Shaking the Fear Of Art

The summer I was 10 or so, my parents signed me up for a kids’ art class at the local art school/museum. One of our first projects was to stand at an easel (cool!) to paint fireworks. I covered my paper with dark colors for the night sky, then painstakingly got to work painting the fine details of the fireworks display I’d seen the night before. I love the ones that look like chrysanthemums…huge and bursting with fine streaks of color and light. The instructor made his way around the class, and when he got to me, he took a wide brush in his hand, dipped it in paint, and painted RIGHT OVER my finely detailed work with his own wild and broad strokes. “THIS is how fireworks look!” he blared as he painted. I remember feeling like I was painting “wrong” and wanting to go home.

I was 10 then. I’m 57 now. I should just get over this. But the nagging idea that got into my head that day—that art is something with right and wrong answers, like trigonometry—never left me. Even then I knew, as he was ruining my painting and my psyche, that I was entitled to my own interpretation of fireworks—but that criticism somehow crippled me. I shy away from art—though I ADORE art supplies—because I don’t want to get it wrong.

I need to shake this.

I faithfully listen to Ana Reinert’s and Heather Rivard’s “Art Supply Posse” podcast and this has been the just the thing to nudge me in the right direction. When I drive to and from out-of-town doctor’s appointments, I devour the episodes and the advice. They leave me saying “I can do this.” I want to do this. I WILL do this.

At the DC Pen Show, Ana recommended that I check out books by Danny Gregory. As with all things art, I characteristically dragged my feet, but this week I finally picked up a copy of his Art Before Breakfast. Merry Christmas to me!


I haven’t had time to do much more then leaf through the pages, but I’m already excited. I’m going to make art. Bad art. Good art. Right art. Wrong art. Quick art. Slow art. Art.

About a year ago, a friend sent me a copy of Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal. She bought a copy for herself and the plan was for us to wreck our journals simultaneously, then mail them to each other to see who was the most destructive. We have similar personalities and the idea of wrecking something, especially a book, does not come easily. My book remains pristine, and, last time I checked, hers was in the same condition.

Wreck This Journal

Ah, perfectionism. What a cruel master.

2017 is the year to let loose. I will wreck this book. I will mail it to Teresa in all of its destroyed glory. I will.

Lest anyone think that my perfectionism means that our house is in pristine order, I say, “HAHAHAHA!”

That stationery corner

Our dining room is in relatively good shape, except for this piece of real estate. Ouch. You can tell by the boxes that I’ve tried to get a grip on things, but then the going gets tough and my will to continue dries up. I’m vowing, publicly, to sort, organize, and store all of the pens, pencils, and notebooks you see here. I also vow to use them.

There is much work to be done, but it’s fun work. Making art, letting loose, organizing and using my stationery treasures.

It’s about damn time.


A footnote about the art school experience: Decades after that unfortunate summer class, I returned to the Adult Community Art Classes to take a bookmaking/printmaking class and had the time of my life. Even though I was the “scientist” in a class full of artists, I had a blast making books because there is measuring and right angles. The professor, who remains a good friend, never told me that I was doing things wrong. She let me be as precise as I wanted to be while encouraging me to let loose. She was everything that summer instructor was not. I love you, Lisa.


A few of my handmade books

15 thoughts on “Shaking the Fear Of Art

  1. Geez, I could swear we are twins! I have that book “Wreck This Journal”, too. Bought it just before I left NY and you know what? I just CAN’T do it! It pains me to wreck a book. I keep telling myself I will do it but it is so out of my comfort zone (i.e., it isn’t “structured” and neat). Funny you should mention bookmaking because I was just looking at a class last week on the same thing, thinking I should take it. On the topic of art supplies, I, too, have a collection that I just can’t seem to get a grip on. I mean seriously, how many pens, pencils and half written-in notebooks do I really need but I love them all!!! I’ll have to check out that book “Art Before Breakfast” – maybe it’ll help me loosen up a bit…

  2. Thank God we are a lot alike. I VOW to do that journal!

    And I am gonna check out that art book !!



  3. It’s amazing how fragile the instinct to create art is in children. From babyhood to before school starts, children are fearless creators. Then they lose that hard fearless shell. I feel like it’s connected with starting school – wanting to belong, or to fit in, pleasing adults in their lives, having to start living by other peoples’ rules. I still (always did!) love art but I quit art early in high school because a teacher harshly criticized the style I wanted to draw in. I could have learned so much if I had stuck with formal art classes. My life could have gone in a totally different direction. But I quit. It’s one of my life’s biggest regrets and I’m even now still working my way back to incorporating art in my life. I ask myself a lot (now, as a “hobbyist” creator) what if?

    But it’s never too late to pick something back up. I’m sorry you have that painful memory that stopped you from making art but I am SO GLAD that it didn’t stop you from finding other paths! It’s one of my strongest-felt beliefs that people of all ages should be encouraged to create NO MATTER WHAT. There is no wrong way to paint fireworks – to draw a stick figure – to write a poem – to express yourself. I wish you the very best on your creative journey!!

  4. I can relate to this, not because anyone criticised my art, but getting going now is hard. I made many paintings and drawings in my late teens too. Maybe going to work crushed my creativity. Now I have a lot of art supplies, pens… and many other things I need to do first.

  5. Yay! Do it! I’m a big fan of the Posse and Danny Gregory, too! I think I read his “Creative License” 5 times before it “stuck,” but it did finally stick, and now I can’t stop. 🙂


  6. I learned that I couldn’t draw in grammar school and haven’t thought of myself as an artist since then. I’ve been afraid to even try. I will have to check that book out. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. I too have been unable /unwilling toWreck that book. I bought a copy as it seemed an interesting challenge to myself, but while sribbling or pasting in leaves I might do, tearing, stamping on, throwing in puddles . . .horror! Unknowing, my daughter bought me a copy next xmas and both remain pristine filed in my TBR cabinet. I think it might scar my soul to so mistreat a book.
    Your handmade books are lovely! Create, don’t destroy. 🙂

  8. THAT was not a teacher! I may be an engineer and that means mostly right brain thinking blah blah, but I know that making art is allowing your hand to translate the images that are in your heart to your medium.
    A teacher like him are the ones I always thought needed fired. Teachers are supposed to support and encourage a student to express themselves NOT be a carbon copy of themselves. It is when we are children that our imagination is at its highest. Just because that idiot saw fireworks in broad strokes doesn’t mean anyone else does. Art is like beauty, everyone has their own point of view. Personally, I love Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and I dislike Jackson Pollock, but that is just me. There are others who love them both or neither. It is a personal choice.
    That instructor you had when you were 10 wasn’t teaching art, he was destroying a creative spark.
    I find it odd that we are so similar! I am 56, a retired engineer and I took a book class because I wanted to know how to repair my mother’s beloved Irish poetry book. It was the only thing her mom brought with her from Ireland. So it is actually my grandmother’s book. It was falling apart and thank to the class I learned how to replace the torn signatures, repair the spine and replace the end papers. But I couldn’t save the cover. It was too tattered, stained and fragile. The instructor was interested enough in my repair job that she was willing to work with me after class. She advised me to replace the end boards and that she had some beautiful Japanese papers for the end papers and, since this was really an heirloom, I should consider a piece of silk moire for the cover. Sounded lovely but overwhelming. But with a real instructor I not only repaired my mom’s book, I was shown how to build a clamshell book box for it! Thanks to that class, I am the “Hey, I have a friend who can fix books!” that my friends talk about.
    She was a real instructor.
    I am sorry you had a bad experience. Thanks to that idiot, you have felt that you did something wrong when you did it right all of your life. You are doing right reaffirming your vision of art.

  9. Pingback: Sunday Notes and Links – Holiday Edition | Fountain Pen Quest

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s