Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Time to Play

Doodles and more doodles. Books of them.
There is a sketchbook under the lamp on my nightstand--just one of many, many sketchbooks I filled up over the years. I haven't looked at them in a long time, but I remember what's in them...attempts at perfection. When I was young and in art school, drawing photorealistic portraits was my thing. It was the style of drawing and painting that came easiest to me, but it also felt restrained and stuffy. I wanted to draw and paint looser, more fun, whimsical pieces, but I didn't know how.

Somehow I had it in my mind that really good artists could jump in and JUST DO IT. Draw or paint something perfect from their mind the very first time.

That's stupid. 35-year-old me realizes there were a lot of failed attempts and studies along the way...even for the best artists.

I never played with art.

I didn't doodle much. I didn't put brush strokes on a canvas just to see how the paint would behave or try to find new techniques. I thought I should just know. I never tried to copy the styles I admired just to give them a go and twist them to make them my own. I never indulged in fantastical, frivolous images even though I loved them.

Life teaches us over and over that we never "just know" anything. There are gut feelings and instincts that are a big part of everything we do, but everything is also worth questioning an examining.

Play makes us better. I'm 35 and I'm taking time to play.

For the past couple of weeks I've drawn kawaii on my computer, painted with watercolors, sketched with pen and ink. I'm watching tutorials and videos from artists I admire who do the things I love really really well, and I'll certainly jump in and try my hand.

We talk a lot at the university where I teach about asking our students to adopt a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. I've always lived with a growth mindset. I do have that pesky perfectionistic streak that can hold me back at times, but there aren't many things (aside from the way I used to feel about running) that I assume I can't do. I know I can do it better. I can do it my way.

Drawing, painting, and making art is a thing I've done since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I could spend hours at a desk at my grandparents' house drawing page after page. I could spend hours and hours and hours in a half-dark studio in college lost in a canvas and paint. And I let that die. I gave it up almost completely--aside from the very random drawing--for 14 years.

It feels good to play. It feels good to try.


  1. It's all about play! How fun that you are going back to your art and playing with it more. I get very intimidated by drawing and wish I could but I realize that aside from talent you also have to practice - a lot! Hope you'll share with us more of your artistic adventures!

  2. You are so talented! I love your doodles!

  3. I've been a little worried about you, not seeing very many posts this past month. Glad to see you've been having fun playing around with your doodles! :) You are quite talented!

  4. "Somehow I had it in my mind that really good artists could jump in and JUST DO IT. Draw or paint something perfect from their mind the very first time."

    THIS. THIS IS EXACTLY RIGHT. I had to learn that too. I thought they just sit down and magic comes out of their fingers. Thanks to YouTube and Instagram, and seeing the magic happen - but also seeing it takes HOURS - really brought it home. It. Is. Work. And damn fun work to boot.

  5. This is so awesome! Have you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert? Your post reminds me of her take on creativity.

  6. You went to art school? I had no idea!

    Sounds like we're about the same place in our artistic lives, although I never had any art classes after elementary school (couldn't fit art in with journalism and music). I was a doodler, though, always. It wasn't till I moved to MS that I did some painting workshops . . . and then I set the paint aside for 25 years to raise my wild boy. I've found it's most difficult working to not make things too realistic. And, none of it is what I'd refer to as "easy" but man, is it fun letting yourself simply play! I often cover up paintings that I end up disliking but it's great being older and feeling like it doesn't matter if I paint something and end up thinking it's awful. The joy is in the doing and in learning something new, even if it involves screwing up a perfectly good canvas.

  7. I didn't know you went to art school! So did I, then I changed my major to English. But I've always been drawn (lol) to art and writing, and go back and forth. I love keeping a sketchbook, and just the act of drawing will completely calm a stressed-out me.

  8. This is so powerful and inspiring. I have an intense perfectionist streak that can suck the joy out of everything, if I'm not vigilant (and even when I am). Reading this made me feel so happy for you and hopeful, and I look forward to seeing more of your work!

  9. Good for you! To play is to live, no matter what form that play takes. I can't wait to see what you create (and decide to share with us)!

  10. That is awesome! I am glad we got into planners around the same time. I will likely not get this into it because I can't even draw a stick person, but I love seeing what everyone is creating. :)

  11. I'm so happy for you - it's been such fun to watch you get crafty in so many different ways!

    BTW, if you ever want to read a light book with a photorealistic painter as a protagonist, check out Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter. I think you might enjoy it!

  12. Great to hear, Andi! And 'done is better than perfect' - even if 'done' isn't quite the goal here:)


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