As I drove to day-two of the “Sinking In” workshop with Andrea Bird, I listened to a TED talk of David Kelley (see below) discussing how to build your creative confidence. He told this story:
I remember one day my best friend Brian was working on a project. He was making a horse out of the clay that our teacher kept under the sink. And at one point, one of the girls who was sitting at his table,seeing what he was doing, leaned over and said to him, “That’s terrible. That doesn’t look anything like a horse.” And Brian’s shoulders sank. And he wadded up the clay horse and he threw it back in the bin. I never saw Brian do a project like that ever again.
And I wonder how often that happens. It seems like when I tell that story of Brian to my class, a lot of them want to come up after class and tell me about their similar experience, how a teacher shut them down or how a student was particularly cruel to them. And some opt out thinking of themselves as creative at that point.
The talk only lasted for half of my trip, so I had time to think in quiet. His story from the third-grade triggered this childhood memory of my own.
Feeling like a fraud
I remembered drawing an orange sun and suddenly realizing that I had made a mistake. The sun shouldn’t be orange it should be yellow so I took my pencil crayon and went over the orange trying to change it to yellow. I was upset that I had ruined my picture because the orange continued to show.
My teacher thought differently about my depiction of the sun. She held up my picture, pointed to the sun and praised my use of more than one colour. I felt shame. Shame that the teacher had shown my mistake to the whole class and shame that she had given me credit I didn’t deserve. I was a fraud.
I shared this story that morning with the other “Sinking In” workshop participants. I fully intended to incorporate a yellow/orange sun in my painting that day, but as I worked on the painting the story of the sun left my mind. I focused on words I needed to speak to my inner critic.
While saying goodbye to Andrea, she encouraged me to own the sun story by making it another piece.
Sinking in: “Dear Younger Me…”
As I started to clean up my studio space to begin this painting I found a board that was 12″ x 12″ it was the exact same size as Sinking in: “Dear Inner Critic…”. I have no idea where this board came from. I hadn’t seen it the week before when I sorted through substrates to take with me to the workshop—its presence felt like a gift.
I began this painting in the same way by writing a letter directly on the substrate, but this letter was to my grade-three-self.
I told Younger Me that it’s okay to turn a mistake into a success — that doesn’t make you a fraud. It just means that a happy accident has surprised you, and that is part of learning and growth.
Sinking in: Salient Words
Carrying on the practice from the workshop. I chose these salient words for this piece: confidence, surprise, growth, happy accident, worthy, deserving, credit, accepted.
Sinking in: Process
Included in this piece is a piece of a map showing the neighbourhood I grew up in including my elementary, middle and high schools.
I have worked on this piece on and off all summer. I have often felt stuck. Several times I have set it aside. Finally, I have been able to proceed. I sketched a little drawing of Ruthie on a sketch pad. I traced the sketch onto the wax with carbon paper. I then added coloured medium to the dress. The lines weren’t dark enough so I etched into the wax and then filled the lines with black oil paint.
I gouged in some flowers and a little butterfly and filled them with paint as well. I removed the excess oil paint with paper towels and linseed oil. I added some yellow and orange to the flowers with the encaustic art stylus. Like the flowers, Ruthie is facing and growing in the sun.
I enjoyed the process of adding dots and swirls to the sun with yellow, orange and gold with the stylus.
Gain creative confidence
I’ve been working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In it, she talks about protecting the artist child within and about confronting core negative beliefs with positive words. This painting now hangs above my desk so that every day I can speak words of creative affirmation to my younger self.
Do you have your own “Brian” story? I encourage you to turn your story into art.
David Kelley said,”I really believe that when people gain this confidence… they actually start working on the things that are really important in their lives.”
If you liked this post and the TedTalk you may want to read the book, Creative Confidence Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley & David Kelley
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