As part of my focus on ‘doing new things’, and experimenting further with ‘doing new things I’m pretty sure I’ll be bad at’ I recently took 10 hours of art lessons at Noina’s art studio. Noina comes highly recommended by Trip Advisor among others, and takes beginners. Which I most definitely am, my last art class taken in school aged 13, at which age it wasn’t for me.
But part of my ‘play’ on this trip is to experiment, so off I went, and not only did I have a great time, I was also reminded of several key life lessons…
1. We’re scared of the unfamiliar
Creating art is very foreign to me, and feels quite scary because of that. I didn’t know what to expect from the lessons, and even being in such a creative place felt very intimidating.
I didn’t feel comfortable until about lesson 3, where I had created several pencil drawings that weren’t complete disasters. But more importantly, I was able to laugh with Noina at my efforts when they weren’t right, others said hello to me and I felt relaxed and like I had the right to be there, rather than feeling like an outsider. Nothing had changed in the environment – simply things were more familiar to me and I felt comfortable because of it.
A fear of the unfamiliar is common in all of us, and can apply to everything including different cultures, peoples, new places and activities. Most of the time, all it takes to change that is actually experiencing or interacting with the thing you fear. It’s good to think to yourself when trying something new: “In an hour/a week/ a month/6 months this will feel familiar and comfortable, and I will no longer be scared of this…”.
2. Your mistakes can become part of the bigger picture
Within a few minutes of my first lesson, Noina had a pencil in my hand, and told me to draw a coke can she put in front of me. I sat there for some minutes looking at it. But not really looking at it, rather, panicking that perhaps Noina hadn’t realised that when I said beginner, I really meant it. How on earth was I going to draw this coke can? It was really…complicated. Couldn’t we start with something like…a triangle?
As you can imagine, in all my pictures, there were quite a lot of mistakes. I used my eraser a great deal, but found it was hard to erase all but the softest of lines completely. But what Noina showed me was that you could incorporate mistakes into the bigger picture, and that when you got to the finished product, you couldn’t see them at all, they were just part of the drawing.
Sometimes we look too hard at the detail, beating ourselves up for minor mistakes, when in fact by the time we’re done, these blend and fade to become part of the whole image, and make it what it is.
3. Start with a softer approach and you can get stronger. It’s hard to go the other way…
This was a lesson I learnt only after being told a number of times – the picture above was much too dark by the end. I wanted to give my pictures strong definition, but wasn’t very experienced with the ‘EE’ pencil I was using, and didn’t always use it softly enough. Noina showed me how to use the pencil to give very light shading, and then go over it several times to make it darker, rather than trying to go dark straight away.
Oddly, I fond myself giving this advice a couple of days after this particular class – for an angry friend to start softly in giving someone feedback about bad behaviour, rather than starting out with anger and harsh words. In any situation, we have a large number of options of how to behave. Applying a soft touch to most situations will usually get you what you need – giving you further choices to get stronger in your approach later.
4. The more you spend time looking at something, the more you see
This one has been a bit of a revelation to me. How long do we actually spend looking at things? In order to draw something, you have to really study it (I was working from photos and from still life). The more you look, there more there is to see. I figured an orange was pretty straightforward – draw a circle and colour it in. But the more Noina pushed me to look again, and again, I could see details in the skin, and the way the light fell on it so that I could see it was round. And each time I was able to add more layers and detail so the final result actually looked a bit like an orange!
Sometimes we treat people and situations the same way, making a fast judgment and acting on that rather than taking our time to really take things in. If we do, it’s amazing what can ’pop’ out and entirely change our viewpoint – looking from another angle can change our perspective completely.
5. It’s surprising how much patience and persistence it takes to complete a picture with depth
I didn’t realise how much time it takes to create a great picture. Sometimes I would stop and consider myself finished, and Noina would come over and suggest adding another layer of pencil strokes to give the picture further depth and reality.
I think of myself as a patient person, and someone who is prepared to work at things. But I also enjoy finishing things and ‘ticking them off’. This was a reminder to me that some activities need more time and it’s unrealistic to schedule them into a day which is already busy.
6. Don’t forget to actually look – it’s easy to go off and do your own thing if you stop paying attention
This really goes hand in hand with the last one. With the elephant, I found that sometimes I had stopped actually looking at the picture and was using ‘artistic licence’ and just putting the wrinkes any old where, to push forward and finish it off.
Sometimes we need to use our imagination and create things from inside ourselves. But when we’re supposed to be sticking to a brief we might have to remind ourselves to keep on task and ensure we’re doing what we have agreed rather than going off on a frolic.
7. Even the tiniest strokes can make a difference in the right place.
With the owl, which I chose myself from the big box of photos Noina keeps for the purpose, I hadn’t realized how many tiny feathers there were to draw. Approaching this over and over, and building up layers of tiny, delicate strokes, gave an illusion of these feathers. Each tiny stroke made a difference and added to the whole.
As I mentioned in my ‘Elephant Sanctuary’ post, sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the things that are needed to be done in the world, feeling that there’s nothing that we can do that’s enough, so why bother. But in fact, every action can create change and difference, so don’t be put off if all you feel you have to offer are ‘tiny strokes’.
The owl’s my favourite of my drawings 🙂
8. Everyone can learn, no matter how experienced they are
In my early lessons, others also working in the studio seemed infinitely better and more comfortable in the studio, laughing and joking with Noina. As my lessons progressed, I heard Noina give advice to everyone, even students who seemed budding Van Gogh’s to me. It might be just a tweak here or there, but it reminded me that whatever level we’re at, we can always learn something new from someone who has expertise in any area.
9. When everything’s really quiet, a pencil makes a squeaky sound
OK, I couldn’t get a life lesson from this (well, maybe something really tenuous, about finding your personal truth in silence…) but odd numbers seem more creative number than even, plus I had one final picture I wanted to put in.
And now you’ll all go off and listen to your pencils, right?
Keep developing yourself
Art class reminded me that there are both fun and serious lessons to be learnt in every situation, and that human beings’ capacity to develop themselves is infinite. Noina has a strong belief that anyone can learn to draw, it’s all about practice and paying attention. It’s an empowering belief if you’re learning with her. It also gave me a nudge to say that you don’t have to be great at something for it to be fun – and it’s actually fun to be bad at things too.
When’s the last time you:
Did something you knew you wouldn’t be good at?
Did something for play not work?
Developed a skill you thought you’d never have?
Listened to your pencil? 😉
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
(Thanks to Noina for taking the photos of me working)