Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The art of unconfidence

I'm taking on a new project.

For the past couple of years, I've tried in many different ways to become a better artist. Whereas much of my school time is devoted to the literary and writing arts, whenever I can I try to create something that has less to do with words and more to do with images and physical creation.

It's a weird obsession, but I guess I just love working with new mediums. Or, if I'm to put it tritely, I love working with my hands. Trying out new artistic ventures lets me do that regularly.

This all started back in the summer before my freshman year of college if I'm remembering correctly.

I bought a sketchbook from a local arts and crafts store, found an old set of eraser-less sketch pencils in various sizes that had belonged to my mother and got to work. I didn't take any formal classes, and in fact I had very little confidence to back up the venture. But I did it anyway.

The results were vaguely satisfying.

Over the next couple of years, I'd keep drawing and start feeling more and more confident. Though my skills were never up to what my hopes and dreams for my artistic ability were, they were adequate. And I kept creating.

I took courses in artistic technique in college. A watercolor class one year showed me how I could manipulate color and texture in my work to make my images more interesting. I learned that less is more and that to create a piece that is truly memorable, you have to invest yourself in it without being too meticulous.

At least, that was the crap that was thrown at me for a few months. I absorbed some of it, debunked other parts and eventually walked away with an understanding of how to paint in watercolor.

At home I was already experimenting with acrylic paint. I bought canvases and a plastic easel, various colors of paint to mix and different sizes of brushes. I loved the even more pronounced texture of oils and acrylics. Watercolor paled in comparison.

When I took a class in ceramics, I hoped to find an even more kinesthetically pleasing pastime. Admittedly, spinning clay on a wheel was exhilarating. You could see the forms you were making taking shape. Sadly, if your hands aren't naturally attuned to the craft, you may never come to make a beautiful piece of pottery. I certainly didn't. Most of my work was sloppy, but I enjoyed the process anyway.

I think the resounding result of this assessment is simply that I don't have any natural-born artistic talent. For writing, perhaps. But not for watercolor necessarily and definitely not for ceramics. I may not have tried many other crafts, but I can reasonably assume I'm no virtuoso.

That doesn't stop me though.

Because at the heart of this obsession is the drawing that I started to do on my own so many moons ago. I've always found the process relaxing and fun, but on top of that rewarding. There's nothing so satisfying as looking at a piece you've drawn after working hard and arriving at the finished product.

Which is why tonight I took a cartoon storytelling class and why in the next week I'll be working within the framework of an animated film.

When I was working through this first cartoon storytelling class, we were asked to draw something we observed today. I tried to imagine something and had infinite troubles just coming up with a single object for a drawing. Once I figured one out, the construction became the difficulty

We were then asked to draw images out of either letters, numbers or squiggles. I turned a "K" into an image that even I couldn't quite see until it had already come out of my pencil. Every time the teacher came around to look at and critique our work, I felt exceedingly nervous. I would crowd over the page, assuming the image of a sketch artist hard at work. It was all a fa├žade.

By the end of the night, I felt much more confident. Not just because the teacher gave encouragement, but because I felt like I actually had the ability to prove my worth through drawing. For someone who has always felt like art was more of an activity than a skill, it was a nice feeling.

Which brings me to the point that there's nothing wrong with acknowledging the need for improvement. I think my greatest asset in pursuing art is that I don't let go of it just because I can't see myself being a genius in the field. I keep trying because I love it, even if it doesn't love me in return.

For the first time, the art is really starting to love me back. I'm nothing if not ready to take it on right away.

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