My sister was telling me the other day about her daughter, my niece, who was upset. She couldn’t remember why she was upset, but she went to my sister and her husband, crying. They told her to try and calm down a bit and she went to her room on her own.
Eventually the 4 year old came out of her room and gave my sister a drawing (above). My sister asked her ‘What’s this?’ She said it was a picture of her sad, lying in her bed.
When I look at it, it makes me smile, but I also marvel at the bare and honest simplicity of the drawing, which is so expressive of what my niece was feeling and experiencing at the time, even if she could not express in words exactly what was bothering her. The forward looking, direct face is a way of telling her mother how sad she was.
That’s so much of what true art is - a digging under the layers to the truest part of ourselves and our interpretations of the world around us, but done with a freedom and ease; a compulsion to expose or let it out.
We are born with an innocence - an unknowing, but yet deep knowing that is unconscious and real. Over time different layers and faces are put on based on experiences, our perception of what others think, and as a matter of self-protection.
Young children, however, are free and unself-conscious so much of the time - nothing held back. There is a simple straightforwardness and boldness in them that holds no restraint.
Over the years I’ve taught many watercolour painting workshops to adults and children. During the course of the 3-hour session, which includes discussion alongside lots of painting, there almost always is someone that mentions how, at a young age, they became discouraged from painting/drawing because the teacher told them that their drawing was not ‘quite right’ or just plain ‘wrong’. As a result, they shut the door to that creative part of themselves. Years later they have a hankering to try painting again, but are often frozen or stuck. Thoughts and memories precede action and they do not know where to start. There is a fear that they will make a mistake. How many of us have felt this before?
However, if we think about our uniqueness and the messages we preach to our kids of their uniqueness, it’s important that we believe this truth as well and allow ourselves to play, throwing all care to the wind — to create and let be what is a true extension of ourselves that is unique and worth something. Once we have a taste of that felt experience of freedom and creativity, we can build on our initial courage to get that paint on the page and carry on in strength and boldness. What have we got to lose?
What is produced through painting and creativity at a young age is one of the purist and most honest things. There is so much that we have to unlearn in order to get back to that true part of ourselves. When painting, I am aware of constantly needing to go back to that place of letting go. I’ve been told not to think so much, just follow my gut, and that’s where the magic can happen and bring a freedom in the work, along with a feeling of freedom in oneself during the process. Too much thinking, too much worry, and fear… that’s what holds back a truth that could be shared in it’s purest form, whilst trusting that all that has been learned will also fall into place.
Some days I run stuck knowing what to paint or draw. My head is taking too big a place in the process. An artist friend said to me once that perhaps then just paint yourself not knowing - dragging yourself to the studio….
It makes me think of the drawing by my niece, and I have to smile again at it's directness and clean expression. All unnecessary things have been stripped away to the bare bones - the bare lines: 'It's a picture of me sad, lying in my bed.'
There is a rawness that comes with creating, a vulnerability, but it’s worth it if a truth can be shared that others can relate to deep down.
I've put myself to the task of drawing/painting/writing something true today. How about you?