I’ve always said I can’t draw. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sets that limit on him/herself.

And I’ve always wanted to draw. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, to feel confident identifying myself as an artist. But, like many, I’ve been fed definitions of what being an artist is, what it means to have art skills, and where they come from.

Line Drawings | Failing Forward Creatively + Humanly | Humanitou

Those definitions come early from parents, teachers, wherever, and they give us the wrong impressions. The views from the conventional make us feel like being an artist is:

  1. Foolish
  2. Magical

That magical is mixed with the idea of being unattainable, saying either you’re born with it or you’re not, you’re born to be a famous talent or you’re not, and to anyone else it’s unattainable because it’s financially foolish.

I grew up in a small, rural Midwestern town where there was no substantive art scene. It wasn’t an artist town like Manitou Springs, soaked with art and the people who make it.

There was an art supply store in the small downtown and my father would spend many Saturday mornings at the art shop replicating landscapes being painted by Lynn, the woman who owned the shop, and watching Bob Ross, the afroed, gentle-voiced man who would paint happy trees during his weekly “The Joy of Painting” broadcast on PBS.

I wanted to take art classes in school, going beyond the required sessions in elementary and middle school. Something always held me back. Fear, I’d guess.

In college, I wanted to take art classes or even major in art. Of course, I hadn’t built skills for that, having never leaped into the classes in high school. The snowball effect of fear and avoidance of my true self was growing.

I didn’t even do a whole lot of drawing as a kid. No secret drawing pads of dreams doodled. I was averse to failing at drawing, at art in general, until I could be good at it. I wanted to be great, and thought you either have it or you don’t, that to not be good at it meant I’d never be good at it. I couldn’t take that, so I didn’t try.

Living Humanitou | Creativity + Humanness

Seeing this personality in me in my mid-20s, the woman who would become my wife laughed at my wanting to be an artist and one day straight up said, “You can’t be an artist.”

It was a whimsical, passing comment not meant to hurt. It wasn’t a criticism of my creativity so much as the large part of my personality that is Type A, that didn’t allow room for myself to be imperfect and flexible like making art needs. It was a fair-enough assessment from the outside of me.

I’ve pursued creativity in other forms, mostly in writing and photography, over the years. I’ve played with watercolor painting, using the idea of abstract painting to avoid the idea I’m failing at painting a recognizable something.

Only now, only in recent weeks, have I leaped into drawing. And now I’m showing my work, in all its whimsy and flaws, as part of the growth process.

I started a project I’m calling “30 Days of Line Drawings.” I choose a topic — my first one is the bicycle — and spend a calendar month drawing it, something from it, something that represents it.

It can be simple and unreal. It’s about doing, about trying, about pushing my skills and ideas of what a simple line drawing of that subject can be for me. Next month, new subject. 30 Days of Line Drawings is an early-morning creativity ritual for me, along with writing morning pages.

Some days I feel better about what I draw than on others. Some days I feel stuck and like I’m forcing something to happen. Maybe that’s the real value in this exercise, I’m forcing myself into action, into failing forward, into being an artist. Doing is replacing fearing.

I now realize, as impatient as I still am sometimes in my wanting to be a good artist, it’s got to be earned with countless hours and efforts and oopses. The fear has to be pushed aside and the foundation has to be built.

My daily line drawing project is less about making art as it is about making the artist. It’s about failing forward in creativity and humanness. It’s about living Humanitou.