How I Became a Mixed Media Artist
I was once obsessed with digital scrapbooking. It was a phase, like when everyone loved New Kids on the Block or when everyone started using Dr. Atkins as an excuse to eat bacon smothered in cheese.
My digital scrapbook phase took place in about 2007-2008 and came from a previous interest in regular paper scrapbooking.
Unfortunately, this little thing kind of took over my life for a time.
I would wake up on weekends, go to the computer and go through my list of blogs that offered digital scrapbook freebies. I even had one blog that I visited that listed a roundup of that week's free offerings, and I would spend an hour (or more!) going through the list and downloading.
I was like an addict getting my fix.
But, the funny thing was, I didn't do a whole lot with my (admittedly huge) collection of digital scrapbook goodies. Sure, I made pages, but I actually discovered that the hunt for freebies was more exciting to me than actually using the files I got!
After a while, I asked myself, as all addicts do, why am I doing this? Why am I spending hours downloading and storing and burning onto disks items I wasn't even using? (I haven't asked myself this question in regards to my addiction to chocolate and coffee yet.)
Slowly, I realized that I didn't have a good answer, and I stopped digital scrapbooking all together.
But not before I discovered a new obsession.
Mixed media art
I have loved art since I was a little kid, and I became even more interested when I took art class with Mr. Eyestone in a classroom inside a little yellow house at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Maine. I even decided to minor in 2D art in college, even though I majored in Child Development and thought I was going to have a career as a teacher.
All this just so I could fit art into my life in some way, even if I was doing other things. I thought only other people had careers as artists, and that my skill level was too low to actually pursue art.
So I kept it as a hobby. But always kinda wished I was a different person: one who had the courage to be an artist.
During my digi-scrapbook obsession phase, I discovered Photoshop Elements (basically, Photoshop for cheap people) and was also looking up info on how to use the program.
One of the things I found was an artist (coincidentally also from Maine), who did a combination of photography and digital art that wasn't considered scrapbooking.
It was actually considered fine art. (Fine art is art created by a professional artist).
Her name was Susan Tuttle, and she led me to check out other artists doing something similar: taking different art mediums and making a mashup. Another was Misty Mawn, and from there I was led to others who did mixed media art.
I was hooked
Even though I had some training as an artist, I was by no means anywhere beyond a beginner. Once I discovered mixed media art, I had to teach myself how to do it with books, blogs, and websites (this was back in 2007-08, so YouTube videos hadn't become as big as they are now yet).
Like with learning any new thing, it took a long time. In fact, 10 years in, I am still learning! I also feel like I am just (in the past few years) gaining enough confidence to call myself an artist.
For many years, I was embarrassed about my lack of skill, especially around drawing. I hated my drawing "ability" and felt everything I drew was cartoonish and unskilled. It took a lot of time and practice for me to get better, especially with drawing faces and people.
I feel like, personally, we have this idea that people who do any kind of art are either born talented or have a skill level that we can't achieve. It's especially difficult when we go online and see people who are further advanced than we are, and it's sometimes defeating, because it can feel like we will never get there. But, honestly, it truly does take time and practice, and whatever that burning want deep down inside is (for anything, not just art).
I have slowly built myself up as an artist over the years.
In college and after, I had a little art toolbox and an easel.
In my home now, I started out with a tiny corner in the dining room, and I would pull all my art stuff out each time I wanted to work on something. It was a pain in the ass, to be honest, because I was constantly taking things out and putting them away. I even had a little cabinet that converted to a desk in my bedroom for a while.
From that little space on the dining room table/convert-a-desk, I was given a huge gift: my own art space! We did some remodeling in our home, and converted an attic space into bedrooms for our kids. That meant I got to have the old bedroom to turn into my office. It felt a bit Harry Potter-ish, since my art desk was under the staircase, but it was MINE and that felt great!
It was in that little cubby hole that I did my "50 paintings in 50 days" project. But soon, I outgrew even that space! My finace and I had many discussions about what to do. There was even talk about getting a storage shed to convert into an office/art studio until we realized that it would need to be heated and cooled.
So, I took over the living room. Sometimes you just make what you have work, since getting a bigger house isn't in the cards right now. Now my art stuff has a room all to itself. There's a large U-shaped desk, my easel, and all my supplies.
To some, it may be silly, but to me it's another step towards my ultimate dream: quitting my part time job to be an artist and writer full-time.
It's taken over twenty years due to a combination of life circumstances and actually giving myself permission to DO THIS, but I am closer than I've ever been.
If you don't know what to do, do something!
If you have a dream of your own and it feels far away, take heart. I used to be in the mindset of "either I do it all or I do nothing," but that was frustrating and inconsistent. In the past few years, I have worked on art almost every day and it's made a huge difference. Even if I could only spend a few minutes, it was at least something.
We are trained to believe it takes talent, money and connections to the right people to do the things we want to do. That helps, for sure. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, and have to worry about bills, and family obligations, and life circumstances, your dream can feel . . .
So. Far. Away.
In fact, at times it seems completely impossible.
But even if you just have a notebook, a pencil, and an internet connection, you can make a start. It took me a long time (a longer time than necessary, I'm sure) to get into the mindset that every little step would get me closer to my dream of being an artist. I thought you had to go in leaps and bounds, to be super talented, and to have the kind of life that was- well, not mine.
But, it turns out those beliefs were just plain wrong. All I needed was a tiny bit of belief in myself, and that would get me going.
From here, who knows?
I am going to keep practicing, keep putting my work "out there" and see what happens.
I hope you'll follow along as I figure out what it takes to be a working artist in 2018 and beyond. I will be sharing what I find out along the way (the good and the bad, of course. Remember, 2018 is the year of keeping it real, yo!)
Watch the video below for my journey from when I first learned about mixed media art to today, with some early (embarrassing) examples of my first attempts at mixed media art:
And, if you are at the start of your journey, whatever that might be, I hope my words inspire you to keep going.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you! What is your dream? Art, writing, or something else? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are pursuing and also if there's something holding you back, what's stopping you? I will respond to every comment and try to help if I can.
Talk to you next Tuesday!