I’ve been a little quiet on the art front here of late. But that does not mean I have not been busy. On the contrary, the past month has been one of the most productive art months I have had in a while and has finally given me an answer to a question that has plagued me for years.
What does it mean to be a ‘good’ artist?
As a kid, I loved drawing and painting, and took art as a subject at school all the way up to my university entrance exams. But I never considered myself to be a ‘good’ artist, not when I looked at my grades. If it wasn’t for the fact that Art History was 50% of the grade, I probably would have failed. But I would have stuck with it anyway, because I loved making art.
Also, my favourite art teacher once said to me, “Jodie, you are actually a very good artist, but I can’t give you high marks because you never follow the brief! You always have to do it in your own style, and there are no grading rubrics for originality” (I’m paraphrasing here… it was 20 something years ago).
Since leaving school and going into various careers, I have kept up my art practice, albeit sporadically. I have had many ‘art phases’ where I buy a bunch of supplies and some canvases and throw myself into painting things for a few months, only to let it fizzle out, supplies gathering dust in a box in the corner.
But last year, when going through one of those inevitable take-stock-of-things moments, it occurred to me that what was lacking in my life was a routine creative practice. I was struggling with different writing projects for work and for myself, and generally feeling blocked in all things. So, I got a few watercolours and a small watercolour sketchbook and started following the Doodlewash prompts. I did this for a month and as a result, art became something of a routine where I would sit down and paint something at least three days a week.
The Internet and Instagram are excellent for this. There are new challenges and lists of prompts every month, and I tried them all for a whole year. But still, something wasn’t quite working. I was getting better and better at the technical side of things, but I still didn’t really feel like I was making the art I needed to make. It felt like the prompts were actually restricting me rather than helping me and I was finding it less and less motivating to follow them.
Enter Get Messy and art journalling!
I’d heard of art journalling but didn’t really understand the concept behind it. I had already become a huge fan of my bullet journal and thought it must be like that, but a bit more arty, and since I was already doodling and putting stickers in my bullet journal, at some level I thought I already was art journalling. Oh how wrong I was!
Towards the end of March, I came across a tweet that announced the start of the Sketchbook Revival 2020, a free 12-day online art course that would inspire people to get back into their sketchbooks. Never one to turn down a free course, I bookmarked the tweet and went to the website. I was a week early, but there was a pre-course assignment: make your own sketchbook for the Sketchbook Revival. The class was given by Caylee Grey, founder of Get Messy, and in it she showed me how to take an old book binding and fill it with a large quantity of art and junk papers to create a unique sketchbook all of my own. I was hooked, I had to know more.
The following week, there was an open online hangout where non-members could meet current members and follow a class before getting down to doing some art. All together. All online. And it was wonderful! All in all, there were about 80 participants, which sounds mad, but it was skilfully managed and we were separated off into smaller groups so we could get to know each other and complete the three assignments.
But what really sold me on this way of doing art was seeing what other members produce. Art journalling is an all-encompassing art form that really encourages exploration and introspection, and this was what I had been missing in my own practice. It’s about leaving all preconceptions at the studio door and just having fun. It’s about play, and feelings and actual getting-your-hands-dirty feeling as well. The tactile sensations of running my fingers through paint, and then throwing in some chalk pastel, or sticking an image down on top of it. All of this allows for a freedom of expression that I had not felt before.
So, what is the answer to the question “What makes a ‘good’ artist?”
Simple. There’s no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ artists.
Sure, you can be a technically proficient painter or illustrator, and that is awesome, but we don’t all have to be that. I have seen so many beautiful works of art painted by artists who never went to school, never had the training, never learnt the techniques. But what they did have and do have is a need to play with materials to create something they want to look at.
And anyone can do this.
You can do this.
If you want to create something, create it.