Fear can hold you back from so many things, but especially from following your dreams and becoming all who you were meant to be. How can you face those fears and move forward in your life?
‘I would love to write and illustrate my own picture books.’ This was something that I said to myself a number of years ago when my kids were small. I don’t know what it is but so many authors and illustrators discover/rediscover a love of picture books when they are reading them to children. Either their own children or someone else’s.
For me, I always wrote but never called myself a writer until recently. I always drew, but never progressed beyond feeling that my pictures were terrible. The thing is, they were not good, but I could not break through that ugly stage to get them to be any better. So I stagnated in both my writing and my drawing.
Four years ago I had a breakthrough with my writing. I started taking courses and investing in my passion for writing and telling stories. I still drew and painted but never seriously. It couldn't get any better than I was, and I couldn’t get past it, especially when it came to drawing people. I compared myself to others. I listened to the little voice, the critic on my shoulder, who had said I’d never be good enough; I’d never measure up so why bother?
I compared myself to others and listened to the voice, the inner critic on my shoulder, who said, 'You'll never be good enough. Why bother?'
Why bother indeed? Because, like with my writing, I couldn’t leave it alone; I had to pick up a pen and draw. I had to try to capture a moment, tell a story. It was a part of me as far back as I can remember. That feeling was always there but never acknowledged. My father, Pop and Nan were all artists.
Though I did not have much to do with my Pop, and my Nan died when I was a baby, their art was always around, inspiring me that maybe someday I could do the same. My parents separated and later divorced when I was 13. And, as my father was violent, we had to go into hiding. Though in years later I did meet up with my dad and have a small amount to do with him, it was not a lot and he no longer was doing any art. He has since passed away.
My big breakthrough with both my art and my writing (which I thought I was all good with) came when I picked up a copy of, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron at the beginning of this year. It was first published in 1992 and, as Ali Stewart has so aptly put it in her recent blog post, Three Important Insights from The Artists Way, ‘with umpteen reprints, several spinoffs, and numerous nips, tucks, and facelifts, the perennial title continues to unstick stuck creatives.’ It has certainly unstuck me.
I first heard Valerie Khoo on the podcast, So You Want to be a Writer, talk about the book, The Artists Way at the beginning of the year. Next thing she was going on ‘artist dates, learning the mysterious rope art formally known as macramé, Japanese Book Binding, and going to musicals. This opened a new world to her, and she seemed so much happier. Then, I read a blog post that mentioned The Artists Way, and the same week walked into a second-hand store, and there, in a stack of books lay The Artists Way. Its spine was highlighted to me and my gaze immediately drawn to it. Curious about the fuss, and figuring God had his hand in this somehow, I took it home and began my journey of healing, acceptance, and discovering a sense of play.
So, what was it that unstuck me and helped me overcome my fears? A lot of hard work and commitment for the full 12 weeks of The Artists Way program, and committed to stretching and challenging myself ever since, that’s what. Each week of The Artists Way program, especially at the beginning, you have to work through questions and activities to find what is keeping you stuck. I was amazed how the very act of WRITING an experience down and seeing it black and white could unblock something within. Do it! It will amaze, shock, and surprise you.
For me, it was a combination of having my classmates laugh at my stories. I was a shy kid with very poor self-esteem. Looking back now I can see that my stories were funny. At high school, I would write stories straight out of left field and have a totally different take on the assignment. This also caused my classmates to burst into laughter and for me to wish I could just sink into the floor and disappear.
My art was different. I had one great art teacher for three terms in year eight. But, the rest of the time my art teachers were interested in Abstract Art which I hated. I wanted to learn to draw and paint nature, people, and animals. As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t get past the ‘yuk’ stage. I didn’t know how.
About five years ago I got hold of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. This was my first breakthrough. Going through the exercises and then trying to draw later I was amazed at the difference. As you can see below, there is a remarkable distinction between the two drawings.
However, I still stagnated — until this year and The Artists Way.
In The Artists Way there is a section of affirmations. One spoke to me and has made one of the biggest impacts. I can nurture my artist. Up to this point, because I felt my artwork was no good, I didn’t need to invest time and/or money on courses or good materials. Oh. My. Goodness. The change that happened when I gave myself permission to invest in good quality paints, paint brushes, paper, liners, as well as online courses was incredible.
So, what did I do after The Artists Way?
I drew. I painted. I continued to take myself on Artists Dates. I spoke with illustrators like Giuseppe Poli and Katrin Dreiling and picked their brains. You can read what they told me here and here. With Giuseppe’s encouragement, I joined the 52 Week Facebook Illustration Challenge and started putting up my work online, not just in that group but everywhere on my social media pages.
My illustrations aren’t great. But, the very act of having to come up with a new piece every week is a wonderful discipline. These were my Artist Dates as well as going to the art store for art supplies. And I can see the improvement already. I often sit in amazement of what I just completed. I also signed up with Skillshare and started taking Nina Rycroft’s illustration courses, as well as any other courses that I felt could help me learn how to use the different mediums.
For me, putting up my art on public display is about conquering my fear of not being good enough and feeling afraid of never measuring up. I have changed my thinking. I no longer compare myself to my friend Ester, who is an amazing artist, and an incredible illustrator. Nor do I compare me to anyone else. I am me. I look at the world differently to anyone else. I am discovering my own style. And, most of all, I am having fun. I experiment all the time. I now compare myself to myself and how far I have come in such a short time.
And do you know what has surprised me the most? This release, this freedom I have found in my art has found its way into my writing. I play with words. I have fun with them. I have fun in my stories. I especially noticed this in the Sci-fi/fantasy novel I just finished. I had an absolutely thrilling time writing the last part of my novel. Each time I sat down I felt exhilarated.
As for my art, I have signed up to take Nina Rycroft’s illustration Masterclass e-course. And my friend Ester is taking it with me. We’ll be doing it together. How cool is that?
So, what about you? What can you do to become all that you can be and start understanding your fears, overcome those that hold your back?
Valerie Khoo is now getting commissions for her rope art AND her artworks. Katrin Dreiling has just had her first book come out. It’s written by Michelle Worthington and illustrated by her. It's called, The World's Worst Pirate.
As for me, people are liking my illustrations and watching my journey. One day, I will realise my dream and write and illustrate my own picture book.
You can find out more about Julia Cameron and her book: The Artists Way
Betty Edwards has a website. Find out more here and read her book and do the exercises. It’s amazing.
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You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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