Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Magic of Confidence!

Last month I wrote about the wonderful quote from Edgar Degas,'Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things' and how that applied to me a propos my art as well as sometimes also in relation to other aspects of my life. But to be able to tap into that other, 'inner' knowing, which is far removed from our usual, logcial, rational way of processing, requires a certain amount of confidence. Confidence to follow where the painting is leading, confidence to switch off our normal 'thinking' approach, confidence to ignore what we have been taught and the criticism or advice of others, confidence to plough on when everything seems to be turning into an unholy mess and just go with the flow.

I do believe that we are all born with this confidence but that we lose it at some point during later childhood, due to 'helpful' advice and sometimes self-criticism, and my daughter's recent blog includes a spontaneous illustration of this. My granddaughter, Hafsah, (aka Biriani), has just turned four, and, like her grandmother at that age, is 'showing some promise in art'. And she still has enough of that precious confidence to put her work on display for all to see - after all, what is art about if nobody gets to see it?

Last autumn I suffered a severe blow to my confidence; I had been led to believe that a publisher was intending to take up some of my greeting card designs but it fell through due to the 'economic downturn' and a well-meaning friend tried to 'help' by telling me in great detail where I was going wrong, identifiying all the flaws in my drawings as the problem. In spite of the fact that my drawing has been praised by several people who know what they're talking about, my confidence plummeted with the result that, suddenly, I was completely unable to draw! I had plenty of ideas and I would begin work on them but I simply couldn't get the criticisms and advice out of my head and I felt myself become paralysingly self-conscious with the result that every attempt to draw just made things worse. I began at last to understand how others feel when they say, 'I can't draw'!

Devastated, I wondered whether I actually needed to work on improving my drawing and decided to use magazine photos as models for some practice. Most evenings I take a break to watch a TV drama or Murder Mystery so I drew while half-watching re-runs of Sherlock or Poirot. Having watched most of them before, they didn't require my full attention but as I can never remember who actually dunnit, they occupied just enough of my mind to allow me to forget my inhibiting worries and I began to be quite pleased with what I'd sketched. So I moved on to drawing from my imagination, creating the characters from the little decodable stories that I'd written to go with my synthetic phonics reading program.

One of the stories was about a king who was intolerably bored as his mininsters and advisors were really in charge of the land and all that was required of him was to put his signature on the documents they presented to him - in between which he sat on his throne doing crossword puzzles. Frustrated to distraction by feelings of powerlessness, he eventually called his Court Magician and begged him to teach him a magic spell that would enable him to solve the problems of the ordinary people of his land, at the same time making him invisible so that he could carry out his missions anonymously. The Magician gave the King the requisite spells but warned him that he must never use them for his own gain. So the king travelled the length and breadth of his kingdom, righting wrongs wherever he found them, which wasn't at all difficult with his new magic powers!

But, human nature being what it is, the King eventually gave in to the temptation to use his magic spell to his own advantage, with disastrous results. Meanwhile the Magician has found his way onto Birthday Card...

...and, of course, the story ends happily ever after!

Another of my rather moralising stories is about a Knight who relies on a Magic Scarf for his confidence until he discovers that the scarf isn't magic at all, it's just a kind of 'placebo' that enables him to tap into the confidence that was within him all along. I don't as yet have any ideas about how to incorporate Sir Kenneth, the Know-all Knight into a greeting card. But the story does illustrate the Degas quotation in that, when we can let go of our self-consciousness, then truly magical things can happen!

Here's Hafsah in action; and as you scroll down to her gallery, you'll discover a new use for Weetabix!

PS I just found this quote from Howard Ikemoto: “When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, "You mean they forget?"”


Michele said...

Once I got past the age of 40, I began to get really fed up with helpful advice. People can keep their helpful advice to themselves I think. I never listen. Everything is objective. Half the world will tell you your art is fabulous, the rest that it's rubbish. You need to have the hide of a Rhino to be an artist. As an accountant friend said to me recently, "I will never be remembered for a fantastic spread sheet, at least art is real"

Betsy Grant said...

It's wonderful and important that you shared this. Artists are usually pretty sensitive people and may need encouragement more than criticism (at least some of us!). Please visit me again for my response to your question about tapping into your creativity at Thanks for your comment by the way!

Donna L "Sunshine" said...

Lack of confidence is a battle I fight every day and now at almost 43 I wish I could get over it. It's so ingrained into me that I don't know if I'll ever get over it and yes, I know how it paralyzes my ability to create. This was very enlightening and I thank you for sharing it.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you all for your comments - and Donna, it is very hard, sometimes to get that confidence back. But, like Michele, you might one day just get so fed up with people's criticisms that you decide to ignore them and 'just do it'!