Why Our Art Matters


John Green made a fabulous video about artists and their work today using the metaphor of the world’s largest ball of paint. I let him tell the story:

He said we might put all our energy into painting that one layer, and making it the most beautiful, only for it to be painted over by others. In the end, our layer of paint did contribute to the size of the ball, to its magnificence. There will be people remembering how we painted that one layer. One day, they will be gone as well. The artwork remains.

As artists we spend a lot of time wondering about if it matters what we do. Certainly through the blog I have shared my work with more people than I would have ever imagined. But even this is temporary. At only a few years old I did a lot of arts and crafts. I loved that. I always glued pieces of paper together and drew on them. That was my art. It is probably tucked away in some box I will never find again. But it contributed to the ball of paint that is my life. Five years ago I started drawing portraits and I still have these first sketches in a binder. Another layer on the ball of paint. Now my artwork is a lot better than those old sketches. I have painted over the old layers. All this time invested contributed thin layers.

If we see our development as artists like that, no perceived failure will ever trouble us again. Because they are all just lumps and bumps in a layer of paint we will soon go over with another colour. We might decide that we don’t like this ball anymore and start a new one. We might glue some paper onto it. We might write some verses on it. But with everything we do, it grows. We grow.

We also spend some time discussing the inevitable question in our head: Are we really undiscovered geniuses or are we just normal human beings thinking too much? Can we really ever know? Is it important?

What do we want our art to do for ourselves? Do we want to be recognised in the streets for our artwork? Do we want to appear in fancy magazines? Do we want our art to sustain our lives? Or do we want to make people happy, make them think, bring them joy? Do we want to send a powerful message? When we pose these questions we will know what we expect from the world. What the world can expect from us.

A genius can work silently in their studio day after day, from dawn to dusk. A genius can get up at 4 in the morning to cram in some extra hours of painting before the day job, only to come home at night exhausted and tired. A genius can get up at 12, write for ten minutes, eat ice cream the whole day, and go to bed five hours later. A genius might have picked up ballet dancing at forty years old and be amazing, despite everything everyone ever told them. We are all geniuses in our own way. We make it work. We struggle through insecurities. Through self-hate. Through doubt. Through anger at ourselves and our equipment. At unsaved documents. At word counts that won’t grow. We will curse our writer’s block and the muse that has left us. We will curse ourselves most often. That is just part of the process. We go on anyway because we have to. We are artists.

Whatever you might want to create today, know, that it will count. It will count for your own development, your growth. It will count for the world. It will count for the large ball of paint that is our culture, and our common humanity. We have always created something to make life more beautiful. We have always used art as a means for communication, to express our wonder about the world. These are challenging times we live in – let your art tell the story of this time. Use it to create even more. Art is what connects us on a much deeper level and this connection is what we need right now. There is so much division, hate, and fear out there. Let’s work on the beautiful ball of paint together that is our planet Earth.

In which way are you an artist genius? Let’s have a little chat in the comments!

How to Manage Self-Doubt When Writing


There are ideas. There are good ideas, great ideas. And then there are those ideas that come to you like a lightning strike, hit you in the face and leave you sitting on the floor in the middle of the night breathing heavily, questioning life. Those ideas that let you mumble to yourself: “I’m a genius.” This might possibly the best idea I’ve ever had, this is what I have been waiting on for weeks now. This is the solution to all my problems, my salvation, this is my break-through. Those ideas that send you of running through the house, singing, laughing, crying. Those ideas you don’t want to let go and that you congratulate yourself shamelessly for.

I’ve had a couple of them.

Then I threw them in the bin again.

Let me explain.

Option 1:

Those late-night epiphanies and wonderful story ideas that always come to me are – when revisited in proper daylight, frankly said – utter bullshit. They would never work, they are just a product of my sleep-deprived brain, of my overworked self trying to live in a different world. Straight up: This might just be escapism. I might have spend all night fantasising about that genius idea. About that fantasy story, that gigantic thriller I want to write. When looking at those in the morning I laugh at myself how stupid I have been. A shame to even call them ideas…

Option 2:

I forget them.

Up to this point I have forgotten so many ideas that I had when just going to sleep, too tired to write anything down anymore. The next morning they have left me. The genius has traded in a good night’s sleep with that idea. Well done. Maybe it wasn’t that good anyway.

Option 3:

I awake, remember that great idea I had and instantly start doubting myself. This is a part of the actual talk I had with myself recently about a novel idea:

“Alright, you just came up with the genius idea that connects everything you ever wanted to write about.”

“Well, but what if this is just a bad idea I had because I needed to at least write something?”

“No, you had that idea because you were ready for it and because you deserve to have that idea. It’s yours! And it’s not written yet, so go sit at your laptop.”

“The exam phase is soon, how am I going to find the time to write this? It’s a shitty concept. I just don’t buy it. Who am I to think I could write? Nobody has ever said that I’m good at what I’m doing.”

“You know as well as me that this is not true. Your friends, your dad… all the lovely people on your blog…”

“Maybe they just wanted to be nice! It’s so pretentious that I’m trying to write! I don’t have any experiences, what am I going to write about? I don’t know anything!”

“Then do research.”

“On what? You need to have lived for a while to write a novel, to be able to include your own story…”

“Think of that twelve year old who wrote several novels and made that Ted Talk. She hasn’t got that much to write about either, but she did! You are just lazy and anxious and boring. Those self-doubts do not lead you anywhere.”

“But my whole family will hate me if they read what I wrote! My friends, too! Everyone is going to hate me! I’m a shame to my family.”

“Listen, it’s not even written yet. You are the first person to put that story on the paper and to read it. You can edit it before you give it to others. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“That doesn’t change that this all was a horrible idea.”

“Oh come on, get over yourself! So many people have written books already. You can do that, too! You have done Nanowrimo! Twice!”

“That’s something different.”

“No it isn’t! You have written every freaking day, made a habit out of that. That’s exactly what you are going to do now. You are going to write every single day until you get better at what you are doing. Those self-doubts will never go away but at least you will not be bad at writing anymore if you do it often enough. Now give yourself some rest and read a book.”

This is also a strategy to get some writing done, I just noticed. Type out the dialogues you have with yourself. If there is no one else to talk to. What a sad existence I’m leading here. Writers are lonely people. No wonder they are always dealing with self-doubt. What distinguishes published authors from those who just have their first novels in their desk drawers? They beat through their own self-doubt. They wrote every single day until they got better. They still experience the crippling anxiety of creation but they trust their senses, they trust their instinct, they trust themselves. That’s the difference. Now go and write down your freaking idea.

Here are some methods I have used to beat this anxiety:

Allow yourself to write shit. Shit is great! Include swearwords in your writing. It frees your creative energy that is often centred against yourself. Shout at the paper you are writing on, get those negative feelings out.

Write anyway. Not feeling well? Start a collection of weird words and write about why you think they are weird. Write down a conversation you had today – doesn’t matter if it was with yourself or another person. Analyse the speech. Write different versions of that dialogue. Try to convey as much emotions as possible. Use different words and see how they sound.

Stream of consciousness. I love that technique. It’s brilliant. You set a timer and then write everything down that comes to your mind in that amount of time. Try to not stop while typing. Try to get everything out. It’s like a cleaning mechanism. Scrub your brain, my friend! Get all the bad stuff out and then you can properly start writing. Create a document for these kinds of texts. Write in it every day before your writing session. I called mine: “Some Weird Stuff”.

Let other people read what you write. Even if it is just small essays. Put it out there. Get some feedback. In the end, the critical comments will be the most helpful to you. For example, I learned through a friend of mine that I use far to many adjectives and too much descriptive language. I have to shorten my sentences. Make them more precise. Create music. Give my writing a rhythm. Oh, and I have to work on my dialogues. I noticed that myself: They are horrible.

Get your friends to read your texts and ask them for honest, constructive criticism. If they are true and great friends, they will give it to you. They will help you to become a better writer.
Step back from the idea. Ideas are great when you initially have them. Then life happens. They only get worse with time. Try to only think about them when you are writing. The shiny new effect wears off even more quickly if you constantly daydream about the idea. Give it some time and some thought. Don’t beat yourself up.

Identify the source of your doubts. Is it yourself? Society? Your friends? Where does this anxiety come from? Once you have found the source you have to options: a) work through it anyway and ignore the doubts b) give in and let go. It’s an active choice you have to make. Write your decision down, right after the idea you had.

I choose to pursue this idea no matter what because it is important to me.

I choose to let this idea go and look for something else instead.

Now comes the most essential part:

Let it go. If you have beat yourself up over an idea too much. If you have suffered too much. If you can’t sleep because of your anxiety: Stop. If it turns you into a self-hating, crying existence, it wasn’t that good of an idea. Now forget about it. Don’t try to mend it, adapt it, glue it together. That won’t work. Write the idea down on a piece of paper and then burn the paper.

Or bury it in the garden.

Or climb the highest hill in your neighbourhood, cry out in agony, stick the paper on a branch and run down with it shaking it against the sky and then collapse on the ground sobbing. Smell the earth beneath your face and rip the paper into small pieces you then let fly with the wind.

Or just throw it in the bin if you are not as dramatic as I am.

Let go. And then be happy again. Meditate or just let your mind wander. There will be other ideas. Humans are made to have ideas, to always find solutions. Maybe your next idea is just around the corner but you were too absorbed in your self-doubt that you didn’t notice it. You ignored its polite knocks on the door.

Now let it in, you are ready.

Never forget to write.

Never forget to love yourself.

Finding My Colours.


Or: A shoutout to colouring books.
Or: What I learned from an artist.

As you might have noticed I haven’t drawn in a while. I recently excused myself with having so much to do, all that uni stuff and so on… That wasn’t the entire truth. I want to tell you the whole story.

In the city where I moved to, there is an art school kind of thing and I wrote the artist if I can talk to her. She told me to bring some of my work and I went there. Extremely nervous. I’ve never shown my work to an artist before. My teacher in school didn’t know about my portraits, this is a really personal thing.

She was extremely kind and I really liked talking to her. I brought the big folder with all my portraits and she looked over them. I think – and I don’t want to interpret that wrong – she didn’t like them very much. This is no problem, she was just being honest.

It was a great conversation and she said what I could improve, all the little flaws the pictures had. Deepen the contrasts, focus on the proportions, use more colours. It was very helpful to realise that. I can show you some of the works she really did like.

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Do you know why? It’s something original. Something that I made out of my mind and my heart. Not only copying but interpreting, doing something with the picture.

She showed me some of her own fantastic work, her paintings, her studio… It was amazing. Showed me the portraits other artists did, photorealistic and mindblowing. She told me that I have to find my own style, know what I want to do, where I want to get so that one can recognise my pictures… I don’t know if I want that. Focus on one thing.

You know, I do a lot of things, not only in art. I love to sing and dance and play the piano, I read and write poems and stories and paint and draw and play the saxophone a tiny little bit and I learn(ed) English and French and Latin and now Spanish… I’m a person that doesn’t focus on one thing. It really bothered me that she told me to devote myself to this one style.

When I was leaving, she gave me another advice: Create, create, create. Which is actually really good, that is what I’m always saying to my friend who tries writing a book: Write, write, write! To be an artist you have to make art.

And now the unfortunate part of it: I couldn’t do it anymore. I tried sketching in my sketchbook, put some colours on some paper, drew some lines of a portrait… It didn’t work! I was devastated and first had to call my dad. That’s what you do if you have an artistic identity crisis. He helped me up again but I still couldn’t draw. I remembered what a very dear friend of mine said about the artist: She isn’t right in everything she says, you know? Who tells you that she knows all that stuff and that it works for you?

All of those lovely things did help but not for making art.

However… finally today I sat down. With a colouring book. (I know there are huge discussions about them, I will not join! This is just my point of view)

With unsharpened pencils, with a mind that was not quite relaxed and some Tom Rosenthal music on. What can I say to you? It was lovely. I could just let the colours flow, just as I liked. The shapes are given so you don’t need to worry about that. It was so much more free to know that no one will ever see this. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing my art with you but if the thought of people watching, changes the process of making it – one should stop. This is what I did and it couldn’t have been better.

So what can you expect now? It will take some time before I come back to drawing like before. I will need it to figure out what I really want to make, what I want to put out in the world and what I want to share with you. Maybe I’ll post some more thoughts that I have at the moment and I hope you forgive me for that. This blog is just getting more personal and I like it that way.

If you have questions or suggestions or anything you like to share – please do so in the comments so that we can have a little chat.

Lots of love

Verena

On Creating.


Something that I had on my mind for a long time now: it is difficult to create art. Good art.

For weeks now I’ve been feeling that my mind is incredibly empty. I started some sketches and drawings and it was really hard for me to continue. I think about those days in summer when it was so easy, when I could work at night, have fun, create and love it. Those days, when I finished a little sketch in an hour and you liked it and it meant so much to me. It always does. Your support is amazing.

However, I feel I’m in a creative vacuum right now. Some reasons might be that I am a bit stressed out about uni. That I don’t know where to start. And maybe also, that I had to many projects in the last two months.

In November, I put 50 000 freaking words on the paper. In December, I painted or drew a picture every day. I created something every day. Looking back, I’m not entirely happy with the writing. It has no plot, only some scenes are quite nice… Also, the pictures I drew – there are some I like. And some, quite a few, I don’t.

People keep saying to me that it is important to love what you are doing. To pour your heart and soul into what you are doing. I didn’t do that. Not every day. I needed some rest. In the last days of the painting project I wanted to stop. I skipped one day. And someone told me, that they missed me uploading something for the day. I was angry and didn’t know why. It was me who had set the goal. Was I angry at myself?

I just asked myself: Do you want to continue? Do you want to do something today? Isn’t it more important, that you are happy with what you’re doing? That is why, one day, I didn’t draw anything at all. And it was good.

There are a few pictures I have in mind now, and there is a little short story I might write. It is incredibly hard to start, though. Start anything. Also, I have to write an essay for sociology. And another one and learn for maths and do all those things and aahhhhhh

Starting… the procrastination takes over my art process and I can’t escape.

Maybe you understand the state I’m currently in and maybe you can also give me some advice how to get out of it. How to create again. How to love what I’m doing again. How to make good art.

(If anyone of you knows Neil Gaiman’s speech on ‘Make good art’, it is so good! – but it doesn’t help me at the moment I guess… Just to explain the reference…)