software and how one could use it to turn photographs into paintings. I purchased the software and immediately began playing with it. I am IN LOVE with this now found artistic outlet.
The second opportunity I had was completing some business coaching with Jeff Jochum. Jeff focuses on teaching photographers how to specialize and create a business around who they are, not just what they sell. His course included a lot of soul searching and defining who I was at the core. It really helped me to identify that I had this unfulfilled desire for creativity as well as a lot of unhealthy fear holding me back from becoming everything I am capable of being.
Then a few months ago I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Vivid and Brave, about the art of Zentangle. I have always loved this type of art and thought it was not something I could do. This time I decided that I would give it a try. I let go of all my self judgment and just began to draw. I got lost in the process. I felt rejuvenated and alive. It was amazing. I have finished my first few black and white pieces and the joy I have felt doing it is incredible. I have now purchased pens, shading pencils, and colored pencils so I can continue to learn this art. Once I have those down I am planning to learn watercolor techniques. I finally overcame that last little hurdle of fear and just allowed myself to create, by hand, on paper, with no undo button.
In the past when people asked me what I did I said “I’m a stay at home mom and I make a little money on the side doing graphic design and photography.” Now I feel like I can proudly say “I am a photographer and artist.” I have stopped worrying about that little blue 1st place ribbon and instead am learning to be true to my inner voice and embrace my unique creativity.
I promise myself that I will no longer let the fear of judgment an my desire for perfectionism hold me back. I will create. I will let my inner voice speak through my art. I AM an artist and I love it!
What is fear holding you back from? What are you going to do today to fight back against that fear and let your true inner self shine?