From the time I was in Kindergarten until about 6th grade, you could bet money that my response to any question about “growing up” was, “I want to be an artist.”
What I wish I realized then was that I already was one.
To me, being an artist meant you could paint or take pictures or sing or dance, etc. My maternal grandfather is an oil painter, a graphic artist and a photographer. My paternal grandmother could stitch just about anything and created the most beautifully intricate patterns in her crocheting without using a pattern. These are just two examples of many.
I was a visual artist. I painted, crafted, knit, sewed, designed and built to my heart’s content. If it involved making with my hands, I was fully invested in learning and applying the skills needed to create magic.
“Creativity” as a construct seemed to be something you were innately blessed with and the older I got, the more my brain seemed to be rigidly fixed on that notion.
As a result, the more practical I needed to be as I grew up (because you know, adulting) the less creative I felt. I recall once referring to my brain as feeling like the “black hole” where creativity and fun went to die. Add anxiety around being creative (because who doesn’t want to do everything perfectly??) and I was literally paralyzed when the idea of making art came to mind.
Instead, I sought out opportunities to think critically about constructs and systems which in hindsight, I have realized was another opportunity to be creative. To think about and see things from a different perspective and use that information to determine how I navigate the world.
This is now how I define being an “artist.” It isn’t about how talented you are or how many hours you’ve practiced or even what tools you use. There doesn’t have to be a resulting “piece” or final product. When you are looking at the world from a different lens and simultaneously admiring its beauty and being critical of its shortcomings, that is the creative thought process happening in real time. It is how we shape our world and move forward.
This new understanding of what it means to create and be creative brought about a whole new definition and scope of artistry for me. Art became creativity plus skill and thought. My logistics manager Dad? An artist at organizing and solution-building. My florist friend? An artist mastering theories of color and balance. My school teacher colleagues? Redefining the art of teaching based on who and what is in front of them at any given moment.
As I write this, I wonder where all of this leaves me as an “artist”. I am an artist when I’m sitting behind my computer monitor whether I’m writing lesson plans or designing a wedding suite. I am an artist when I’m hand mixing inks to use on my platen press. I am an artist when the very same antique machinery needs some creative problem-solving applied to make sure it’s still operable 100 years after it left the factory production line.
When it came to creating my “I am an Artist” piece, I drew a blank for the longest time. I was literally the first person to see the physical product and all I could think was, “wow, I can’t wait to see what other people make on these.” When Olivia asked me to make one too, I excitedly said yes while panicking internally. “Am I even creative enough to do something cool?”
Ultimately, I knew those thoughts were coming from a place of self-doubt; that black hole I mentioned earlier. To overcome it, I brainstormed times in the recent past when I’ve felt a jolt of creativity and have seen the project through to its completion. It just so happened that as a hoarder, I had plenty of scraps from those very same projects lying around my print shop. A multimedia approach was a given. Here, I’ve combined a few things I love — paper, letterpress printing and a good ol’ fashioned black Sharpie.
To put it simply, my piece says that when life has you feeling creatively blocked or blacked out, it’s okay to take a new approach that is equal parts practical and dreamer. Once you are past the barrier of convincing yourself that you are indeed an artist, magic happens. That magic is what we ultimately put into the world and hopefully inspire others to create too.