Since starting my journey into illustration and watercolors, I’ve met so many others who have also started post-school or after a long hiatus. However daunting it may be to start any new adventure, there’s so much reward in art with the only risk being your time and effort.
I was an avid artist as long as I can remember. It’s how I identified myself.
I could sit down with a piece of paper and keep myself busy for hours. My school paper margins were filled with drawings to the point where teachers told me they would mark points off my work if I kept doing it. But by late high school, my art practice fell to the side.
It wasn’t until 19 years after high school, I stopped looking at my Instagram feed and Pinterest boards of gorgeous art and illustrations and picked up a brush to make something again myself.
The disaster artist
Watercolors really drew me in more than other mediums but they also felt so daunting and mysterious. They’re not like a marker where the color is always the same richness and the shape is that of the nib. Regardless, I just jumped in despite a few failed attempts years earlier.
I gave myself a project—that way, I was going to be held accountable. I still had to put brush to paper the next day even if what I made the day before stunk.
I challenged myself to a self-proclaimed Watercolor Week on my Instagram account. I chose some of my favorite artists that I have followed and tried to paint something in a similar style to their work, crediting them for inspiration. Writing this out, I can only imagine someone cringing because a) I was completely inexperienced, and b) I was showing my inexperience to people who I looked up to.
This had the chance to completely backfire on me. If I would have gotten bad responses from my friends and the artists themselves, I don’t know if I would have continued painting after that week. That didn’t happen, though. I mean, it did… I made some terrible artwork that week. But despite that, what I learned is that sharing your interests and passions can open doors you never knew were there.
What happens when you stop worrying and just make art
Whatever fear I had before about being a perfect right out of the gate wasn’t there anymore. I felt like a kid again, showing my friends and family the paintings I made, excited with myself that I put paint to paper. The synapses in my brain were blowing up and there was something new to learn with each painting.
Something in me was activated the way it hadn’t been in… I don’t know when. I felt a sense of magic and awe being able to make something from nothing with complete autonomy. If you’re not familiar with autonomy, it literally translates to self-governing; the ability to do what you want regardless of outside influence or control.
Think about your daily life, how often do we get to be autonomous in our decision making? Working in a creative job myself, you would think that it fulfills this part of me. In reality, I have to make compromises on most creative decisions for the project, my clients, and for a host of external reasons out of my control.
Making art for myself allows me the freedom to work uncompromised.
What if they laugh?
I won’t lie, I never had this fear. I was more excited that I was able to make colorful marks on a piece of paper that it didn’t cross my mind. I had the mindset of, “Hey, if even one person likes what I make—that’s awesome!”
Building a practice of sharing your art is critical in getting over the fear of what other people think. For years, I posted photos nearly daily on my Instagram account. I had already built the habit of sharing so it didn’t take any effort to follow this pattern.
What did I gain from this practice of sharing? Support and friendships. I wasn’t ridiculed for sharing my work. Not everything you make will be loved but if you shift your mentality to be grateful for when someone does like your work instead of being fearful if someone doesn’t like it, you’ll enjoy the practice much more (this goes for life in general, not just art).
I’ll never be as good as someone who has been working at it forever.
A mantra to live by: Art isn’t a competition. It isn’t about who is better than anyone because it is all subjective. The fact that YOU made the art is what makes it special—not how realistic something is or how perfect and polished it looks.
With that said, every piece you make is a chance to learn something new. The sooner you start, the more frequently you work, the more you’ll grow. It’s only been a year into my own journey and I have stacks of illustrations and paintings, things I can look back at and enjoy knowing I did something proactive with my time. I have a timeline of progress, a document of work that can be universally understood regardless of language.
It doesn’t matter when I started the journey. The fact is, if I had never started, it wouldn’t exist. I could have played videos games or watched TV and the document of my life would be stored on a save file of a game someone else made or recorded episodes of a TV show someone else made.
Make something yourself. It won’t be perfect and you won’t be the best and that is OK. But don’t live with the regret of not trying out of fear of being perfect or good enough. Art is about telling your story however you want.
Get to work!