A Return to Art: Cultivating Self

Note: I am behind on my Fasti post for April, and I apologize to anyone looking for it.  I got hit with chronic illness after a bout of stomach flu, and this is the first week in almost a month I’ve felt even remotely capable of thought.  It will go up in the next couple days.  May’s posting will be forthcoming also.

Michael’s recently had a 3-for-the-price-of-1-sale on their art paper. It was about the time I had spent 10 minutes debating size and type aloud to myself while my mother and daughter stood patiently waiting that I should have maybe realized that something was amiss. When Mr. F&F inquired why I had bought so much paper, puzzling over why I needed so 3 pads, and I exclaimed “I’m going to use it!” in an annoyed manner that something was happening.

I should have seen it when I gleefully, albeit slowly, started drawing out graphic design work. I had to have had some inkling when I wanted nothing more than to buy clay to sink my hands into for the first time in ages.

I was stepping back into art in a serious manner after almost a decade.

Somewhere in storage is a giant box of supplies I never got rid of. It wasn’t a “just in case” thing. It wasn’t a “I’ll get to it later” or “when I feel like it” situation. It was hoarding things I had absolutely no plans to ever use again but just couldn’t get rid of. Or so I told myself, even if now I’m currently wondering where that box is exactly. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have known it wasn’t actually done. I wasn’t really finished with it, even if I thought I never wanted to make art again.

A few months ago, I started realizing I felt like I’ve been removing parts of other people that I seemed to absorb. All of these voices filled with judgment. They belong to people I care about, or they belong to people I cared about at the time. Friends. Family. Teachers. I know we all suffer from it, but I sometimes wonder if, because I have been so involved in the group artistic process of critique, that somehow I trained myself to take in what everyone has said and internalize it more than your average… Attempting to make myself better than I already perceived myself to be.

The problem with critiques is that not all advice you get is actually good advice. In a class setting, you find yourself getting advice from peers. Sometimes the teacher isn’t skilled or even remotely interested in the style that you are… Which is where I hit the real wall in Chicago. I internalized those critiques. Critiques I have scars inside my mouth to this day from, trying to keep myself from showing others the weakness and art school crime of feeling too much about your creation… Critiques that eventually hit too hard during the very initial days of my first mystical experiences and the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced.

I remember driving away from Chicago, watching the city’s skyline get smaller and smaller as we drove back to Iowa. I remember the bitterness of a dream I worked years to achieve not being anything like I’d imagined it would be. I remember the promises of returning to visit friends who had supported me the best they could those hard months and understanding at a very gut level that I’d never see them again. Never mind the friends that I’d not gotten to say goodbye to before leaving.

Never mind that a decade later, the voices of my teachers there have grown into the monsters that try to hold me back. I think I’m starting to understand that I internalized these voices as a weapon against myself. I feed them by listening to them.

I don’t think I will ever get rid of them, but I can learn to ignore them. I can grow back the pieces of me that I have tried to keep from growing due to fear of being judged by people I care about. It’s none of my business what other people think about me, and if they really want to be vocal about it then I need to start reconsidering if they really deserve to be a part of my life.

In the garden that is my own life, I am the one who has the final say in what seeds to allow to grow and which sprouts to pull. I have the right to remove anything that threatens to spread to the point of choking out the beauty I have planned. This is what I tell myself. This is a theme that keeps returning this year for me, and amusingly I discovered just last night that according to numerology I’m in the finalizing 9 cycle for the year.

It’s time to let go of things that no longer work for me: Ideas, habits, people.

This isn’t as easy as I would like it to be, but it’s necessary for growth. That’s what Apollon keeps telling me. That is what all the Gods, major and minor, who take the time to speak to me say. If I don’t let go of these things on my own accord, they will be ripped out from me anyway.

But as I work on removing these things, I find old parts of me buried underneath. Here is my art. Here are people who support my work and my Work. Here are pencils and paper and praise. Naysayers I’ll never see again in my life but somehow weaseled their way into my brain be damned. If we rip off the old skin, I can see the woman who has been silently healing underneath all along. Maybe a little scarred and worse for wear but complete all the same.

It’s funny how some things you simply can’t escape. You think you’ve done it, but suddenly you find instead that you’ve come full circle back to something.

Art just happens to be one of those things for me. I have officially given up fighting it.


8 thoughts on “A Return to Art: Cultivating Self

  1. I really appreciate this post. I also like how you explained how the fear works when creative processes are trying to do their thing. I’ve been struggling hugely – I don’t have the voices of teachers to overcome…I have my own critic telling me it’s useless and pointless, and not a good way to use my time. Of course, you have to understand…I have been disabled and unable to hold a job and contribute income for 8 years. At first, my husband encouraged me, and even showed me ETSY. I went crazy. I crafted and made art, and sewed, and had my ETSY shop up….and then I lost a furry family member, who had been with me for 16 years through all the chaos…and I lost it to grief. I have still been able to make some things here and there…but my inspiration is gone…I now fight myself to create at all. I wish I knew the answer.


    1. I feel like it’s important to give yourself permission to not create as much as create when in this cycle. About the time I was saying “I won’t do this anymore. I will not paint or make art again, and that’s okay” is the moment opportunities started falling into my lap that I couldn’t deny seemed like doors opening.

      It will come back to you! Nurture yourself. Feed the soil. Tell that voice that there are people who love your work (like me, because I *miss* your Etsy shop soooo much!), and those voices matter and are right!


  2. I’m not sure how/why I have such a thick skin when it comes to my writing. Confidence that is pretty unshakable. I know I write well, I know I can tell a touching story, and I know that it won’t touch everyone. I know that i have weaknesses as a writer, etc. Possibly it’s the never having been in a class situation with it, and partially because the critiquers that i’ve had have been *proper* critiquers, folks who understand constructive criticism, and also know about the connection we feel toward our created piece. The idea of your artwork being turned into something that hurts you infuriates me. I am so, so glad you are getting back to it.

    I’m also grateful at your kind words to my little humble beginnings. I’m *excited* about exploring art more, and that’s everything to do with the nourishing, *kind* words from you and trusted others. 🙂


    1. Thank you. I think when you get into art school classes, the competition is so terrible that the students lose sight of why critiques exist. I secretly thrive on competition, though it’s this weird state of being where it’s more about driving my own growth still than winning. My teachers really liked my technical work, but I was stuck struggling with depression and just really being not emotionally mature enough to be where I was. And, well, artists have BIG opinions on what they feel art is and isn’t. I got lumped in as a fantasy artist, which is not only looked down upon but also is so far from true… Sacred and based on mythology? Yes. Fantasy? Nyet, nyet, nyet.

      At our orientation, the speaker told us to look around the room and realize we were no longer the best artists in the room. By the first month, a quarter of the 1st year students had dropped out. We had classes that were 8 hours long. They called it Artist Boot Camp, and they weren’t kidding.

      I meant every word of what I said about your sketches. I’m really looking forward to seeing your growth! Very, very excited about it in fact.


  3. What a horrible way to start out the classes. Why can’t it be possible to build up constructively, why do we have this need to tear down in order for improvement to happen? I understand that sometimes tearing down does need to happen, but habitually, simply because that’s how it’s done? That’s not just stupid, it’s *lazy*. I’m so angry about it, still. It’s disgusting. I’m sorry.

    I picked up the “Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner” the other day. Cracked it open to look at the list of supplies suggested, and decided , to Beth’s dismay, that i “needed to have them” to continue forward. Obviously, I don’t. I have a sketch pad. I have drawing pencils. That’ll do for now, because that’s what I got. I can play with fancier stuff later. I have a goal of water color paints, because there’s one project I can already “see”, and that’s the medium. Excited. Terrified. It’ll be interesting.


    1. I avoided watercolor for year, and now I’ve been working with watercolor pencils with colored pencil. I love them! As for other supplies, a beginner’s graphite set with blenders and eraser isn’t too horribly expensive to pick up. I’m an enabler. 😉


      1. I’ve got that already. 🙂 Two sets, even. From *years* ago. Picking up a new sharpener is going to be needful, soon.

        Beth has water color pencils!


        1. Excellent! When I finally get my art supply box found, I may very well have to send you what I don’t plan on using. I can’t use them all; that’s for sure!

          And I’m not saying to steal Beth’s pencils, but… 😉


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