Books have stories and not just the ones they tell. The impulse to write my first book, The Confident Creative / Drawing to Free the Hand and Mind came when I began to teach drawing to adults. It was my first time teaching, about 7 years ago. I began in a fairly traditional way—charcoal, paper, things to draw. But I soon noticed that one student’s hand shook and, after a few weeks, she said, ‘I’m afraid. I’m afraid I can’t do this.’ I hadn’t really thought that some people might be afraid to draw. I also noticed some students were tentative in the marks they made, some very careful as if making mistakes is a bad thing. How could this be? We were just drawing, after all, something we’d all done as kids. I decided we’d forget rendering and take up scribbling and do it large on huge paper on the walls. We’d get the kinks out. Everyone can do that, I thought. It would boost confidence. But it wasn’t so. Some felt even more daunted, it seemed. What if the scribbles weren’t right somehow?
I began to see that we all have an authority issue. We’ve spent years in school being graded on everything we do. Those who’d been to art school suffered too from dreadful undermining “critiques.” Some of us have been praised, some dismissed; either way, we have a problem. We want to look good, be good. We want to count but that’s not what art’s about. We already count. Art’s a kind of alchemy that changes us as much as we change it.
The thing is all that is great and beautiful is already inside us. Even our tentative scratches on paper are great if they come from our hearts and are honest. We grow from there. The fantastic thing is that drawing takes us there. Drawing is a meditation and can take us to that place of total presence, with oneness. When we learn to let go of our endless reasoning, we can enter a place of forgetting where inspiration comes to meet us and we see we’re much more than we thought.
It’s simple really—show up, let the thoughts go, make marks, explore, experiment, look and see. Just be. We’re only making marks on paper, after all, and magic too—something never seen before. In the class, we started to make experiments and I joined in; I was learning too. We might spend 3 hours drawing with our eyes closed or drawing upside down, drawing huge on the walls or floor, drawing with tree branches or mud. We might draw on each others’ drawings or cut our drawings up and reassemble. Every week we explore and see what happens. In the process we do gain skills and, better yet, a sense of who we are, what our hand has to offer. We let go of expectations and only look for the good in the belief that the good in what we do will overcome all weakness. We do not say negative things. That’s the one rule and it helps us see that making art is a process and we needn’t fixate on this or that. Just look, see, carry on, go where we haven’t gone before. That’s the fun of it. Art takes us somewhere new.
I couldn’t have foreseen the amazing individual visions that would emerge. One of my students, who really believed she couldn’t draw at all when she first arrived, has become a prolific artist of outstanding vision. She’s had several one woman shows and now has work in The American Folk Art Museum in New York City. And we’ve all shown our work in group exhibitions. I never dreamed of the peace, connectedness and fun we’d experience on Saturday mornings when we explore together. This was the story that set me writing.