Some Flowers, And A Request For Advice

I have wonderful friends who live nearby. We get together a lot – walking our dogs, swimming in the sea – and we eat together a lot too. Life is too short, as we all know, so my good friends and I make the most of the beautiful countryside where we live, and when there’s something to celebrate, we call each other.

My youngest, Liv, wanted to have an Italian-themed dinner party with our friends, and I told her that if an occasion worthy of celebration came up, we’d do it. She had great plans for home-made pasta – her intention was to haul out the dusty old pasta maker whose last outing was about sixteen years ago, back in the days when our beautiful boxer dog had his eye on the sheets of drying pasta slung over the backs of chairs…(sigh…sniff!)

But then one Friday morning I found out that my book was to be sold in the National Gallery of Ireland gift shop and in Shannon Airport Duty Free, which was plenty of reason to celebrate, and we decided to have our Italian dinner that evening with our friends. Liv wasn’t too pleased at the timeline – she’s a serious planner! Girl needs time! – but I’m the type who doesn’t mind doing a 360 on the spot, so I was good to go. The pasta machine had a reprieve, and we turned to the local supermarket for fresh pasta instead.

Liv did beautiful flowers for the table. My garden is sorely neglected but it’s full of wild flowers at this time of year so she was able to do a lovely job. I couldn’t resist painting them. Then I thought I would put the menu on the page beside it. I don’t always get everything right when friends come over, but this time everything was hot, perfectly-cooked and exactly right. Lorraine (my mate) made a scrumptious tiramisu which was pretty perfect too.

Lorraine brought sweet peas from her garden, so they had to be painted too…

I need your advice!

In my job as an art teacher, every now and then I meet someone who confounds me. They are clearly perfectly able to draw – they’ll make a really strong representation of whatever we’re doing – and they’re perfectly able to use watercolour, too. The problem is one I encounter with lots of my adult students (and hardly ever with my child students) – they have little self-confidence as sketchers. This can range from mild (“I know I have a lot of learning to do”) to severe (” I cannot do this and I never will be able to do this”). When I probe a little, I very often find that the sketcher in question had a parent, sibling or even spouse who was deemed to have “all the talent”. One student said to me recently “I firmly believe that talent skips a generation.” That’s not true – of course it’s not – but it’s highly likely that confidence can skip a generation. It is clearly mostly pyschological: even as I say “copy me, like this” and they do that, they revert to the state of a child, refusing to try the simplest of tasks. And I mean simple: I’m talking about drawing a square on a page, or painting the square in one colour. Then they get the idea, but as soon as I turn away they say they cannot do what they did one minute earlier. It is self-sabotage, and it’s a tough one.

Does any of this ring true for you? Were you that under-confident sketcher, and did you overcome it? If so, can you tell me what made the difference? Do you think that baby steps, tiny chunks of accomplishment at a time, could or would make a difference?

I don’t have this issue with children, because they haven’t soaked up any message of inadequacy yet: but if it were the case that some people have no talent, then surely they, too, would not display ability? It’s true that some kids are never going to become artists: I’ve taught many hundreds, and I can truthfully say that three children stand out in my memory as having very little promise as artists. Two of these were on the autism spectrum. The third still baffles me. On the other hand I have had at least forty or fifty children with what would be considered well above average ability as artists. How can that be – doesn’t average mean exactly that?

Here are my conclusions, based on experience of over twenty years’ teaching humans aged from 3 to 83:

  • More people than you think, much more, have artistic ability.
  • Under-confidence can be learned.
  • Confidence can be learned.
  • You’re probably a lot better at art than you think.
  • Humans are creative, just because they are human.
  • You’re born with talent, but any skill can be learned…and most people are born with artistic talent, from my experience.
  • Catch a child before he or she loses belief in themselves and they are far more likely to continue being creative throughout life.
  • Pride comes with age, and this is the biggest hindrance to progress.
  • Parents often say “my Johnny / my Mary is very gifted, but I have no idea where it came from.”
  • Adults also often say “I loved art as a child, but then I stopped. I can’t remember why.”

Do you have thoughts on what would improved confidence? I would be very grateful indeed if you would share your thoughts with me on increasing confidence in those who are clearly perfectly able to make art, and from any perspective – student, teacher, self-taught, whatever. Feel free to message me privately, or email me, as you wish (roisin(dot)cure(at)gmail(dot)com). It’s for a very good cause.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, in advance.

14 Comments

  1. Jayne Barry

    August 29, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Here are some exercises that I used to do with my own kids and in my classes (I taught very young kids ……. who only had to spit on the paper and it was deemed a masterpiece, which was SO fantastic)

    1. I would make a random shape on paper and they had to turn it into something which made them think about it and use their imaginations and as there was no starting point no one could say it was ‘wrong’. It was whatever you wanted it to be.
    (This was really great for occupying kids in waiting rooms etc)
    2. If paintings didn’t meet expectations ………or sometimes it might be part of the exercise…..then we cut it up and made smaller paintings or collages
    3. A concertina sketchbook, or paper folded into same, and draw/paint the scene or different things without seeing the one before.
    Sometimes the end result can surprise you.
    4. Draw with the pen held in your teeth, eyes closed and try and remember, paint with twigs, anything that gets you creating and accepting your marks. (Adults love these ones as they get quite chuffed with their work and ‘did this with only a twig’ bit)

    I think one of the greatest blocks for moving forward is looking back.
    So true in lots of ways, learn then move on.
    Seeing work from other perspectives and thinking outside the box always helps in acceptance.

    Paper is in fact the cheapest thing and most important thing you can buy.
    Why?
    One of the greatest problems I’ve encountered in adults is not allowing themselves time to play and experiment.
    We are ALL afraid of a blank piece and automatically set ourselves up for failure because of the possibilities.
    We immediately see what SHOULD be on it and then the self-doubt begins.
    Play, experiment and then get another piece of paper 🙂

    • Róisín Curé

      August 29, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      Thank you for those thoughts Jayne. It’s funny what you say about play: I find I often get the best results, in both myself and in others, when I make it clear we’re having fun, and introduce things that really are fun! I have a few thoughts, even as I write…Meanwhile I am very grateful for your suggestions. People have been so generous sharing their tricks – it’s all for a good cause!

  2. Elaine Pang

    August 26, 2019 at 3:58 am

    I think some people have already crossed it off in their minds and I don’t really try to change their thinking. However some people want to create, but get discouraged because it doesn’t turn out as they mentally pictured. This would be like expecting to be able to perform a violin solo on the first attempt! I try to encourage a mental shift toward simply enjoying the experience and exploring what the art materials are doing.

    Btw I think “Yupo” is the painting surface mentioned in the other comment.

    • Róisín Curé

      August 26, 2019 at 6:54 am

      Yes Elaine, that makes sense and explains why I don’t encounter this with kids. That’s why I take it so seriously when I teach them (I mean to convince them that they are competent artists before they start to believe otherwise). But I like your approach – keep it enjoyable. Thank you!

  3. Lia Trocano

    August 24, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    I was blessed with a high school art teacher who’s main goal was to instill confidence. One of the exercises he had us do was he passed out paper about 10″ by 16″ that had a grid lightly printed on it with about 2″ squares. He explained each square had a specific purpose and each day we would be shown something to draw in one specific but random square. The only really important thing was to draw in the right square. Some days what we drew in the designated square was just a few swooping lines. Some days it was a tiny bit more detailed. It only took a few minutes each day. At first the filled in squares were scattered but gradually lines began to connect from one to the next. None of it made any sense until one day someone glanced at another students paper and saw that we were creating was a beautiful, though upside down Samurai Warrior. The teacher explained that by feeding it to us in small bits he had removed the opportunity for self judgement or criticism. There are lots of such exercises in the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”.
    Another fun thing I did with my grandmother was take a bucket of water and paint brushes outside where we painted pictures on the stucco side of the house. You had to splash it up fast to get the image in your head up there before it evaporated. We laughed and laughed at each others pictures even though a few were surprisingly good!

    • Róisín Curé

      August 25, 2019 at 8:44 am

      Lia what lovely stories. I will use the exercise with the squares in my kuds’classes – even though they aren’t the ones struggling with confidence issues! – and I think I may also do it with my adults. I agree DOTRSOTB is a great resource and has convinced many that they can draw after all! Many thanks for your words.

  4. Deb

    August 24, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    To me, it irritates me when people say you have to have “talent”. To me, “talent” is a God-given gift, such as Celine Dion’s voice…something you are born with. I have never known ANYONE that can pick up a brush and instantly be an artist. Painting/drawing is a learned skill. NOT a talent. It takes dedication, work, persistence, and for most people, a bit of time. If someone says “I can’t”…they are the ones holding themselves back. They need to be told that as long as they say they can’t, they won’t. It isn’t easy. I’m not so sure you can help them…they have to WANT it enough to,overcome their own issues. Just my opinion.

    • Róisín Curé

      August 24, 2019 at 2:49 pm

      Very interesting Deb. I think back to my student days and as a teen and it took so much dedication and self-motivated practice to learn how to use paint nicely. And I don’t even mean “correctly” because I don’t know what that is. So now I just colour in and it seems to work fine…
      I also like the idea that I’m not going to get anywhere with some folk…but that won’t stop me trying!! In my recent class of kids, I found that using humour, and making teams, got lots of them flowing who hadn’t up until then. I might try this on grown-ups!!

  5. Rebecca

    August 24, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Work with the insecurity. Compliment them that their skill isn’t equal to their vision yet. They will only gain that skill by putting miles on their brush. Have them annotate right on the page what they like and what they don’t. Remind them that many world class sketchers still paint a throwaway piece to warm up each day, and encourage them to do the same.

    • Róisín Curé

      August 24, 2019 at 2:26 pm

      Nice one Rebecca. Those are very good tidbits that I can’t wait to try out. I certainly tell them about ink under the bridge! How I discovered that the “secret” to magical drawing is no more secret than volume of work. But the others are all new ones on me. I particularly like the bit about their skill not being equal to their vision yet – I have found that those who have mastered another creative area get especially frustrated. Many thanks for your suggestions.

    • Marilyn

      August 25, 2019 at 1:47 am

      An add to this is something I was taught a year or so ago. If you hate the painting/drawing, put it away for three days. On the fourth day take it out and look at it with fresh eyes. What aspects of it are working and why. What’s not working and why. What needs more practice, what have I mastered.

      The other truism that I am taking to heart these days is “draw what you see- not what you know””

      And thirdly, I’ve discovered that loose inks on acrylic or water color on “yuppo????” Can create interesting images which can be brought out later. It’s a freeing exercise for those who are stuck on trying to make something look like it should.

      • Róisín Curé

        August 25, 2019 at 8:47 am

        Good ideas Marilyn. Only problem is that sometimes students can become so despondent they claim they were never trying to draw what they saw anyway! Again, I get that with kids – it’s common in boys who have a lot of pride – but it’s a non-sequitur in adults really! No idea what yuppo is by the way!

  6. Geri Dunne

    August 24, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Congratulations! Well deserved.. your book is wonderful and is the perfect memory for those flying out of Shannon!
    Now you can add Sage to your other titles.. wife mother daughter artist teacher and writer… your observations are spot on!
    That dinner looked fabulous too!

    • Róisín Curé

      August 24, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      Sage! I love it! I’m putting that on my profile somewhere and I’ll say “Geri said so!” Thank you my dear xxx

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