reawakening the inner artist

November 1, 2016 |  Category:   art + design life me

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In many ways, this year hasn’t gone the way that I thought it might. I’m not sure what I expected when my start up job ended back in May and I transitioned back to freelance and our bakery biz, but I thought I would have more time than I ended up having. But as it goes, you can neither predict nor totally control life. There are many things that I can’t cross off my list this year, but the one thing I can cross off is that I’ve started to draw and paint again. I wasn’t even sure I knew how anymore, but as it turns out, drawing is a bit like riding a bike – you never really forget how, but it’s a wobbly ride till you get your groove back.

I may have mentioned in one of my long rambling blog posts that at one point upon reflection back to my art school days, I considered myself a “terrible” artist. Not technically – I mean, I can draw – but I felt like a lot of my art had no soul. The emptiness was the result of a long high school journey to winning art school scholarships that ended up in ambivalence towards art once I entered college. I think it’s a valid observation and one I’m thinking a lot about these days because I sort of feel like I’m starting all over, but also picking up where I left off. Maybe it’s possible that I couldn’t find any meaning in art when I was 17 or 18 because I hadn’t really lived yet. It’s such a young age when I look back on it. But now? Well…I sometimes feel like I’ve lived a few lifetimes at this point.

The inspiration to draw and paint again stems from recent years that were devoid of much creativity. It’s absolutely true that I filled it with other valuable experiences and lessons during that time, not to mention the personal ordeals that took up much of life the last few years. But you really can’t extinguish the creative itch when it’s something you’ve lived with your whole life, even if you think you want to. If you’re an artist (terrible or not!), it’s who you are. I think I just simply needed a break – and not a total change – from creating and designing all the time. It’s what I’ve done for a living the last 20 years. Who wouldn’t be burnt out?

Now let me tell you that I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable calling myself an artist. Not so much when I was younger when art was all I ever did in my waking hours, but during those art school years when I struggled to find myself in the world. I often felt like I was going through the motions but never really believed in whatever I was creating. Which is why I probably stopped. Since then, I could count how many times I’ve made a drawing or a painting on both hands in the last 20 or so years. I was earning a living as a designer, but calling myself an artist felt flawed when I rarely created any art. Life happened and art seemed like a luxury when there were so many other more pressing things that was required of my time.

Art still feels like a luxury to me – that hasn’t really changed. It takes discipline to carve out time to do a sketch or a little painting and I don’t always succeed, despite good intentions. But what’s different, why now? I feel like I’m finally ready to take back time. I spent the last 14 years building as much of a secure financial nest for my family as best as I could, despite the ups and downs of freelance and small business life. I admit to not acknowledging our accomplishments very often, but I am proud of what we’ve been able to build for ourselves with the resources we had. It took perseverance and long hours of work, but it also took away time from pursuing personal projects. I always thought that art was this thing that I would have time for later in life when the kids grew up and I was ready to retire. It seemed a bit irresponsible (for ME, not making judgements about anyone else’s life choices) to sacrifice financial stability for personal work when I had kids to feed and expensive health insurance to pay, so I chose a paycheck every single time.

That being said, I’ll to be honest with you – I’m still choosing the paycheck this year. It’s hard not to when there are bills to pay. Much to my surprise and relief, freelance work has come in abundance the last 7 months. I’ve never been good at saying no, but I’m desperate to try and carve out space to explore personal work because I want my time back and I don’t want to wait until I grow old. If I learned anything from recent years, then I should know that time wasted is time I will never get back.

These days I’m relearning how to draw and paint. For me, this starts with drawing the things I see around me, which in this case is mostly botanical in nature (though I have done a few portraits). This is a time for reacquainting myself with the creative process again and to sharpen skills, not about creating work that is good or bad or expresses any meaning. I trust that the soul and expression that I’m looking for will eventually come in good time. So for now, a focus on the process, not the finished product or what it may become in the future. Basically, for what feels like the first time in my life, I’m focusing on the now.

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  • Renita November 1, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Wow Jenna, these are lovely. After all these years following this blog who knew? You knew.

    • Jenna November 2, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, Renita. Always appreciated!

    • Lakshmi November 3, 2016 at 11:39 am

      I knew! 🙂 Always. Lovely stuff, Jenna. Enjoy…

  • terken November 1, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    I decided to take drawing classes (for the first time in my life) this year. I am terrible at it, but I am in love with the process. I too, find it really hard to allocate time for it during the day. But I try my best, and the feeling of contentment is priceless.

    • Jenna November 2, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      So glad to hear that terken! And it doesn’t matter what anyone’s skill level is, as long as you enjoy it. This was the whole point of my post. I think I quit art when I was younger because it no longer became fun and there was too much pressure in art school. So nice to hear you are enjoying the process.

  • Jen November 2, 2016 at 12:07 am

    I can identify with so much of what you’re saying in this post, particularly the part about focusing on the now. It’s amazing how scary that is even though it sounds simple. Life can sometimes feel like a precariously balanced house of cards; one wrong move and it all comes tumbling down. I’ve spent most of my life making choices driven by a nearly pathological need to create safety and financial security. This has meant avoiding or putting off things that felt frivolous and selfish. The kick in the pants is that the house came tumbling down anyways. I’ve worked hard to figure out why, and suspect that ignoring those vital parts of myself is one of the big reasons my foundation was weak in the first place. So I’m trying to change my belief system. I’m trying to believe that if I make some time to do the things that (forgive the treacly language) feed my soul, I will have a much better shot at building a sense of security that actually lasts. It’s not an easy thing to change a mindset that’s been in place for the majority of my life, but I’m slowly rebuilding in a way that feels good. I’m really happy for you that you’re indulging the desire to get reacquainted with drawing and painting. I know it’s hard to justify the time, especially when you have children who depend on you. But if my new belief system is correct, in the long run it will help fortify you for all the challenges and responsibilities that lie ahead. Here’s hoping!

    • Jenna November 2, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      Jen, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. Focusing on the now has been so hard for me – a lifetime struggle, really. Sounds like we’ve had some similarities in our view on life regarding time, art, and what we both felt was maybe selfish to indulge in. I’m so glad to follow along your progress on Instagram as well!

  • Becky Kremer November 2, 2016 at 6:12 am

    Jenna, they’re stunning! Really! I’ve started writing a novel this year, something I’ve imagined my whole life but never took seriously and I feel the world is suddenly in technicolor 🙂 Being creative un-taps something in us and I’m really enjoying the process too! It’s soul food, eh?

    • Jenna November 2, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Thank you Becky! And congrats on starting a novel. That is HUGE!

  • Rachel November 2, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Love the drawings and paintings. You have such talent! Makes me
    think of this quote from Dante: “Beauty awakens the soul to act.” (Also, ideas for next year’s calendar? I’d totally buy one!)

    • Jenna November 2, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Thanks Rachel! I’m collecting all these drawings, but their practice for now. Who knows, though, where they will end up 😉

  • Julianne November 2, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    This is really beautiful, both your journey back to creative work and the snapshots of those personal forays. Your gingko leaves!

  • Joo November 2, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    I so admire your effort and self-motivation to stay creative outside of your work. It gives me hope that perhaps one day, I will pick up playing the piano and even painting again like I used to. By the way, I just received the 2016 calendar – what a beauty!

  • Joo November 2, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    Oops – I meant 2017!!!

    • Jenna November 16, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      ha! You almost scared me for a minute!

  • Britta November 3, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I love your art. I am so glad you’re finding a connection to it again.

  • Tim McMurdo November 4, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Jenna,

    I am delighted to see you picking up something that obviously brings you so much joy. Whenever I am able to use a talent that I enjoy, my life becomes better. Why? I’m not sure, but I think being creative is something that I can only do for me. It’s a gift of time and energy that I give to myself.

    As usual, I admire your ability to be so introspective in your thoughts and words.

    Tim

    • Jenna November 16, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Thank you Tim. Always nice to hear from you.

  • Caddy November 6, 2016 at 1:59 am

    Such lovely work Jenna! 🙂

  • nanne November 10, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    just beautiful!! you are gifted with so much talent in so many different disciplines.

    thank you for this post. it has made me hopeful. my youngest daughter, like you, was always so incredibly creative, artistic, smart and talented. for as long as i can remember she wanted to be an architect. last year, she was accepted to and entered (with scholarship) a college architecture program. and it was a disaster. she hated it, suffered from severe depression resulting in medical withdrawal from school and taking a year off from college to deal with the depression and to re-group. she is healthy now and eager to re-start her college career (for which i am incredibly grateful) but has no interest in anything creative. i so hope that one day she finds that creative spark again as you seem to have. thank you again!!

    • Jenna November 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Hi nanne, give your daughter time. I can relate. My mom always used to say that she felt sad that I was “wasting” away my talents when I quit art school. You can’t force creativity and it’s best when it comes inspired, not when it’s forced or because we think it’s what we should do. Sounds like she needs to heal and part of that healing will come from this break. She will find it again, promise. And remember: living a creative life doesn’t only mean putting brushstrokes on a piece of paper. There’s a million ways to be creative!

  • Emily November 13, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    thank you for sharing your drawings- so inspiring.

  • Thalia Wallace November 22, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Being an artist & painting teacher myself, all I can say is that they are absolutely stunning. I will definitely be showing these to my young students, as an inspiration for their observational class! Thank you for sharing with us

    • Jenna December 8, 2016 at 12:35 am

      I am honored Thalia, that you would share it with your class. Thank you!

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