Every year my sister Shannon and I sign up for Carla Sonheim‘s year-long art course. We’ve explored collage, worked through the alphabet, followed our creative spark. My art table has been covered with paints, papers and pastels as well as wires, books and stuffed animals. It’s always an adventure.
This year’s topic is Words & Pictures and the course features lessons from many different artists. This week I caught up on a class by Kara Kramer about keeping a messy notebook. The concept is to have a sketchbook in which anything goes and to dive into it for 15 minutes a day.
As I watched Kara work in her own messy journal, I was moved by her absolute lack of hesitation. With assuredness and immediacy she would grab an oil pastel and make confident marks. She would reach for a paintbrush and slap on striking colours. She’d grab a piece of paper, cut out a word or a shape and quickly glue it onto the page. Her moves were bold and instinctive. Her hand was strong.
That’s what comes form having a regular practice.
That’s what comes from being creatively free.
It’s taken me a long time to feel free with the visual arts. I had childhood art wounds that left me believing this was simply not a venue for me, Even though drawing and painting had always brought me great joy, I turned away from them for a very long time. It was only when my little niece came over and we went out for art supplies and then spent the whole day painting that a love for the visual arts rekindled inside of me*.
After that day, I slowly found my way back. It was a long, hard and frustrating road. I signed up for community art classes and would leave each night in tears, weeping out of the sheer frustration of having a desire that couldn’t find its way out of me and working with teachers that didn’t help. It was like having something I deeply want to say without having access to any words at all and it was painful.
Over the years I found better teachers, including Carla. I started to understand that it’s that unrelenting impulse to express myself that makes me an artist and the development of skills over time that makes that visible.
You don’t start out knowing how to speak.
You don’t start out knowing how to draw.
Bit by bit, you learn.
And a part of learning is making crappy drawings and messy art. It’s not easy at first because each bit of wobbly artwork seems to affirm what your inner and outer critics have been saying for years, “You have no talent. I mean, look at that!”
This is where you must build the most powerful artistic muscle of them all: devotion. You must keep going, keep experimenting, keep learning and growing until you start to discover and recover the artist that you are meant to be. You must not give up on yourself or your art. You must find your way through.
When you do, you will remember that making a mess with paint is a blast, that playing with colour is a joy, that making marks is your birthright and you need never let any of it go.
And so it is that today, instead of crying in frustration at not having a language for my fingertips, I am here with you on a Sunday morning, eyes misty with the joy of knowing I am healed, that I can spend hours drawing and painting, making a mess or attempting something ‘finished’. The visual arts are mine and I am theirs and we will not be separated again.
Now I am delighted to have a sketchbook open on the table, to be surrounded by supplies. Now I can reach for a marker, a paintbrush, a pastel and, without hesitation, make marks on the page.
I hope that you’ll give yourself a chance to experience this too. Create a safe space for the journey, whether it’s a sketchbook, your kitchen or your backyard, to experiment, discover and grow. Find your teachers. I hope I am one of them. Weep if you need to. And heal.
Find your way back to your art. Find your way back to yourself. And once you do, never let go.
* Remember, you are the keeper of your creative fire.