When I was younger – elementary and middle school, even into jr. high – I wrote poetry. I drew picture after picture after picture. I embellished fonts on lined notebook paper during study hall. I filled in coloring books for hours at a time. I even tried my hand at – how do I even describe this – mixed media? Hot glue and buttons and doilies and fabric and baskets. Making little trinkets that still float around my mother’s house, tucked away in boxes in my childhood closet. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors and glue. I was no stranger to opening up to the artist inside of me and letting her out to play. I never felt any pressure or competition (that I remember); I wasn’t one of those naturally talented artists that just needed some formal training to blossom. I made art for fun, because I liked it, because I enjoyed the process of watching something turn from an idea into a physical object that I could hold and touch and play with and tape up on my bedroom wall and tell stories about.
But when I started high school, that artist got folded up and tucked away in the drive to be the smartest girl in my class, the best ball player, the volunteer with the perfect resume tailored for scholarship applications and college entry essays. There was no place for art in the future I was chasing, no time to while away the hours with blank paper and an idea anymore. The last thing I really remember drawing was a poster for my driver’s ed class, copied out of one of those insurance safety publications tailored towards the teen audience. When I went off to college, nothing changed. Art was something that artists did, not baby engineers. I was far too busy with my classes and my co-op and my sorority and my fiance to dust off my rusty art skills. That wasn’t me, it wasn’t the person I was, it wasn’t a thing that I did. The only painting I did for years was painting the walls of our house.
Those skills peeped through every now and then, though. Beautifully arranged flowers for sorority candle ceremonies. The wall of our bedroom painted with layered geometric shapes out of a design magazine. Hand-sewn Christmas ornaments. A collection of pastels and paints and colored pencils that sat in my desk, waiting for the “right moment” to try drawing again. T-shirt iron-on transfers. My dining room decorated just-so for the seasons. Attending a quilt show with my mom. Eventually this blog, and all the hundreds of thousands of words that have spilled across my screen over the years. Looking back I can see the pattern, the clues, the hints to what was slumbering deep in my unconscious mind.
January 2014, I participated in a project titled “The Year of Enough.” During that month, listening to all of the interviews, memories began to surface about how I used to be an artist, and I began to try to retrace my steps through my own life, to figure out how I got from THERE to where I was now. Another of my friends started a project where she made something every day for the entire year, reclaiming the title of Working Artist for herself through her explorations. I read The Artist’s Way and the War of Art and I thought about them. I painted my way through half of Root. I shot picture after picture for the August Break. I found The Great Discontent and devoured the stories of people making their living while at the same time living their artistic passion. I started to wonder – could I do that? Do I want to do that? What on earth would I actually DO? I’m an engineer for chrissakes, we make things, not create them.
I look around now, and I can point out all the artists in my life and their impact on how I see the world. I on the email lists of a host of photographers and graphic designers and writers and life coaches and textile artists and painters and mystics. I watch how they interact with the world around them, and pick out pieces that I want to mimic in my own interactions. One of my monthly goals is to “create.” I try to create something, it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be a stretch, a reach, outside of my comfort zone. I have on my list for this month to go to the art museum and see a specific combination of exhibits that overlap for only two weeks. I have a few months penciled in to work through The Artist’s Way 12 week program, to really sink into it and do the work.
I don’t claim to be a Working Artist like my friend. I don’t have a daily practice, and some months I struggle just to crank out my one project. I’m warming back up to this idea that I am a creative person; it’s a persona, a self-image that I had entirely edited out of my own perception. I go back and forth between thinking that surrounding myself with beauty, with inspiration, is a daily source of nourishment for my soul and thinking that it’s a bunch of sentimental crap and I’d really rather not bother. But slowly, I’m trying to let my inner Artist back out into the world. It’s baby steps right now, and she’s pretty wobbly and fragile, but we’re holding hands an walking together. We’ve got time, and it’s okay to go slow, as long as we just keep going. There still isn’t any race, or any competition, it’s just her and me and our love – that old, old love – of turning an idea into its physical form. We’ll get there.