Before diving into art-making full time, I dabbled on and off. For decades. In my early twenties, I painted and doodled, and kept art journals. In Rockport, Massachusetts, while renting a converted chicken coop/cottage for the summer with a friend, we filled journal pages & covered the ceiling with watercolors we gushed out & tore from sketchbooks in the evenings. In photos from that summer, I see art pinned up in the background, and it’s all a bit garish, but we had a great summer just making things. We weren’t concerned with how the art came out, because we were busy with the sheer delight of creative output, while surveying the opportunities & challenges of each new medium we played with.
Then, I stopped making art for a long time, and worked a variety of regular, non-art jobs, while wondering if one could really make a living in the arts. Everyone I consulted said no, there was no “real” job for artists, unless I wanted to be 1) a commercial illustrator, which required skills I didn’t believe I was blessed with, or 2) an elementary school teacher, where I might have time to paint a little during summer breaks. Eventually, I got a degree in Liberal Arts, with a minor in Education. Studio art classes were my favorite part of college, and making things with my hands again was a salve against the stress of finals & two jobs. (The encouragement I got from professors in the art department during those years was a grateful first, and it has stayed with me to this day.)
I moved to California, and worked another non-art job for a little more than a decade, while my art supplies festered in the garage. Work was challenging, consuming, rewarding and so very un-creative. But, I was surrounded by some of the very top of the visionary gene pool; painters, illustrators, designers and world-class thinkers. The proximity to that brain-trust was wonderful, and I didn’t realize it then, but I was on soak-cycle – watching, observing and taking subliminal notes.
By the time I came full circle back to art again, with hopes to make it my livelihood, I was so out of practice, and so unsure of myself, I was a hot mess. Which media should I focus on? Did I remember how to draw? How do artists manage fine art these days? I had no idea where to start, and I was overwhelmed to be attempting an art career so late in life. I began researching in earnest, and attended art festivals & gallery exhibits. I subscribed to art trades, read books, joined art associations, wrote to my art professors for advise, and cold-called local artists to ask if I could buy them lunch and quiz them. I took workshops and filled journals with notes, printed business cards, started blogging and shadowed a seasoned art festival exhibitor as her “roadie” to observe all the prep and effort required to present like a pro. There was so much to learn, and that was just the logistics; the marketing, venues, sales and business end of the art world.
When it came to greasing the gears of my art-making brain, everyone told me – unanimously – that the best thing to do was draw and paint, all the time. So, when I did finally pick up my drawing pencils and paint brushes – I was amazed – after just a week or two – at how much I had learned while I was away from art-making. I still had [have] a whole continent of practice to hike over, but once I started making again, I was floored by the way I could communicate, artistically, the accumulation of observations I’d made over the previous decade. Somehow, I got better with age, just from observing. [Subscribe to this blog here.]
Is any of this familiar to you? Have you taken a big, long hiatus from art? Are you wondering if you might like to get back in the art-making pond and swim around a little? Yes? Oh good, because this rambling, convoluted story is for you. Yes you. Please keep reading…
Here: Even though you might not have touched a brush for a few dog years – it doesn’t matter. Your innate, Notice-the-Loveliness-Radar for dappled sunlight across a table, reflections of a cityscape in a puddle, or the softened edges in a veil of coastal fog – has been hard at work all this time. You’ve been observing, noticing, and stacking details about color and shape and nuance from the first day you opened your eyes, and you’ve been taking notes and stashing them in your brain-attic, even though you haven’t made a thing (besides those post-it note doodles while talking on the phone). Once an artist’s eye, always an artist’s eye.
Now, you simply have to let the observations you’ve collected out of the attic. Start slow, and small. Take a class or a weekend workshop soon, so you’ll have company & advice on the first hike up the hill to return to your love of art. Buy a book about the kind of art you want to make. Listen to a podcast about making art, and watch some youtube videos of artists doing demos to get your art game on. Don’t delay any longer. It’s time to pick up a creative tool and make something. Your brain is fit to burst with all the imagery you’ve been collecting. Really, I’m not kidding. Stop reading this, and go get a sketch pad. Kick your inner critic to the curb, and just make something. And mostly, have a lot of fun. 🙂 You’ve got this.
Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.