Being Bad At First is Okay: Experiencing it Firsthand

If you read last week’s blog, you know that I had discussed how scary it can be to start a new hobby, even if it is exciting.  Sometimes it is downright terrifying.

This week I remembered that first hand.  As a designer, painter, and even photographer, I’m usually behind the camera.  Very rarely am I in front of it.

So when I set off to vlog as a means of introducing myself, I did not expect it to be so uncomfortable.  I mean, I was getting secondhand embarrassment when I was editing the video because I couldn’t stand to look at my own stiff form trying to choke out information in front of a camera.

I ended up scrapping 45 minutes of raw video in favor of some standard iPhone vlogging.  Sometimes you just have to improvise.  Drawing or painting is the same way: it doesn’t always go as planned, but if you can learn to adapt, you can still make something beautiful.

“If at first you don’t succeed, you are running about average.” 

M.H. Alderson


Overcoming the Fear of Creating through Understanding How To Create

New beginnings are terrifying.

Whether you’re trying out a new diet, moving, starting school, a career shift, or even picking out a hobby, the prospect of change is always a little unsettling.  There’s a lot to consider.  Is this change something that will impact the rest of my life? What if something goes wrong?

Fortunately, new beginnings are also exciting.  What if something goes right?

Creating a blog is something I’ve put off for many years.  I’ve tried and I’ve failed before, because I had no idea how big of a commitment it would really be.  Now I can safely say that I’m ready, and I’m excited; even if I’m a little scared.

Maybe you’re ready for a change, too.  Maybe you’ve decided you want to jump into that hobby you’ve been meaning to pick up. If that hobby is drawing, painting, or even taking that preexisting hobby of drawing/painting and turning it into digital art, look no further.  You’ve come to the right place.

If your dream is to learn how to draw, you’ve probably at one point been in the presence of an artist while they were in the process of creation and felt that slight tinge of jealousy.  “I’d kill to be able to draw like that,” you think. But then you go home, get out the pencil and paper, and you have no idea where to start.  The white blank sheet is far too intimidating.

Whether you want to make visual concepts in your head come to life, or you simply want to learn to draw a realistic portrait, you have to start somewhere.  

Most of the time, the reason that people give up art is because they’re afraid of the failure involved.  Not being good at something immediately, especially something as personal as creation, is scary.

It’s okay to be scared, but it’s important to do it anyway.  This is how we learn and grow.  Before you can learn to do anything, you must gain the confidence to be able to do it.

Simple pencil drawing of a woman looking straight at the reader

Sketching

There’s a lot to take in when you’re first starting.  If you’re brand new to art, don’t jump into trying to make a masterpiece.  You’ll overwhelm yourself.  Rather, you should focus on sketching.

What’s the difference between sketching and drawing, you may ask?

While sketching is different for everyone, the basic idea remains the same:  it’s a quick manner of getting ideas onto a page.  It allows you to get your thoughts onto paper.  You can sketch with a lot of detail, or sometimes a sketch is just a few scribbles placed in specific spots.  You can sketch something from life, such as your shoes, or you can sketch something from your brain.  Your sketch can even include written notes.  Sketching is completely tailored to you.  You can sketch however you feel comfortable, and you don’t have to worry about making it “pretty.”  If your sketch is only legible to you, then so be it.

To give you an idea, here’s some sketches from a few different artists.

While these may look like nothing, these sketches are building very important skills.

  1. You’re creating without the limitation of worrying about how something looks
  2. You’re letting ideas flow, sparking creativity
  3. You’re learning what you like to draw
  4. You’re learning how to draw without even realizing it

Sketching is exploration, and therefore sketching should be free.  I recommend keeping a sketchbook on you at all times.  Personally, I like my sketchbooks on the smaller side, so I can fit one in my pocket or in my purse.  Others like large books so they can fill the page with more details.  Again, it’s completely tailored to what you like. (bonus: sketching is useful for graphic design, too.)

This is not to say that sketching can not be a fully fleshed out idea. Some artists like to sketch in detail. This is where the lines between drawing and sketching become blurred.

Drawing

Drawing is a little different than sketching, as it tends to be more thought out.  Drawings can be finished pieces.  You’ve probably heard before that in order to get good at drawing, you must draw every day.  While this is true, it’s also important what you draw, and that you draw constructively.

Drawing stick figures is not trying.  Drawing stick figures will get you nowhere.

Drawing requires some effort, but good news! Effort and skill are not one and the same. Beginners can still draw, but when one is drawing, they must take their time and care for the piece. If you try your best, you will have the best piece of art you could have possibly made. Drawing successfully requires thought, and for best results, an understanding of your subject matter and your medium. Understanding the Elements of Art & Principles of Design is essential.

While you’re learning especially, it’s important to be looking at a reference.  Whether the reference is from life or a photo, having something to continuously be able to look at while you’re making the drawing allows you to compare and adjust your art as necessary.

Simple graphite still life of two tangerines on a piece of crumpled paper: the left tangerine is peeled while the one on the right is still in tact

Again, the line between drawing and sketching can very easily be blurred, and that’s the beauty about art. It’s fluid, and not everything needs to be categorized. Sometimes what begins as a sketch turns into a full drawing. Remember that they are linked, and the key to drawing successfully is to SKETCH!

To Conclude

Guidance from someone experienced in the field you wish to grow in is an invaluable resource.  Not knowing where to begin with art can make the entire prospect feel exclusionary.  “Maybe I’m not meant to be an artist,” you may think. But I’m here to tell you that you are, if that is what you desire.  I’m here to help you.

If you have any art that you would like to show me, I would love to see it!  Please email artwork to bmartin.artdesign@gmail.com and it may very likely wind up on the blog for a critique.  Remember, the goal is to grow and help each other.

Your prompt for the week:  Create a flower.  You can use any medium you like.  Go as detailed, abstract, or as surreal as you wish.  Email the finished piece to bmartin.artdesign@gmail.com  to be featured on the blog.

Introduction to Me

Thinking back on high school, the most prominent element of the entire experience seemed to be pressure.  Pressure tied into everything high school had to offer: the academics, the sports, the clubs, and even the social aspect.  There was pressure to fit in, pressure to get good grades; but the most lasting pressure seemed to be the pressure to decide what you wanted to be when you grew up.  Sure, you might not have full autonomy over when you use the restroom, but you need to decide your future.  Now. Forever.

I remember being told that we should know what we want to do by the time we’re in 7thgrade, and the classes we take in high school should reflect that and train us for the real world.  However, I grew up in a small rural community where I graduated with about 25 other kids.  We had a couple agricultural electives, a drawing class, and chorus/band, but that was it for electives.  The only business class offered was economics, and that lasted only half a year. Everybody had a fairly similar base line.

Still, that pressure to make a life-long decision seemed to be universal. No matter what high school you went to, every student I’d ever spoken with was absolutely frantic with trying to figure out how they were going to spend the rest of their lives.  What would you be happy doing?  What are you good at?  What are your options?  What would allow you to pay your bills and be an independent individual?  All this came about with very little guidance or direction, let alone time to explore your options.

I was a top student in my class and I did well in school, but I still felt lost. Being smart wasn’t an automatic pass to understanding how to spend my own future.  I never really needed to study to get good grades, but I didn’t enjoy school very much unless I was in the art room.  I thought to myself, ‘well there’s no way I can go to school for art, that would be a waste of my intelligence.’  Somehow, I had tricked myself into believing that only stupid people went to school for art; almost as if only stupid people followed their dreams and the rest of us had to be miserable in order to make money.  I continued painting as a hobby, but I was conflicted.  I think I had known in the back of my mind what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone.  It felt shameful to want to create art for a living.

When I was in 11thgrade, my English teacher gave the class an assignment: each student had to individually present our life goals and aspirations and explain in detail how we would reach that goal.  We had 24 hours to plan before presenting.  The idea of telling my class that I wanted to “throw my life away and paint forever” was mortifying to me,but it was my dream.  It didn’t matter how wild it was, the point of this assignment was to recognize that sometimes our dreams are out there, and we need to figure out a way to reel them in and make them attainable.

Except it didn’t work out that way.  

I got up in the front of the class and told everybody about my dream with the most detail that I could possibly muster for somebody who had only let themselves think about this for 24 hours of their entire life.

I told them I wanted to live in the middle of nowhere on a small subsistence farm where I would spend all of my days painting.  “How will you achieve this?” they asked.  “How are you going to be able to purchase farm land, or keep up with bills?”  I made it up as I went.  “I wouldn’t have to worry about groceries because I would can and preserve the crops that I grew.  I could sell or trade the excess.  As for purchasing the land, I could uh…  I’d be selling paintings or giving painting lessons.”   I was shaky in my answers because they were such new ideas to me. I hadn’t thought about letting it become a reality.  I wasn’t even sure what I wanted yet.  

The reactions were less than pleasant.  My dreams were totally unrealistic or unreasonable, and my English teacher made sure that I knew that.  I was terrified now.  It was the first time I had spoken about what I wanted to do out loud to anyone. Still, it gave me a base to build off of.  What would work?  What were my options with art?  How could I survive doing what I love?

However, even as my ideas grew stronger and more realistic, I seemed to be pushed away by everyone.  Even my art teacher at the time advised against studying art.  Time and time again, I seemed to hear something along the lines of: “keep it as a hobby.”  Coming from a family of engineers and entrepreneurs, I heard a lot of “you don’t have to love your job.  Your life is not your job.  Your life is what you choose to do with your time off of work, and you’ll have more time if you make more money.”

Because I was wavering in my future, my guidance counselor, my mother and I all decided it was best that I chose to study at the local community college.  It was financially the best choice, and allowed for more freedom of exploration, which was exactly what I needed.  I put “undecided” as my degree program choice.

Towards the end of my senior year of high school, I had gotten my first painting commission.  My aunt wanted me to paint her pet boxer for her.  I only charged $35.  It wasn’t my best work for sure, but it gave me so much confidence as an artist. Something inside of me clicked.  I realized that my art couldbe something people would want to spend money on.  An ounce of support gave me the boost of a lifetime.  A week later, as I was signing up for classes at the college, I changed my degree path to Media Arts on a whim…  with a certificate in marketing and entrepreneurship, just to be safe.

I didn’t really know what to expect at all.  I had never tried graphic design.  I just knew that the program had the word “art” in it, and graphic design seemed to be a pretty stable field in the realm of creativity.  On the first day of classes, I was terrified.  I started with a marketing class, and quickly realized something was wrong.  I left the class with a sour taste in my mouth.  What had I signed up for?  Were all of my classes going to be like this?

Three hours later I had my introduction to graphic design class, and it was a massive sigh of relief.   The environment was so much more relaxed and comfortable in this class than I was expecting. People actually talked to each other rather than avoiding eye contact with their classmates.  My professor requested we call him by his first name. Everything felt natural, as if this was the exact type of climate I was looking for.  I swapped my marketing class to online to really ensure I was happiest in my college setting.

For the next few weeks I went to school daily and kept on top of my classes. I allowed myself the time to adjust to college and figure out what was expected of me.  That was just it, though: this wasn’t high school anymore. Nothing was necessarily expectedof me.  It was up to me to live up to my own expectations, however I chose to set those.

As I got more comfortable with the college life, I started putting in more effort and branched out.  I ended my first semester with a GPA of 3.8, and I felt better than I ever could’ve imagined; but more importantly, I had knowledge and confidence.  In the second semester, I took more business classes, and I noticed something that changed my entire outlook: there was a substantial number of adult learners in my classes.  They were all people who decided to return to school to fulfill their dreams, without caring about what age you’re “supposed” to be at when you’re in college.

This brought me back to high school, as I thought about how forced we felt to come up with a permanent plan at such an early stage in our lives.  It seemed ridiculous now.  This sense of freedom I gained when I realized that success doesn’t have a time limit allowed me the ability to fully change my attitude about what I was studying.  So much of the negativity I received about how I should keep art as a hobby remained in my life at this point; but seeing that nothing was really as permanent as I was taught to believe allowed me to focus on what I loved without regret.

Almost instantaneously my skills grew exponentially along with my positive attitude. I gained so much confidence and excitement.  I decided I wanted to do better in my business classes as well.  I pushed myself to stick with it, because I knew that even if it wasn’t my passion, I could use it as a tool to improve my passiondramatically.  Marketing classes in particular helped me with designing advertisements and assessing what type of aesthetics would work for specific demographics.  Entrepreneurship classes gave me a handle on how to freelance.  I actually started my own painting and design business.

I put myself in the mindset to be successful, because I ignored the people who told me that I should do anything other than follow my heart.  However, I also made sure to follow logic.  I took the initiative to get myself organized and assess what I had to do in order to maximize my chances at success.  I had to come up with a logical plan to make my dreams happen, just like in my high school English class.

Am I saying you need to go to business school to figure out how to be successful?  Of course not.  I’m saying you should give yourself the ability to dream without holding back and come up with a plan to make it happen.  Visualize it and put yourself into action.  Put in the extra work and obtain your goals by force. And if you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to do yet?  That’s okay.  There’s no time limit; certainly not by high school.  

Today, I’ve graduated with my Associates in Media Arts (Graphic Design,) and am currently working as a Web Editor and Creative Director, as well as Freelancing and having the time of my life.  I’m continuing to learn more about my field, and more about myself.  I live with my wonderful boyfriend (Joey, who is also an artist) in Upstate NY, and together we have a lovely pet cactus named Prick.