Two activities most soothe my Spirit: being out in Nature, camping in a field, a forest, near or on water, and making art. (Yoga and meditation are in there, too, but they're interwined with my art.) I don't remember a time when I wasn't attached to the creative process. As I grew up, our parents kept supplies of paper, pencils and crayons available, My mother sewed, did decoupage, knit and fashioned intricate clothing for Barbie dolls. Her mother, who lived with us until she died, preferred cigarettes to sewing needles, but she did teach me spool knitting. The next door neighbours, mother and daughter, whom I considered grandparents, taught me to read and fascinated me with their intricate, hand made crocheted work which covered every piece of furniture throughout their house.
Every summer, we'd go on vacation. Dad and Mom packed up a borrowed station wagon with a mess of children - 7 at final count, plus my best friend and sometimes a lovely bachelor "uncle" named "Hugh," who, although Catholic, was the personification of "Zen," long before I had even heard the word. If we happened to have a dog, she came, too. To this day, I marvel at how many bodies you can pack into a vehicle for a road trip. My father drove; he, too, was a miracle of patience. Most summers, we headed to a provincial park somewhere in the prairie provinces or even as far as the west coast. My parents installed Hugh in the park lodge and we stayed in non-modern cabins. My favourite spots were places where I could walk the beaches, combing for treasures. Nirvana was defined by the arts centres which many parks staffed all summer. I'd head to the centre every day and stay there until it closed. Nature and art/craft became intrinsically linked from an early age.
Over the years, I drew, painted, made ceramic pots, wove baskets of paper, grass and rush. I knit bizarre bits of string. (They started out as Barbie clothes, but since I never cared for Barbie and refused to follow a pattern, they became my earliest pieces of free form knitting.) One summer, I collected glass containers of various colours, found a board, a hammer and a bottle of glue and proceeded to smash the glass into bits and glue the pieces into a mosaic as a project for Canada's centennial. To her credit, my mother never once protested, even when I broke the glass in the house and despite the fact that my fingers were covered in bandaids from the multiple cuts I got from shards of glass. Another time, a friend and I designed amazing pierced earrings out of newspaper papier mache. While the earrings were quite pretty, the findings were not. With no source for the hardware required to wear these jewels in our recently pierced ears, we designed our own using the paper covered wires found on bread bags. Let me assure you, even if you strip the paper off those wires and clean the wire thoroughly, the result of wearing them is likely to be infected ear lobes.
I never thought of arts and crafts as something one pursued as a career. My best friend's sister was a well-known ceramic artist, but she was much older than we were and, frankly, weird, in our young eyes. It was clearly understood in our household that girls got married after high school or, if they went to university, became teachers. As the oldest daughter, I was destined to become a nun. I was okay with that; there was a convent two doors down from our house and I often went there for music lessons or to roam the halls. Several of the sisters were artists; I thought that was the only way to be a full time artist. By age ten, though, it was pretty clear to everyone that I was not nun material, so that door closed quickly.
My artistic pursuits continued. I don't remember differentiating between good and bad art. Some things worked; others didn't. I kept going. Since no one ever thought of art as anything other than a hobby, everyone either admired what I did or was indifferent to it. Then came The Critic.
We've all had one: that person who decides that they know all about art and how to do it. These critics are determined to set children on the path to Doing Art the Right Way. I'd already encountered a bit of this in school. I was a good girl and learned to colour within the lines, while doing as I pleased at home, but until grade seven/eight, I don't remember anyone telling me I was Doing Art Wrong. That moment came when my teacher, while examining a portrait I proudly held up for inspection, told me, "You'll never be an artist." That was that.
For the next eight years, all through high school and university, I never practiced art. I was an English Lit major and was happy with that, because I loved to write and had always done so, but I couldn't bring myself to take a single art elective, for fear of hearing those words again. Throughout university, I canoed and camped, but never opened a sketchbook because I was afraid my friends would laugh at my efforts. (Of course, I realize now that they would not!)
The light switched back on at the end of my university days; I discovered fibre arts, my then boyfriend (now husband) built me a loom and the world opened up again for me. When I wasn't working at my library job, I was weaving. Spinning and knitting came next, but I never picked up a drawing pencil or paints until I was nearing forty and working at an arts centre. It was there, when I lamented to one of the other resident artists that I couldn't draw the way everyone else did, that I saw a way around the rocks in my path. Jack looked at me and said just one thing: "Why would you want to draw like anyone else?" That was that; he took me on as a student and I never looked back. I went on to teach drawing to children and a class for adults called, "Drawing for the Terrified." Now, my sketchbooks travel with me everywhere. Once again, I spin and weave in fields, in forests, near water. I draw and paint. Once again, I don't care if my work is good or bad. I simply Do. I am Home.
I tell you this long story as a cautionary tale. When I was teaching the children's drawing classes, I was sad to see that many of the 6 to 9 year olds in my classes had already absorbed the idea that there was good and bad drawing and, usually, theirs was the bad drawing.Once that doubt sets in it takes a lot to convince them otherwise. If you have a child near you who loves art (and what child doesn't), supply them with the materials they need. Unless they beg for help, leave them to their own devices. I've made my share of mistakes with my children; my Artist Ego stepped in to assist in my children's art when it should have remained silent.
If you're an adult who used to practice art of any kind and would love to take it up again, DO IT. If lessons scare you (and there are still many "This is the Right Way" art teachers out there), get some art materials and spend time each day just messing about. Make it a meditation practice. Don't show it to anyone. When your Inner Critic starts to give you advice, say, "Thank you, Mind. Not helpful." Keep going. If you want to nourish your Body, Mind and Spirit even more, take your art outside. You don't have to go into the woods. Your backyard will do. If you can't get outside, look out a window and practice while observing.
The world will thank you. The world needs more artists. Not good artists, not bad artists. Just Artists.