Do you remember the first time you picked up a pencil or crayon and made your first few marks? I don’t. I was very young and so I don’t recall the exact moment. But I do recall my first few tries at creation. I was clumsy, my work was kind of crazy, but I loved it! I thought it was the best thing ever and I couldn’t wait to show it off. I enjoyed making art regularly, so I improved, honed my talent and became quite good. Then life threw me curve ball and I gave up painting and art when I was 11 years old (Why? That’s another story. You can read about it here).
As an adult, many years later, I picked up my pencils and paints again with the help of some art and creativity classes at the local rec centre. Like when I was a kid, my first few attempts at art were clumsy. But unlike when I was young, there was judgement and expectation. There was fear. Instead of putting down confident, bold strokes like I did as a child, my hand was tentative and unsure. But because I was in class, I had the instructor to encourage and guide me to move on and continue despite the mess I put down on the paper or canvas. There was a safe space for me to make, and there was a set time each week to create.
With the help of positive instructors, after some time my anxiety and fear settled down a bit. The inner critic was not as dominant and I was able to ignore it longer. But mostly the expectation that I should be making good art right off the bat dissipated. And with that guidance and gentle persuasion, I was able to let go and concentrate on only what my hands were doing. And then there came a peace and joy.
Because of negative events I experienced as a kid, it was many years before I was able to practice art outside of that safe classroom space. It took many workshops via the rec centre, adult continuing education and other creative spaces to give me the courage to once more draw and paint on my own time, outside the classroom and without the instructor at my side. It took a long while, but to me, it was worth it because it helped me inject happiness into my daily life where for many years there was none. That effort allowed me to finally make art on my own and be confident despite what others might think of me and my work. But most importantly, I was able to stand up to the inner voice that told me bad things would happen if I put myself and my efforts out there for the world to see.
Most of us know that keeping a journal can be greatly beneficial to our mental health. I have kept a journal off and on for my entire adult life. It has been wonderful habit to have and has helped me through hardships, especially way back when I was a young adult. Journalling was a tool I often used to get to know myself more and figure out what I wanted for myself and my future. During times of confusion and turmoil, I’d whip out my journal and would take much time and care to write down any unpleasant incidents that occurred. And I jotted down my feelings in order to help me process these events.
However, I found that when things were going OK and I was not feeling down or in extreme anxiety, my journal transformed into a to-do list where I simply scribbled down items to shop for and other mundane tasks that needed accomplishing. Or, if it was not being used as a to-do list, it stayed closed and hidden away in my desk drawer. In short, my journal was really only a repository for my negative thoughts and feelings. Writing was only something I used in times of trouble. Again, I am extremely grateful that I had this aid to help me in times of need. But I felt it would be beneficial for me to have something more, another way to note my daily life the rest of the time. I wanted this something to help me avoid getting to that dark emotional situation where I even needed my journal to keep me out of negativity in the first place.
Do you have a practice that gives you comfort, a chance to connect with yourself, process feelings, or even bring joy despite less-than-ideal circumstances? If not, I invite you to find one, or simply do what I did and start doodling. Who knows where it might lead?
Author: MTM Hobbes
I am an artist and art instructor. Creating art and working on creative projects is my way making sense of life experiences and my environment. I believe that the practice of art helps a person become more of who they are meant to be.