A few years back I decided I wanted to learn to draw and paint. I enrolled in an art course and spent 4 hours at class, twice a week for an entire semester. The art school was a respectable old institution, and it stood on a weather-beaten island just outside my hometown Helsinki, Finland.
Every Wednesday and Thursday after work, I sat on a ferry and travelled 20 minutes to this island. Then I walked another 20 minutes from the ferry to the art school. This was autumn, so by then it was dark and it was usually raining.
Inside the art school, we stood in a big, cold, empty room, propped our easels up, took a chunk of coal and started drawing. We were drawing pots and vases at first, but soon we got a live model, that stood still for those four hours, as we did our best to capture every angle of his body.
There was around 20 of us in the class and we were all first timers. None of us had any other motive or ambition to do our art, but the art itself. We wanted to take a break from the usual routines of our lives and expand ourselves a little. There was no pressure, no competition. There was no reward waiting, no money to be made. There was just a desire to create something, to learn, and to experiment.
The commitment wasn’t small, to be honest. After the novelty of the first couple of weeks, I often found myself contemplating. The autumn weather wasn’t exactly helping. The prospect of commuting in the dark and the rain, returning home at almost midnight didn’t feel inviting, especially after a busy day at work. Curling up on the sofa with a mug of tea was much more enticing than the prospect of standing in a cold room drawing a naked man.
But I persisted, and so did my fellow students. We kept turning up week after week to draw. To try something new. To just take the time to do it. The course wasn’t cheap, which probably helped with our motivation, but the act of drawing and painting was in the end always rewarding. After each class I could witness my own progress and there was an intense joy in just seeing the results of my efforts.
I experienced the really interesting discovery when, after several weeks of just focusing on my own work, I took a stroll around the classroom to look at other people’s work, and my jaw dropped.
Everyone’s work was amazing.
We had all been looking at the same vases. We had all been doing our best to create as realistic a drawing of the same model, as we possibly could. This was a classical live drawing lesson, remember, not a lesson in abstract expressionism.
The paintings were all incredibly different. Everyone had seen the light and the shadows in their own ways. Everyone had focused on slightly different aspects of the the model. Everyone had chosen their own colours.
It wasn’t that the paintings were flawless, like suddenly this course had turned a bunch of amateurs into Picassos. The amazing thing about the work was that everyone had taken the class seriously. That they worked intensely on the task. They turned up every week and spent eight hours a week on their art. It showed! Everyone’s work was beautiful.
It wasn’t necessary to be a born artist or to have years worth of training to create something amazing. All it took was commitment, leaving the self-doubt at the door, and just focusing on doing.
This lesson has stayed with me ever since. It really taught me that we can do anything and be pretty amazing at it if we just give it a chance. There are no right or wrong ways of creating. The only thing that is required, is to turn up, do the work, and have some belief in our own ability to do it. That is all it takes.
If there is something you really desire to do, then just go and do it. Don’t doubt your abilities, don’t question your skills, don’t talk yourself out of it. Don’t overwhelm yourself by expecting a certain outcome. Devote some time to it and do it.
You’d be amazed what you’re capable of.