Getting Back to Art
Before diving into art-making full time, I dabbled on and off. Mostly off. For decades. Getting back to art has been one hell of a journey.
In my early twenties, I painted and doodled, and kept art journals. In Rockport, Massachusetts, while renting a converted chicken coop/cottage (below) for the summer with a friend, we filled journal pages and covered the ceiling with watercolors. We gushed out paintings with unfettered abandon, and tore pages from sketchbooks to tape them up, all around us.
In photos from that summer, art is pinned up everywhere around us. 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. We were busy with the sheer delight of creative output, while surveying the opportunities and challenges of each new medium we played with.
Then, I stopped making art for a long time. I 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.)
Dust on the Art Supplies
I moved to California, and worked another non-art job for a little more than a decade. My art supplies festered in the garage. Work was 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.
Returning to Art
By the time I came back to art, with hopes to make a living with it, I was out of practice, and utterly unsure of myself. Which media should I focus on? Did I remember how to draw? How do artists manage the business end of 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 researched in earnest, and attended art festivals and gallery exhibits. I subscribed to art trades, read books, joined art associations, wrote to my art professors for advise. I cold-called local artists to ask if I could buy them lunch and quiz them.
I took workshops and filled journals with notes. I printed business cards, started blogging and shadowed a seasoned art festival exhibitor as her “roadie” to observe the effort and supplies 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. I still had to make the art.
Once an Artist, Always an Artist
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 finally picked 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. I could communicate, artistically, some of the accumulated observations I’d made over the previous decade. Somehow, I got better with age, from simply observing.
Is any of this familiar to you? Have you taken a big, long hiatus from art? Are you wondering how to get back in the art-making pond, to swim around a little? Yes? Oh good, because this rambling, convoluted story is for you. Yes you. Please keep reading…
This Art Chat is for You
Even though you might not have touched a brush for a few dog years – it doesn’t matter. Trust me.
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 are a Noticer. And you know, deep down, that this is the truth.
You’ve been observing, and stacking details about color and shape and nuance from the first day you opened your eyes. 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. You have a National Treasury of observations in your brain trust.
Now, you simply have to let the observations you’ve collected out of the attic. Start slow, and small. Take a class, or just a weekend workshop. Sign up for a short art workshop online and put it on the calendar in ink so you’ll finish it. Follow artists on Instagram. Join art groups online so you’ll have company and advice on the first hike up the hill to return to your love of art.
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. 🙂 I’m rooting for you, and I believe with my whole heart that You’ve Got This.
Thanks for your visit, and I’ll see you in the next post –
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.Elizabeth Gilbert