I’m blown away when I think back on how long I’ve been creative and creating, in part because of the simple fact that I’m just so much older, even if I don’t always realize it. I have memory flashes of writing stories in a black and white composition notebook (an image I’ve conjured many times in recollection), drawing sketches on an art museum elementary school field trip, trying oil painting at thirteen, knitting at seventeen, cutting and pasting zines together at my dining table at 26, and most recently, sprawling out on the floor to cut a tunic sewing pattern at 31. It feels endless, and I’m still learning and discovering new things every day.
I love trying and making; there’s so much satisfaction in the process, even if the end result isn’t what I had in mind. I’ve been a writer and a knitter for so many years now. Several years ago I became a scrapbooker—-which, it turns out, is a lot like making zines—-and over the past few months I’ve found myself feeling more comfortable adding finallyfinallyfinally artist to the list, specifically mixed media artist.
My best friend got me a gel printing plate for Christmas over a year ago now, and when I say it was a gamechanger, I mean it with all my heart. Every time I went to Michaels for probably a year before that, I would look at the gel plates, consider buying one, then decide against it because what if I didn’t like it? What a tragedy that would be for my bank account. It’s not that it’s an expensive craft tool; I’ve spent far more, in fact, on a single craft project. But I know how I feel about knitting, and I know how to do it. I’m confident in my ability to use up a few hundred dollars of yarn (eventually). That unknown of the gel plate kept me from making the leap and spending the money. I couldn’t convince myself to go for it. I contented myself with admiring the prints I saw on Instagram and moving on with my day—until the Christmas package arrived.
Now, well, let’s just say I go through periods of not being able to walk around my craft area very much as prints are scattered across the floor to dry.
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”Bob Ross
I’m still getting the hang of understanding how to visually express myself, of finding inspiration and using it to start. A lot of the time, I just feel like playing with my art supplies, and that’s as deep as the inspiration goes. I pick some paint colors, some ephemera, and start making a mess without any goal besides play. It’s a beautiful mess, but sometimes it’s a long and winding process to get to an end result that I truly love, and sometimes that doesn’t even happen. Sometimes I get stuck on one or two techniques and end up in a rut, staring at the page and wondering where to go next.
It’s a lot like writing in that way.
When that happens, I’ll try to find a new approach or a new technique to incorporate, or I’ll go back to old art journal classes that I’ve taken and try to remind myself of aspects and skills I enjoyed trying out. Sometimes I walk away for a little while, coming back when I’ve had enough waiting, enough fighting with myself to figure out where to go next.
“Artist” was never one of those things I ever truly considered myself. I remember the people in high school who were truly good at art in traditional ways, and my little, underdeveloped teenage brain was stuck on that as the only option. Everything else was just play. To me, it’s still play, but now I realize that play has a purpose.
There is so much joy and, dare I say, therapy to that play. Scribbling–like my toddler!–and splattering paint and seeing how the colors mix and blend together. Making mistakes (happy little accidents) and understanding that they are not the end of the world. At best, it’s a problem-solving opportunity. At worst, paint over it.
While knitting gives me a tangible, usable item in the end, and writing has always been considered a “serious” (if challenging to monetize) activity in my mind–my life path of choice, let’s say–I could never convince myself that art was worth it. It wasn’t until I just started that I realized it’s worth it if it makes me happy.
Groundbreaking stuff, right?
It’s that capitalist mindset that I’m still trying to break, to remind and convince myself that things (hobbies) are worth more than just their monetary value. They’re worth what they bring to your soul. Art is another release that I’ve found and come to appreciate.
Sure, I’ve put the occasional painting up on Etsy, but I’m not placing any expectation on myself when I do it. I don’t make a piece of art because I want to sell it; I make it because I want to make it, plain and simple. If I like it enough that I want to try and list it online, cool. But that’s just because I want to keep my house relatively organized and make money for more art supplies. Sometimes I make something I like so much that I keep it for myself, and I’m lucky enough that my world won’t end if I don’t sell anything. I still keep making my beautiful messes and having a blast doing it.
I guess Bob knew what he was doing when he called it “The Joy of Painting.”