I’m practicing saying, “I am an artist.”

I think a lot about other people’s artistic styles–about how I wished I’d thought of what they’ve created. Or maybe I wish my stuff were as cool as I perceive theirs to be. Maybe my work is cool and maybe it isn’t. I’m not writing this down to garner praises or sneers for what I do. At this particular minute, I’m not even sure what it means for my stuff to be cool.

As with different kinds of style, it seems that craft work can be a bit faddish. Things look nifty and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon. Looking at artist’s magazines really emphasizes this. I love them and look forward to my monthly trip to B&N to sit and troll the mags while Liza plays with the trains. I even buy one occasionally. What I’ve discovered from looking those over for the past year and cruising 100+ blogs a day is that there a whole lot of people doing very similar things. I’m not saying that what they are working on is bad, I’m just saying I’m starting to see the cycle. And oh boy, does the internet feed that beast.

Here’s the thing: when I look at what’s swirling around out there, I realize that my stuff doesn’t look like that.
My Bumblebee Romance
Some days I don't feel crafty.

A few weeks ago I found a set of videos of a well known artist journaler explaining her process step by step. (Incidentally this is the same blog where I first found out about artist journaling.) I was really excited to see how Teesha made her own notebooks out of sheets of watercolor paper. That bit of info solved a problem about my own journal that I’d been working on for a while.

I immediately got a sheet of watercolor paper and, just for kicks, decided to follow her process. Wow, was that hard! Staying inside of her lines was nearly impossible for me. And what I ended up with only bears a passing resemblance to what she does. As a copy of her work it stinks. But what a learning experience it was for me! And hard! So much harder for me than my own process. So I came away armed with a solution to a problem and also a bit of security in what I do on my own.

So my angst comes down to this: I want to grow as an artist. I want to find my own style and be more comfortable with it, be willing and able to claim that style. I want to proclaim, “I am an artist!” And I never feel as if I’m quite ready to do that. How can I call myself an artist when I don’t have a body of work? I can’t stay focused on one thing. I want to try every little thing that catches my eye. (Maybe that’s where my contribution to the fad kicks in.) One week, I’m all about ATCs. The next week, I’m all about artist journaling. I make notebooks and cross-stitch. I want to try traditional bookmaking and printmaking. I want to do better graphic design. I want to start drawing again like I did in college. I want to figure out how to combine some of this stuff and cook up something awesome. I’ve got so many irons in the fire, I don’t know which one is hot.

After the holidays, I’m gonna sit down and come up with a plan. Christmas has depleted my Etsy store stock. I’ve been making custom-order notebooks for a couple of people for Christmas and also making a few personal gifts. I want to get my store up and running ASAP after the first of the year, and then carve out some time to start working on all this other stuff.

Maybe all of this is just part of what an artist experiences. The desire to figure our our artistic selves. The search for the idea that opens up our life’s work. The time spent working on every little thing until the big thing grabs our attention and doesn’t let go. Maybe I’m more of an artist than I’ve ever given myself credit for before.

12 thoughts on “I’m practicing saying, “I am an artist.”

  1. I think artists are always fighting a sense of self-doubt any time they are not actively working on a project. I’m at my happiest (and gruffest and most obsessed) when I am working on a song or recording project. I honestly procrastinate sometimes — not because I don’t want to do the project — but because I know it will swallow me whole for a while once I embrace it. This means that the house will be a mess, and Simon won’t have someone to stand over him to make sure he does his fifth grade homework. Also, I’ll be irritated with everyone when they interrupt me, and I’ll have no sense of time passing.

    The best way to be original is to not think to hard about being original. Just do what you like, and do it often. The doubt only comes in when you aren’t currently involved in a project. Your own voice will naturally emerge in your work. (It already has.)

    I love the work of yours I’ve seen!


  2. I hear the same thing from many of the comic artists whose work I enjoy. They don’t even like the style they had a few years ago because their style keeps evolving. I think in general the artist his/her toughest critic because they see where they are & want to be farther along. One of the most fluid artists I know thinks her work is crap – even though it sells & even though people tell her repeatedly how much they enjoy it.

    I personally don’t EVER say I like something if I don’t. I often will tell someone something ABOUT it I like, but if I say I like it (or in many a case I love it), I’m not lying.

    Do what you enjoy. Don’t try to be someone else. Keep trying until you find the right way to express yourself 🙂

  3. I am not sure if I am reaching too much here, but it strikes me that you are describing how I feel about writing, as well. There is definitely a co-relation between what’s fashionable and what gets churned out, but I guess it’s not as pronounced in a more visual medium. It’s definitely difficult to focus attention when there’s so many interesting trends, works, and ideas. Like you, I find myself distracted (Nano contributes to it significantly) with other ideas. I need to sit down and focus, but ooh! shiny! and whoosh! where did the time go?

    Because of that I feel shy when I say I am a writer. I feel like I am still working towards that goal – but not there yet. So perhaps this desire to find our style, voice, and niche is something that’s part of the creative process to begin with?

  4. Danielle: I feel the same as your friend when others say they like my work. Part of it, I think, is that friends and family are supposed to like your work so on some level that praise doesn’t count. But then, I also never want to go up against people who I feel are actual artists because I don’t feel I have the artistic chops to talk shop with them. So I feel stuck when I’m having any sort of discussion about my work.

    Duchess: I would imagine that these feelings ARE really a part of the creative process. When I was doing a great deal of writing in college, I felt then exactly the same way about writing as I do now about the visual art that I produce. I don’t mind at all the striving to be better, I enjoy the process, but I do wish there were a clearer measurement for me personally that I felt I could actually see that progress. For some reason lately, that measurement has felt like being able to say, “I’m an artist.” with no back-peddling during the conversation. “I’m an artist…but I only make notebooks.”

  5. I don’t really feel it is art, but I don’t like step by step scrapbooking kits, etc. I like to combine my own things, etc. I mess with it until it looks right to me. It’s my own “style” I guess. It had evolved a lot over the years.

    I struggled grading when I taught Elementary Art. Can you really grade art? I remember loving pieces I did in school and being crushed when they didn’t get an A. I developed a pretty liberal grading policy for grading Art.

  6. My question is why do you feel you need to focus on one “thing”? Being an artist is finding beauty in ANYTHING and interpreting it through YOUR artistic filter. To me, “style” IS faddish. You could, one day, see a tree and turn it into art deco. The next day you could see a skyscraper and it becomes a watercolor wellspring! I have always considered myself eclectic and have found likes and dislikes in all manner of art. I would say don’t worry too much about finding your niche compared to other artists because perception and interpretation is all relative! Everything I have seen of yours has been creative and interesting, differences and all!

  7. Artist? Yes, you always have been, since you could hold a crayon. And I have the art to prove it!

  8. Fellowship holds an art festival every year. It’s going on now. It has a different theme each year. This year it’s “Jesus, the Light.” There’s a community category, professional & scholar categories. This year, they added an inmate category for our prison ministry. I always think of you when I see all the amazing work there. You should find out about it and enter something next year. Artists enter from different parts of the country.

  9. Mumsy: Thanks, Mom!

    Missy K: I’d be interested in finding out more for next year. Let me know if there’s a website or something.

  10. Hi Misty,
    The last paragraph of your post, in my eyes, not only sums up (elegantly) the thoughts you’ve expressed, but sounds so familiar to me. My wife Kim and I have many friends who are artists, and these thoughts and feelings seem to be going on in most of them; especially the ones whe are artists at heart, instead of people who just have art-related passtimes. I wonder if Kim and I will ever think of ourselves as artists (I do glassblowing and lampworking, Kim does pottery). But for us and for the time being, I guess, we’re just happy to see what we can create next. All in all, it does, in fact, seem like you’re more of an artist than you’ve been giving yourself credit for.

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