I have been drawing and painting my whole life – well, as long as I have been able to hold a pencil. In fact, I’ve been drawing since before I could get the letters of the alphabet in the right order.
Most of the time I’ve been drawing I’ve aimed to produce work that is meaningful, has soul and a story – work that makes sense to other people. I’ve aimed to make work that people will buy – sales are validating. When people buy your art it means that on some level your work is OK, maybe even good. At the very least, it means that one other person likes it apart from you.
Half the time I didn’t even like my my own work, I would look at it and it would be meaningless to me, it held no value. I would look at my own art and struggle to see what it was trying to say. I remember when I was studying, being so frustrated and angry at the lack of story that I hacked out a black and white charcoal drawing that said “I have nothing to say”. My tutor said it was good and by making that statement I certainly did have something to say, except that for me I really didn’t have anything to say which was not only an indictment on my art but also my life.
It wasn’t always like that. When I was a child I didn’t color inside the lines, I couldn’t draw a straight line, didn’t give a damn about shading, perspective, color mixing and every other technical aspect – I could only scribble. Freedom of color, line and mark making, the pure unbridled joy of making a bloody great mess.
Where does the freedom and joy go? We grow up, our expectations of ourselves grow as do others’ expectations of us. This is true in art as it is in life. As people, we are expected to make good grades through school, get good jobs and become contributing citizens who fit the mold. As we grow in our artistic and creative endeavors we’re expected to create things that are understandable by other people and if they aren’t then they’re written off or a meaning is assigned to them – “I think what the artist is trying to say here is …” The other line that I’ve heard so many times is “It’s great but what is it?”
Eventually I stopped creating as it had very little value for me and I joined what I perceived to be the societal norm, got a job – or rather a series of jobs – that were even more meaningless than my art work. Jobs that were presided over by employers who often times were governed by a set of rules that in no way matched my own, who expected everything and gave little in return. This is not a great place to be for a person who has had several serious bouts of depression and anxiety over the years. Sure I was earning money and paying my taxes and all the things that were expected of me but at the end of the day I had nothing left for myself – seriously stressed and depressed after years of poor employers, lack of self care and various other nasty little life issues. With my self esteem and confidence in tatters, I quit my last job, and started looking for another.
While I was looking for the next big thing I decided I’d kill some time by starting to create again – but still trying to create things that were “perfect.” Leaving me feeling no better about myself, everything seemed very dark and I personally felt locked up and worthless with nothing to offer.
Enter scribble drawings … I attended a workshop held by Karen Adler at the Maitland Art Gallery on the subject of Art Therapy and Depression/Anxiety. I don’t really know what I expected to gain by attending but I thought it might be a good learning experience. About an hour into the workshop, Karen introduced scribble drawings and WOW it felt like coming home.
All it is, is relax for a couple of minutes and then pick up your drawing tool with your non-dominant hand and draw for a minute or two without conscious intent. Then have a look at what you’ve drawn from all angles until something jumps out at you – maybe a face or an animal – add color to the areas that appeal and when you’re done, look at it and see what you see – what does it mean to you?
What seemed random and pointless (a bit like depression itself) turned out to be something beautiful and magical. After looking at it initially I saw a snake, then after another look I saw a small bird and then after looking at it later again I saw at the heart of the scribble a great big wombat, which I have adopted as my totem animal. For me they represent quiet strength, speed when required, self-reliance and not letting anything get in their way. They are short, roundy creatures whose shape belies their strength and speed (a lot like me!). They go quietly about their business until frightened or angered, then they become fierce bulldozers (also very like me).
So what does this mean to me? At the heart of my life is a strong, solid, mostly quiet, determined creature who is larger than the snake, which represents my dark side and the bird which represents my need to take flight when things are tough. A creature that shouldn’t be messed with but is pretty darn loveable. That was powerful for me, it showed me that it is okay to be true to myself and what I believe in.
Further experiments into scribble drawing have shown me that I am not filled with darkness, horror and fear as I often feel, that the worthlessness and lack of value I have attached to myself are in fact not the truth as depression would have me believe. It has shown me that I am bright, vibrant, creative, that I know how to care for myself, I am filled with possibilities and ultimately loving and loved.
Our teachers, mentors, parents, friends and associates would have us believe that scribbling is for children and holds no value. I beg to differ, how could something so simple that teaches us so much not be valuable?