Finding Myself With Art
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Today I want to share a little bit about where I'm at and what I'm doing in terms of art (which will subsequently begin with a bit of history). This is going to be a bit like a memoir/diary entry for me so the content in this blog is going to be very raw and personal.
When I was a child I was incredibly shy and lacking in a certain type of resources, so I spent quite a lot of time by myself. I would go long periods of time without interacting with other kids (except my sisters, who were both much more socially capable than I). Because of this I had a lot of empty time. I would often stare out of the window and fixate on the some kind of minute detail, like the way the screen blurred and un-blurred depending on how I focused my eyes, or the little flecks of paint coming off the window sill. I wasn't diagnosed with ADD or anything like that, I just had A LOT of alone time. Often all this extra time would end up with me on my bed with a pen and paper. This was the birth of Leigh as an artist.
My art originated from a place of extreme loneliness. A lot of simple experimentation happened over the years and I began to learn things about how to communicate with marks on a paper, without even realizing that this is what I was doing. Because of this, when I started picking up my pencil in school and drawing on my desk during class, or making an unusual painting in art class, other kids and teachers started to notice. They exclaimed that I had natural talent. In about 2nd or 3rd grade, I was interested in animals and nature. By the time I was in 5th grade I had moved on to include art into my top 3 list of future jobs to hold. The 3 main things I hoped to do were: Zoologist, Marine Biologist and Artist. By the time I got into middle school I had combined these 3 dreams into one coherent goal for adulthood. I was going to be a Scientific Illustrator.
Now throughout all of this, I was still suffering from extreme loneliness that I later found out was extreme depression. I was still isolated in my own mind to the point where I couldn't begin, much less maintain a basic conversation. I was more or less a mute.
As puberty hit me like a steam roller (at a very early age) and the influence of my older sister (who was highly intelligent and rebellious) began to take pride in the things that made me different and I too took a very rebellious mindset. I was so depressed that I sometimes would go home and just sit there and stare at the wall. I never did my homework. I was so sure that life was meaningless. Somehow, somewhere inside, there was this piece of me, that knew I would still become an artist one day. Of course though I was not making the grades to get myself into a good school. I even had one of my art teachers curse me out because I was so far advanced in comparison to the other kids in my class and yet I was flunking my art class. I was flunking because I would get too wrapped up in an assignment and stray away from the guidelines. Then when I realized that I would likely get a failing grade due to my failure to follow that rules, I would clam up and just not turn it in. It was easier to fail if I CHOSE to fail, than if I tried my hardest and got rejected (which happened a lot due to my depression).
When I got out of high school I went straight into living on my own and supporting myself (and often supporting others around me) while working in various service industry jobs . I always had the intention of going to college. I even took a job in the food industry that, while didn't pay that well, did offer certain benefits that would help me go through college. I still maintained that somewhere down the line I would one day become a professional artist. Then the demands of my relationships and work and money, pulled me away from art and I didn't create for almost 2 years. I never went back to school. (A little secret for you about that: I don't regret not going to college. It may be an unpopular outlook these days but as long as you educate yourself and work hard, you don't need college to be successful.)
As I started to gain emotional independence and learned how to take more risks I picked up some paints again. I hadn't really realized how long it had been since I'd actively made art and things that had once come so easily to me were now incredibly difficult. I went into a bit of a state of denial. It wasn't long though before life happened again and I found myself overwhelmed with the responsibility to meet unrealistic demands that I didn't have the experience or guidance to know were unrealistic. Art was once again on the back burner. It was around this point that I started to realize that I might not ever go to college and I might not ever become an artist. I really lost myself there.
However, I kept moving through life. I became single for the first time in my adult life and had the freedom to explore MY interests. When I got to a point where I stopped caring so much about what was wrong and starting giving energy to the things that brought me joy (despite the thoughts of others) I was able to pick up my brushes and a start working on building back up my skill. Soon after this a close friend of six years and I began our courting ritual (he living in Florida while I living in North Carolina). I really felt happy during this time. Eventually I moved to Florida and started carrying a sketchbook around with me to all the local coffee shops. I wasn't a great artist at this point, but I loved making art no matter what. I was on an real adventure! Even though my time in Florida was a very weird and hard time in my life (filled with extreme ups and downs) it was an essential stepping stone in my art/life journey...and yes, they go hand in hand.
When my (now) husband and I moved back to North Carolina, shortly after I really took to having a sketchbook on me AT. ALL. TIMES. This was also the time that I started watching art videos more on youtube and also finally took up watercolors to experiment with colors on the go. These three things marked a turning point.
Of course there were still times that I would break from art here and there but overall it was art any second that I had the chance to work on it. Working in a visual journal allowed me to stop using the excuse of "time" in reasoning away my art practice. As the the years have progressed, I've now gone through several journals and can mark an improvement with each one. If nothing in my life goes right, I KNOW that I will always be making art. Doing this has helped me to learn that it's okay to not be great. I have learned to appreciate the art for the process and the challenge, rather than to use it as a measure of my personal worth. These little fumbles seem to add up to something bigger and we'll never get to the big picture without them.
It's really something we learn from just about every adult through childhood, but for some reason it wasn't until about 2 years ago that I finally grasped it. Have I gotten to the big picture yet? The answer is: Nowhere close! But I do have a pretty good idea of what that is now, and I have an idea of how I'm going to get there. We can speculate and learn as we go and we may never get to that "big dream' but now for the first time in my life, I am confident that it's actually worth giving it go.
So, here I go. Won't you join me?