Monday, March 3, 2014

Dreaming Small: Why it's scary to look our Heart's Desire in the eye

It's been about a year and a half since I started using Adobe Illustrator.

I first approached the program the same way I approach most things in life: Relying upon experimentation, trial and error, and intuitive hunches to find my way and make it work.

And initially, I had some success.  What most excited me was that I now had the ability to render my hand drawn art in digital format, where it could be edited, colored, and manipulated in ways I'd never before thought possible.

I felt I had discovered the best of both worlds: handmade and computer rendered.  Tangible and intangible.  Fixed and fluid.

Of course I realized I was barely scratching the surface of possibilities with my rudimentary grasp of the program.  Especially when I would look at the jaw-dropping work being created by professional designers with the use of Illustrator, and the digital paintings artists were creating in Photoshop.

And oh my gosh, these people had developed such a sharp eye for design.  Their use of color and typeface, their flawless drafting skills and brilliant compositions. 

I've always wanted to be an artist, yet my whole life I have pursued that passion somewhat timidly and exclusively unprofessionally.

I wouldn't try to be the best artist in the world, because I knew I never could be.  So I wouldn't think of myself as a REAL artist.  REAL art was for other people, who went to art school and had studied technique and theory and had pretentious chips on their shoulders about what makes art "good" or valuable.

I built up these ideas in my mind about the uninviting and unappealing realm of professional artists, in order to numb any latent desire I had to rise to their ranks.  Secretly, I was terrified of trying my best and putting it out there.  The worst thing I could imagine was having people dump all over the very thing I had poured my heart into, not because I'd intended to achieve anything, but just because it made me happy.

Similar things could be said for why I've never sought to become a professional writer, even despite my formal education in the subject.  "I write for the love of it," I told myself.  "Why would I want to taint one of my greatest loves with a feeling of necessity?"

Translation: Why would I want to invite people to judge the most intimate, important thing in my life?  What if they decide it sucks?

What if it turns out that my life's greatest source of joy and purpose turns out to be WORTHLESS?

That right there.  That is the crux of it.

So I yielded to the fear, and vowed to keep myself safe.  Safe from criticism, safe from disappointment, safe from failure.

And only just now is my heart finally mustering the courage to say, "To hell with your insecurities, Imma do what I WANT."

I'm glad one of us has the guts to do it.

Which brings us back to now.  And me trying to teach myself Illustrator and graphic design.

After years of compulsively, voyeuristically taking in just a small sampling of the amazing work being put out into the world, I realize that in order to become a better artist, I need to learn good design.  And if I want to execute good design, I need to become a better artist.

And if I want to grow into the best artist and designer I can be, I need to become a true student.

Looking back, I wonder why I chose not to pursue art formally in school.  The easy answer could be, "Because I wanted to be a writer more."  But I clearly recall holding the university forms in my hands to apply for a double major in both writing and studio art.  Why did I never follow through?

Because to allow myself to become an art student would have been to admit to the world that I wanted to be an artist.  And I just wasn't ready to be that vulnerable.

So this is me, ten years later, formally announcing that I am an informal student of art.  And that yes, I want to be AM an artist.

Though my greatest teachers are still experimentation and trial and error, I am approaching art with a new attitude these days.  I'm actually reading about art and design, for what feels like the first time.  I'm lurking on internet forums and watching YouTube tutorials.  I'm following blogs and obsessively stalking my favorite artists on Instagram.

I'm noticing that the most successful artists have very distinct styles.  I'm wondering: What is my distinct style?  What is my subject?  What kind of art do I want to put out into the world?  What feelings and ideas do I want to share with people? 

Questions I never before thought to ask myself, because I was content to simply doodle and keep my art small and unassuming (hence the name of this blog: Small Fox Press).

But now I'm less and less interested in sheltering myself from negativity and more and more dedicated to following my heart and giving it my all.

Here is my latest project in my self-directed studies:  Hand-carved stamps, scanned into my computer, and edited in illustrator.

I'm not sure which color scheme I prefer, but I'm imagining one in printed form, each portrait hung separately on the wall in unframed glass.  Maybe in the bedroom, hovering over Evan and mine's respective sides of the bed.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun doing it.

And I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea that that is the most important part.

I believe we all come into life with special lessons to learn, and I feel like a big one of mine is allowing myself to put down my imaginary measuring stick and let go of comparison and the desire for the approval of some unnamed "other."

I know everyone struggles with this from time to time.   I think this feeling of "not enoughness" is at the heart of all imbalance and disharmony, both for individuals and society at large.

Can you imagine a culture in which people work and create and serve with pure, unadulterated love? Where we are taught to cultivate self-acceptance instead of self-loathing. Where a cooperative spirit is praised over a competitive one, and we celebrate the happiness and success of others as though it were our own - understanding that there is no finite supply of these things, and that the more joy we share, the more we create.

This is my dream for myself, and it's my dream for the world.


  1. i found this post to be really inspiring. i'm always really impressed with your range of creativity and love how your stuff comes out :).

  2. Thanks, Leila. It's good to hear from you, and to see you're still blogging! I was wondering what had become of mo cheese :)

    I'm so glad I get to be a creative soul in this marvelous age of the internet. I feel like blogging is inspiring because it grants us an intimate look at the writer's personal/professional/artistic evolution. We get to see their stories develop over time, creating context for their success and making greatness feel within reach for ourselves.

    I love looking through my favorite artist's blog archive, and seeing that nine years ago her now well-honed skill and signature style were barely starting to emerge. I feel like the biggest factor behind her current success is the fact that she's simply kept doing what she loves all these years. And if that's the case, why not me, too?

    Why not all of us!