When you just don’t get it

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Oh man, the things I wish I knew as a beginning artist.

Thinking back on my experiences as a beginning artist is actually really funny in hindsight, but they were definitely not funny at the time. So my primary objective here is just to let all of you know that if you are going through these struggles as an artist, you are not alone.

All of us had to start someplace, and I would say probably 99% of artists out there have gone through the exact same struggle. So anytime you see a successful artist who just seems to have all this confidence like they just made it out of thin air, I want you to know that they didn’t start out that way. Most likely, all of us started from ground zero, made many mistakes, and built upwards.

At the end of the day, it’s hard work to be an artist who has mastered their craft and has built that confidence. It really does come from self-mastery and mastering our skill set. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of work. There’s this idea out there that artists are just born or that making art is super easy to do.

I know that some people who know me as an artist, like family members and acquaintances, have this idea that it’s all just a piece of cake or that it all just comes naturally to me. There’s this idea that I never have anything going on in my life and then I just happen to whip out a painting and wallah, I’m successful. When that is SO not the case.

So I just want to share a couple of stories with you about some obstacles that I know I faced as a beginning artist and perhaps you’re facing them right now where you are on your art life journey. I hope that my experiences will encourage you to keep going. Maybe my sharing these stories with you will also help you to take some of the beginning struggles a little lighter perhaps.

The first struggle I want to talk about is just not getting it. I couldn’t think of any other way to explain this except for the phrase, “I just don’t get it.” 

The interesting thing about making art is it’s really a whole new way of seeing.

The way that our eyes and brain have been trained to perceive reality and to perceive the world is really not the way that our eyes and brain have to work together to perceive the world to make art.

I’ll give you an example. I remember in my first year of art school in drawing one class, we finally got past drawing boxes in person. We had about three months which seemed like an eternity of just drawing boxes in perspective and learning how to see foreshortening, perspective, and measuring things.

It was a very painstaking effort because it took such a long time and it was such a struggle. After finally getting through that, the teacher brings in all these organic objects one day. I was so excited to see the beautiful fall-dried leaves that she had brought in as she set them on the table and says, “everybody draw your leaves.”

The fascinating thing was, that what I had learned from drawing the boxes did not carry over to drawing the leaf. So the leaf was in foreshortening, but I didn’t understand foreshortening. Even after drawing all those boxes I really didn’t understand foreshortening, measuring perspective, and all that stuff.

So I’m drawing this leaf and the leaf ends up looking like it’s laying flat. The instructor came around and pointed this out to me, and said, “Do you see that you’re looking down on top of the leaf or that its just fully frontal?” It didn’t feel like it was on a flat plane in space receding in space and I didn’t get any of the foreshortening or any of the perspective. I was SO frustrated because I was like, Oh my gosh, I’m never gonna get this, I’m never going to be good at drawing from life.

Prior to that, all I’d ever done was copy photographs and draw from photos which I knew I could do.  I could grid out a photo and perfectly shade everything as best as I could. But I really struggled when it came to drawing from life and getting perspective and foreshortening and all that kind of stuff. 

So she brought around this little grid. It was a clear plastic grid and she held up the grid in between my eyes and the leaf and she said, “Can you see? Can you see that the distance from the front of the leaf to the back of the leaf is not as long of a distance as what you’ve made it on your paper?”

I swear to y’all, I could not see it for the life of me. And I said “No, I don’t see it. I do not see it.” I got so frustrated. She kept just saying, “Do you see it? Do you see it?”

I got so aggravated I just had to leave the room. I was like, Okay, I need a potty break, so I left the room went to the bathroom. And of course, in my head I’m just catastrophizing everything thinking that – oh my god. I’ll never be an artist..I’ve spent all this money to go to this art school and I’m never going to make it. I don’t have what it takes to be an artist.

The struggle is real. 

Another example of this was when I was in a class called Constructive Anatomy, a figure drawing class. They were trying to get us to see the human form in terms of geometric shapes.

This is how artists learn to see the world.

Whenever we look at a tree as an artist, we don’t see all the details first. As beginners, maybe we see a symbolic version, we see all the numerous leaves, twigs, and branches. But as an artist, what we learn to do is learn a new way of seeing. So when we look at a tree, we see the geometric form of the tree, or the apple, or the face, whatever the subject is.

But at that time, I really had not been able to make that shift in my seeing. I still had not been able to really see as an artist.

So I was in this constructive anatomy class and the same thing that was happening with the leaf was happening again to me. The instructor came around trying to explain to visualize the top of the shoulders like the top of a box or the top of a rectangle. The same thing with the head. He kept drawing the head like in a cube, and I’m like, Oh, really, here we go again with the cubes and the boxes, and frustration started to arise.

There were many, many, many times when an art instructor would try to explain something to me, and in that moment, I just could not get it. I just wasn’t getting it. And sometimes I would tell the instructor that I just do not get it. Sometimes I would ask if he could try to explain it to me in a different way. I’d ask if he could demonstrate it for me, but 9 times out of 10, it’s just that I was not ready to get it yet. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t ever going to get even though it can feel that way at that moment. And with time and practice, I eventually got it. 

That’s what I want to leave you with is, to never give up.

Don’t let yourself believe that you’re never going to get it. If you keep trying to understand, if you keep practicing, if you keep studying, you will get it right.

It’s a different way of seeing being an artist and it is a struggle.

Even if you don’t get something today that does not mean that you’re not going to ever get it. Only if you give up and quit, then yes, you’re not going to get it.

It takes The Three P’s. Patience, a lot of Persistence, a lot of Practice to eventually grow into that new way of seeing. It is a fascinating experience that comes on kind of slowly over time. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re getting it. It’s a slow growth evolution process, and one day you’re like, Oh my gosh, I’ve got that. I get it now. I see it now.

So no matter what skill level you’re at in your art journey, if you’re just not getting it right now, remember that is okay, and that is a normal part of your growth process as an artist.

I also want to invite you to my upcoming 5 Days to Still Life Painting Challenge.

This is going to be really excellent for you if you’re a beginner or if you’re an artist who wants to try out a different way of painting or need some inspiration and motivation in your art life.

Find out all the info and register HERE.

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