Besides acquiring a whole arena of fresh knowledge regarding techniques and materials (I absolutely fell in love with Pan Pastels and Stonehenge paper) I feel I learned several important lessons that can apply not only to drawing and painting, but to the way we approach any creative pursuit--including the art of living! Here's my top twelve:
- Be patient. There is no magic button. Life—and especially creativity—is not a foot race. Take your time; trust that the process will work--it will. Eventually!
- Work on several pieces at once. While you’re waiting and deciding about how to continue or enhance a piece, start working on something new. Ideas will seed each other, bringing inspiration and giving you a strong sense of productivity.
- Start. Stop. Wait. Start. Then stop again. It’s a good idea to break your work into segments. Once you’ve added a new element to a piece, let it sit for awhile before you rush to the next “improvement.”
- The marks we make clue us into our natural direction. Because I’m a writer, I tend to love line. Cross-hatching with a sharp pencil, swirls of charcoal depicting hair and fur, I enjoy elegant mark making. A knitter in the class gave her work the smooth, even order of a “knit, purl” pattern. Another woman, a beader, worked with circles. Art reveals our natural rhythms and preferences. Go with them.
- Instead of saying you don't like a piece, say "it's not finished." Which is another way of saying “don’t give up.” It’s a journey—not every stop along the way is going to be "oh, wow!"
- Put your work on the wall and live with it for a while. Along with #1 and #3, let everything you do sit for a while and breathe. Ask the piece what it needs (if anything). What does it want to say? Listen and don't rush to judgment or completion.
- Your work is sacred, but it's not precious. Honor the process, but don’t be afraid of letting the work go when it's time. Most pieces and drafts are simply stepping stones and tools to guide you toward a more important work or truth. Once they’ve served their purpose, thank them and move on.
- Just make a mark. Start. With anything. A red slash. A green dot. A woman in a shopping mall. Add a feather. A leaf. A crying baby. Find the story. One idea really does lead to another.
- Be comfortable with awkwardness. Appreciate the adolescent in your artwork or manuscript: nose and ears too big for the face; gangly arms and legs, excruciating shyness—we were all thirteen once upon a time! And guess what? We all grew into swans and flamingos and eagles in spite of thinking we’d never be anything more than frozen turkeys. Recognize your work will go through the exact same life stages we all do—every one of them special and engaging in its own right.
- Take risks. You’ll never know unless you try. Throw that paint! Put a poem in Chapter Seventeen! Write from the dog’s point of view!
- You can't ruin anything. There isn’t a single piece of art or writing that can’t be fixed. Even the worst "accident" (torn paper, spilled ink, smeared paint, the dog’s POV didn’t work) can be turned into the starting point for a new—and often more exciting—direction.
- There's plenty more where this came from. We are all creative beings with limitless access to a universe of possibility. Never fear running dry, or feeling you have to hoard your ideas and skills for “the real thing” (whatever that is). The universe is simply bursting with grand ideas, and all of them are yours for the taking. Give everything you work on your total best, your full attention, your most interesting angle—the well will be refilled long before you could ever possibly reach “empty.”