So, if you read my last post, you will know that I am increasingly drawn towards drawing and painting at the moment. This is my current creative season and I want to honour it. So today, no doubt, you will be expecting me to deluge you with jpegs of the beautiful pictures I have been creating.
Nigel has been hard at work again. I have produced the sum total of zero drawings in the last two days. Yesterday I couldn’t even bring myself to go into the study to get out my sketchbook and paints. The blank page suddenly seems terrifying. I can’t even doodle. How the hell have I lost the ability to doodle, for Gods’ sakes?
Bit not good.
This, my friends, is where the journal really comes into play. I sat down with my trusty moleskine and pen, and thought about my childhood memories of drawing.
I used to draw all the time. It was what I was known for, amongst family and friends. I was never without a piece of paper and a pencil. I made little books and illustrated them. I wrote stories and illustrated them. I wrote stories about my favourite TV programmes, like ‘Blakes 7’ (remember that one? I had a terrible crush on Paul Darrow) and drew the characters all the time. (If only I had known about fanfiction and fanart then!) I was obsessed at one point with the Tudor monarchs, and copied their opulent portraits and clothes with fibre tipped colouring pens. Then I got into the Ancient Egyptians, and copied their sideways style of representation. I even copied the drawings of E.H Shepherd in the beautiful edition of Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, which my father gave me – it was his favourite book. And I painstakingly illustrated all my school work (except the Maths, of course, because that was too serious, which was probably why I was never any good at it.) In other words, I spent hours absorbed in transferring images from my head onto the page.
What happened? Senior school art classes. Hours of drawing still lives of pots and pans. Teachers who made us draw boring subjects, and never gave us any information about technique. I’ve learn everything I have ever learnt about art and how to use paint from copying, which my art teachers said was the worst possible sin.
(But I am getting ahead of myself, I’m supposed to be thinking about my childhood drawing.)
As a kid, art was my obsession, but it requires materials, and they were in short supply. For paper, my dad bought home gash computer paper from work, the perforated kind that comes in a concertina, with holes along the edges, and with about the same handling quality as IZAL toilet paper. I was occasionally bought coloured felt-tipped pens but in the 1970s they were rubbish, and the black ones were invariably dried out before they were even used. At least 25% of the pens in the pack didn’t work within about two days of having them, and you had to conserve those that did with fiendish vigilance. There were occasional gifts of watercolour pan boxes, but they were very low pigment, and anyway, painting in your bedroom is frowned upon by most mothers because it is messy. And there wasn’t anywhere else to paint. What I am trying to say is that I grew up yearning for those huge bottles of poster colour paint that stood on the trolley in school. The thought of being able to just splash paint about willy-nilly was ridiculous. My parents wanted to encourage my artistic side, but they didn’t have the disposable income or the mindset to invest in good raw materials for it.
The result is that the scarcity of my childhood has bloomed into a scarcity paranoia in adulthood. As soon as I was earning, I went out and bought decent art materials, but then I couldn’t make myself use them. I have drawers and boxes full of sketchbooks, pastels, inks and paint tubes that have never been opened because I still have the mindset that they have to be conserved. I can’t waste a thing. To the point where I can’t use a thing.
None of this would I know and understand, were it not for exploring it in my journal. And in my journal have come the little glimmers of a solution, a plan to tackle my stuckness with baby steps so minute that I can fool Nigel into thinking I’m not even putting pen to paper at all! Slowly and gently, I will con myself into the belief that making a tiny drawing is safe. And then I will con myself into making a bigger one. Until one day I will fulfil my dream of illustrating my own novels, and making huge abstract expressionist canvases like Rothko and Pollock. But not yet. To begin with, I will throw out everything I learnt in art class, scrunch up my eyes and begin again, as a child. It will be hard, but I can do it. I did it with the writing, after all…
Are you also struggling with a creative block? Is there something you used to do, and would like to do again, but are afraid to? Perhaps you are just stuck and you can’t get out of your own way. You probably don’t even know why.
Get out your journal and take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes and let yourself fall backwards through time. Feel yourself become a child, doing that thing you loved do and don’t do anymore, whatever it is. Immerse yourself in that memory. How did it feel? What was so satisfying, enticing, transcendently joyful or just effortless about it? How did splashing paint on paper, sewing a doll’s dress or dancing to the radio help you express yourself? Connect with the fun, the pleasure, the satisfaction.
Now write about it. Take time to write out all you can remember about doing that creative activity, and take the memory from as early an age as possible.
Now take another deep breath and continue to write, this time about when you stopped pursuing that activity. What happened? What age where you? Was there criticism from parents or responsible adults? Or was it competition with other children who you regarded as being better at the skill than you? Perhaps you reached puberty and decided that form of creativity was childish and no longer for you? Or you felt you couldn’t go any further with it because you couldn’t make a living at it? Whatever the reason, explore your memories of it. Be as thorough as you can.
Give yourself some time to sit with these memories, to contemplate them. Decide what aspects are still stopping you. Are you, like me, fearful that your work won’t be ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ (thanks, Nigel), or still carrying that fear that there isn’t paper to waste? Will doing this activity make you vulnerable in some way? (If so, you don’t have to show it to anybody, just keep it for yourself.)
(If some major trauma is involved, it is wise to seek professional help. A therapist is invaluable, and those who specialise in expressive arts or Gestalt might be just what you need. Don’t suffer flashbacks alone as a result of this exercise. Self care should always be the first rule of creative expression.)
Think about ways to ease yourself through these issues. Maybe taking a beginners or taster course, where everyone will be fumbling about at the same starter level, could encourage you that what you make doesn’t have to be perfect. Perhaps an online course that you can follow in private, and at your own pace (Alisa Burke has some brilliant art and sewing courses.) Or you could buy some kids art materials and use them with your own kids (or borrow someone else’s for an afternoon). Watch how kids are completely free of judgement when they make art. They are just having fun. You can, too. (Actually, I think I may have to borrow some children and do this myself!)
Trust that what comes up in writing your journal is from deep within, an inner wisdom that will guide you back to your creative centre. Above all, be gentle with yourself as your formulate your action plan, and give yourself as much time as you need. You don’t have to become Picasso or Nijinsky overnight.