What My Grade-School Self Taught Me About Owning My Art

I wasn't quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

I wasn’t quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

When I was in first or second grade, my class read a book and then did an art project based on it. I don’t remember what the book was about, but I remember that the main character was a ho-hum-looking man. The assignment was to draw clothes on the paper doll version of the main character in the style of any activity we wished. Some put leather jackets on him, some made him a painter or a fighter.

Keep in mind that this was the early cusp of the 90s, so 80s fashion was still prominent. I decided to do something a bit different and outfit the guy in workout clothes—short shorts, lemon-yellow headband, and all.


“Funky Doodle” Colored Pencil and Micron Pen in sketchbook

There are two things I’ll never forget about this assignment after seeing the bulletin board with all of my classmates’ paper renditions of this book character. The first is how awesome my friend’s outfit came out. She was known for being a fantastic artist, even at that young age. Her paper doll looked like he was ready for the cover of a J. Crew catalog. He sported a smartly cut-out leather jacket made of brown construction paper, complete with a drawn-on zipper. Her paper doll had swagger.

The second thing is this: I admired the bulletin board behind two of my classmates. They pointed out their own work, then began commenting on the work of others. I’ll never forget what one of them said. He swept his eyes across the bulletin board and exclaimed to his friend, “I like all of them…except that one.” He was pointing to mine.

I don’t think the two boys knew I was behind them. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even know the paper doll outcast one of them had just singled out was mine. All I know is that one sentence rung so deep in me because it pointed out something I already felt: I’m no good at art.

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Writing was a different story. That has always come fairly easily to me. My mom recently told me that around this same time in my school career, the stories I wrote during free time were shown to the principal because my teachers thought they were that good.

Yet I was hung up on that paper man. I knew that, technically speaking, mine wasn’t the best or most attractive of the outfits. But, dammit, I’d spent time on it!

I’ve gone back to this memory a few times throughout my life, convincing myself that perhaps it meant I shouldn’t pursue art in the public eye because people will react like my classmate: love absolutely everything out there except what I make. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that praise isn’t what truly matters (though it is nice). Community does.

And I now accept that paper man with short shorts and headband that I made all those years ago (though he doesn’t hold a candle to the snow lady I drew around that same time. She had a red bandana and nunchucks, a la Ninja Turtle style).

"Circle Study" Micron Pen in Sketchbook

“Circle Study”
Micron Pen in Sketchbook

In years passed, I’ve set out to make art more regularly and it never quite worked out so well. This year, I’m making it one of my goals to do a bit of art once per week, even if it’s a little doodle and even if I end up doodling a male Jane Fonda like my grade-school self did. And, dammit, I will own every last bit of it.

(Note: all photos in this blog post are part of this project so far. Already on a roll!)

IMG_1276Want to join me in owning your art? Include the hashtag #arteveryweek2015 on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are no restrictions on the type of media you use. Just have fun! Let’s collect our creations via this hashtag and create a community of artists that says, “We love all of them!” No exceptions 🙂

4 thoughts on “What My Grade-School Self Taught Me About Owning My Art

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I can totally relate – I dreaded art projects in school because I would have to compare them to other people’s. I haven’t even attempted to try to draw, paint, or create, since school. What helped you to embrace it and have to courage to try?

    • Hi, Molli, thanks for reading!

      To answer your question: I’ve always said that I love art but it doesn’t love me back. I’ve always had the urge to create but felt that what I was making wasn’t “good enough.” For me, it wasn’t so much having the courage as the overwhelming impulse. It’s like I HAVE to create–it’s part of who I am.

      As far as embracing what I create, that’s been a continuous process that goes on even today. Over the past two years or so, I’ve kept up with the blogs and books of artists I admire, which has helped me loosen the vice grip I had on my visual art creativity. They inspire me to have fun. I’ve also taken a few art e-courses (Stephanie Levy’s in particular: http://www.stephanielevy.com/) that give a bunch of prompts that have helped me jumpstart doodles. Along with the courses comes community. I love seeing what other people do and getting encouragement from others. Since then, I’ve bought a bunch of art supplies and now I’m comfortable just playing after the practice of the e-courses. As you can see from the blog post pics, I’m not working on grand work of art. I’m drawing random shapes and doodles, filling in color with whatever mediums strikes my fancy, and seeing what happens. Essentially, I’m going back to what my grade-school self loved about art class: having fun!

      Sharing work also helps (when you’re ready). I’ve found that posting work on whatever platform you want and accepting your art for all its blobby imperfection gets people to respond. You never know what others will like.

      For your own journey, I’d suggest looking up the blogs of Stephanie Levy (who’s helped me tremendously!) and Alena Hennessy. Also, if your on Instagram, look up the accounts of Stephanie Levy, Flora Bowley, Katie Daisy, and Belinda Marshall. They post pictures of in-process projects, which I find so inspiring. Even the artists we admire have rough drafts! Also, the writer Maya Rachel Stein on Facebook uses the hashtag #frivolousproject2015 and posts some silly art prompts, like making a small sculpture using only office supplies. Also, try starting getting back to art with a friend. I share my art life (both the struggles and triumphs) with a friend of mine. It’s always nice to have a buddy to share the journey with!

      I do hope you’ll try making some art. It’s such a freeing, fun, and sometimes therapeutic practice. I even work doodling into my meditation practice sometimes.

      Your question made me realize that I didn’t really address the process of how I embraced my own artwork. Maybe I’ll write a follow-up post… Thanks so much for your question 🙂

      • Thank you for my comment. You’ve inspired me to give it a go and just create!!! Thanks for your suggestions. I stumbled upon a really cool 2 minute video i think you would love. After reading your article and then finding this video, I feel like God’s prompting me to explore and discover and stretch myself and go back to “my grade school self.” Do you have an email address or facebook account I could send the video to?


      • Hey Molly,

        Yay, awesome! I’d love to see the video as well as some of the art you’ll create, if you’re comfortable sharing it. My e-mail address is michelle.e.greco [at] gmail [dot] com. Yes, go and create 🙂


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