Artists are primarily thought of as makers. And yes, of course we make stuff. But we are also thinkers and feelers. We think. And we feel. Deeply. And I believe the thinking and feeling are the most important parts of an artist. More important than the making. Because our thinking and feeling is what spurs the making and leads to what we make.
That’s why I write these essays and that’s why I draw in my sketchbook. I have all these thoughts and feelings swirling around in my mind, constantly bumping into each other and trying to connect with other things. It can be overwhelming if we don’t have an outlet for all those thoughts and feelings.
Seeing Our Thoughts + Feelings
Often, as artists, our thinking can run over the other aspects of being human; actually, it can run over all the other aspects of being human. It can run over the being part. We can get so focused on doing, on making, on thinking, that we lose our awareness of what’s going on. I’ve realized now that art (for me, and maybe for you), is the key to becoming aware.
Making art isn’t a direct way to change our thinking or change ourselves. Art is a way of seeing ourselves. A way of seeing our inner world—our thoughts and beliefs, our feelings and emotions, our loves and aversions. Through making art we can learn about our inner world.
Sometimes we’ll discover mundane or silly thoughts like, ‘hey, mushrooms are interesting’. Other times we’ll discover something profound, like thought patterns inside us that we never knew were there. Sometimes those thought patterns are destructive, narrow-minded, and so habitual that we were unaware of them for years. Art can illuminate this inner side of us, and make us more aware of ourselves.
Turning Thoughts + Feelings into Art
The thoughts and feelings in our minds are constantly flowing and surging. It can be exhausting, and sometimes we get swept away. But making art allows us to stand, even for a brief moment, in the middle of that river and see what’s flowing around us.
And that seeing is key. If we’re able to see these inner thought patterns, they can begin to change. We can weed out destructive beliefs and habits to bring in more acceptance and love. We can see our thoughts as just thoughts, and we can use those feelings to make art, instead of allowing them to set up camp in our brains and take over.
Drawing each day, looking into ourselves each day, we can see those parts inside we may have otherwise not noticed. We can become familiar with how our mind works and how our hands create from it. And this process leads to satisfaction in our art and more acceptance and confidence in ourselves.
A Real Life Example
Yesterday, I went through this entire process, unknowingly and perhaps unwillingly. I had been feeling off all day but didn’t really realize it. I was just floating through my day in a general state of “meh”. I tried to break out of the funk: I took a nap, went on a walk, ate a snack… nothing worked. The funk was still there. It was one of those times when you just don’t want to do anything—not even draw. The only thing I could put my finger on was that I felt “meh”, and nothing more specific than that. I was floating in a river of thoughts and feelings but completely unaware of what I was thinking or why I was feeling this way.
And so, not wanting to do anything else, I sat down to draw. The theme for #MightCouldDrawToday this week, chosen this morning by me, is Villains. That choice should have given me a little clue to how I was feeling that day, but ya know… unaware. So I sat down on the couch with my Posca markers and sketchbooks, and within a few minutes of considering what to draw, it came to me—Cruella De Vil. Something about that character clicked and I instantly went from not wanting to draw at all, to a deep desire to draw this character.
And so, for the next good while, I lost myself in drawing. I dropped out of the outer world and dropped into my sketchbook.
As I was drawing Cruella’s facial expression, it dawned on me. This is how I feel. I feel like Cruella de Vil right now. And not just any Cruella de Vil, because there are many sides of every villain—I feel like THIS one. This one that I just drew. And suddenly, it was as if I had seen what was inside me. All the vague feelings of “meh” and the thoughts swirling so fast I couldn’t catch them… everything came into focus.
I now had an awareness of how I was really feeling in that moment.
To be clear, art isn’t magic. My Cruella mood didn’t immediately transform into happy-puppy-mood just because I became aware of it. Awareness doesn’t solve all our problems unfortunately. But the drawing gave me a breather from the rush of thoughts and feelings, a moment of clarity, and a step in the right direction. Like people speak about meditation, I believe experiencing awareness of our thoughts over and over can lead to big changes, both in our art and in our lives.
Try it Yourself
The next time you feel down, discouraged, or “meh”, try using art to look inside. Take some time to draw your thoughts and feelings, if only for a few minutes. Don’t go in with expectations of a revelation and don’t judge your drawing as it goes along. Maybe you’ll realize something profound, and maybe you’ll just realize you’re grumpy.
Whatever it is, just draw. And let it all come out just the way it is.