“The artist is not a different kind of person, but every person is a different kind of artist.” ~ Eric Gill
A few days ago, one of my Facebook connections, Art Is Moving, posted that quote, and whoa, did it ever resonate with me. Based on the comments and things I’ve read that people are saying about Diabetes Art Day, a lot of people don’t feel like they can make art. Maybe an art teacher raised her eyebrow and grimaced when you took liberties with her explicit instructions. Maybe your parents thought the Chinese take-outmenu looked better on the refrigerator than your art. I think they just misunderstood your efforts, and by saying or doing or not saying or not doing something or other, they convinced you that you can’t make art.
I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve tried to convince anyone who will listen to me. Heck, singing and dancing aren’t my strengths, but I do them anyway because they’re fun, so if I have to do a clumsy dance and sing off-key to convince you that you can make art, don’t think I won’t do it because trust me, I most definitely will. If I could sit down with each of you, and challenge your belief that you aren’t capable or talented in your own way, you can bet I would. I think you’ve known me long enough to know that I’m forthcoming and honest, so I’m saying you can create art because I believe it. Now it’s up to you to believe it too.
So we’ve established that you’re just as capable as anyone of making art, but what if you’re fired up and ready to create something, but are feeling a little uncertain about how to get started?
First, it helps to have some art materials, and when I say art materials, I’m casting a wide net. Are there magazines in your housethat you might otherwise discard? I’m a big fan of diabetes magazines for collages, so maybe you have some of those you can use. Surely you have some diabetes supplies – used test strips, test strip bottles, supply boxes, pump supply packaging. On Twitter today, I saw urine test strips mentioned by Kelly Rawlings who surely cherishes her memories of peeing on sticks as much as I do. I’m pretty sure the bottle of Keto-Stix in my bathroom that I keep only for a DKA emergency nowadays is past its expiration date, so I might have to give it a second life in some artwork. As you see, you don’t even need traditional art supplies as long as you have some clear tape or glue on hand to turn that diabetes trash and/or those magazines intosomething fantastic.
Perhaps you’re feeling like dabbling with some more traditional art materials though, and you happen to have some around your house, either yours or maybe they’re your kids’ supplies. Crayons, markers, colored pencils, pastels, maybe some kind of paint, watercolor or tempera. Don’t let anyone make you think that finger paint isn’t a valid medium to use; if you have some on hand, get some on your hands and express yourself! Perhaps you have some craft supplies: beads, fabric, yarn, colored or patterned paper… glitter. How about some Play-Doh? Any of it or all of it will work. If you’re motivated enough to get some new art supplies, go for it! School supplies are on sale, so you can probably find some at a decent price. I’ve seen crayons, markers, colored pencils, glue sticks, etc. on sale at places like Target and different office supply stores recently. You can also go to the craft store. I know Michael’s and AC Moore have lines of supplies that are $5 a pack. Each pack has a certain material, i.e. colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolors (the kind in tubes), etc. Just as a tip if you are going to try colored pencils, I recommend picking up this pencil sharpener, or using a sharpener designed for eye or lip liner because regular pencil sharpeners tend to break colored pencil lead, which is softer than standard #2 pencils.
Whether you’re raiding you kids’ art supplies, have some old art supplies you’ve dug out, are using found objects and materials likemagazines, or have decided to splurge on some new supplies, you might be sitting there with your materials, feeling unsure about how or where to start. If you’re feeling anxious or intimidated about getting started, let me remind you of a few things.
Most importantly, there is no wrong way to do it. It’s your art, your way, and if anyone suggests you’ve done it “wrong”, politely explain that you think they’re “wrong”.
If you “mess up”, you’re allowed to start over, but you can also go with the flow and decide that your “mess up” is really a “happy accident”. It’s all about frame of mind!
This is not a contest, and no one is being judged. Just like we can probably all benefit from judging ourselves less when we get an off-target BG reading, this is an opportunity to practice accepting your best effort for what it is. It seems that often people judge whether or not art is good by how realistic it looks. Realism takes a phenomenal amount of training and ongoing practice, so unless you’ve had that training and you’ve been practicing, don’t expect that from yourself. If you want to depict something, do your impression of it, or do an abstraction. There’s something I commonly tell people when something they make doesn’t look “exactly like” whatever they’re trying to represent: “If you want an exact copy, take a photo.” The magic of art materials is that they allow you to make an image your own, and not a replica. Use that to your advantage!
You don’t need a specific plan or idea to get started. Normally, when I sit down to make art, my only intent is to lose myself in the process of creating something. Sometimes I end up with something that surprises me in a good way. Sometimes I end up with something I’m not so crazy about, but I can walk away from that with another idea. My point is, you don’t need to know what you want to make when you sit down to make it. Get some art supplies, start working, and see what happens. Start with the basics – lines, shapes, colors – and illustrate a feeling. You might end up with something you love, you might end up with something you aren’t thrilled with, but if you don’t get started,you’ll end up with nothing at all.
If you make something, and you don’t like it, it’s not a failure. Nor is it confirmation from the universe that you weren’t meant to make art. It’s a learning experience. If we mess up in life, we don’t just quit, right? If we forget to take a bolus and end up with skyrocketing BG’s, we don’t just decide we’ve failed at diabetes and toss our insulin in the garbage, right? If I gave up art-making the first time I made something that I thought was crap, my art-making career would have ended before I got to junior high. Making stuff you don’t like is part of the process of growing and developing as an artist and as a human, so if you make something you don’t like, guess what? You’re doing something right! Now, just clean your work space, take a deep breath, and keep going.
If you need inspiration, look at children’s art at Artsonia, an amazing site that I just love. If I ever change my mind about having kids, it’ll be because I want one to blanket my walls with art. Children make art with such admirable passion and energy. They want to tell you a story, and they want to have fun. Some people like to dismiss their artistic ability, saying they draw like a little kid, as if that was a bad thing! So if you don’t know where to start, don’t think about making a piece of art. Instead, think about telling a story about your diabetes. Even if you don’t think your art is worth sharing, I bet your story about diabetes is worth sharing, so tell it, but instead of using words, use art.
In case you missed it, check out this post, Announcing Diabetes Art Day, or this one from last Monday, Diabetes Art Day: Where the Heck Do I Post My Art?