I’m Writing An Article About Art – and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be terrible

Bright, 2013, 24"x24" acrylic on canvas

I don’t know how to start talking about my art.

I used to like to color with my dad. He always takes his time and does everything the right way. I enjoyed it so much as I just wanted to watch him color – meticulously working to get an even layer of color inside of those black lines. How did he never seem to make a mistake?

I have some of those color-in-the-lines-because-you’re-supposed-to anal-retentive tendencies, except more neurotic and unsure. It breeds a lack of self-confidence like you wouldn’t believe. Spending so much time trying to get things just right only to screw them up and get frustrated and have to start all over again.

The art store was my happy place

It’s a cycle of dissatisfaction and self-criticism in which you can’t accept being mediocre; it’s a constant comparison, often times to an ideal that doesn’t even exist.

I always liked art, loved writing poetry and stories, learning new words or getting new art supplies. As a child, my friends liked to play with dolls, and I often did too—but I always seemed more interested in learning cross-stitch or needlepoint or calligraphy. The art store was my happy place (not much has changed, actually).

Bright, 2013, 24"x24" acrylic on canvas

Bright, 2013, 24″x24″ acrylic on canvas

In 5th or 6th grade, we had a regular art class in which we made a lot of really terrible kid art, but I only remember one project. It was to take a square piece of paper and to draw something on it — anything. I can’t recall what the other kids drew, but I remember my drawing like it was yesterday. I even remember the colors — red, gray, and black mostly. I drew a series of repeating 3D cubes on the entire sheet of paper, like a giant, never-ending Q-bert game. I’m not sure why I drew this particular shape, or where I had learned it, but these boxes were effortless and enjoyable. The repetition was soothing. I forgot about everything else; I just drew.

I remember my drawing like it was yesterday. I even remember the colors…

Composition #5, 2013, 12" x 16" acrylic and pencil on heavy canvas paper

Composition #5, 2013, 12″ x 16″ acrylic and pencil on heavy canvas paper

This memory had been under layers of dust for a long time, but came back like a fever in 2006. I started my blog (Design Milk) on a whim. I discovered other art and design blogs. I found Etsy and online shops with their aspiring artists and makers. The online world opened up a galaxy of art that was previously inaccessible.

More importantly, I discovered something, somewhere inside me that made me want to draw and paint. I drew tons of circles and repetitive shapes. I tried creating more realistic and illustrative things but I knew right away that wasn’t my bag. I enjoyed abstract shapes, organic lines, geometrics… anything I could repeat.

But I soon grew to hate my own work. The beautiful art and design that I was discovering online as part of my daily blog posts began to permeate my own drawings and paintings, taking away the individuality that I’d enjoyed creating so much. I couldn’t escape conjuring up references to other

I opened my Moleskine and revisited art with an entirely new perspective – and open mind.

works, other artists. It reminded me of times in my life when I tried to be someone else; tried to escape myself only to quickly realize you fall back to being who you are when no one is looking. I wanted my colors to be as vibrant as this person’s or I wanted my line work to be as precise as so-and-so’s. I was impatient. An impatient perfectionist with low self-esteem is the worst perfectionist of all.

I gave up and walked away from it in 2010 to focus on the blog, all the while seething with jealousy and hatred — the kind that only comes from having low self-esteem. I simply accepted that I was a terrible artist with no original ideas and moved on to focus on other things, like running, buying a house and having a baby (all awesome, self-esteem improving things, by the way!). I made a few drawings here and there but I was pretty uninspired.
At some point in 2012, I came back to art. Having a baby awoke something inside of me. I don’t believe this was a coincidence because I had a conversation with a friend who recently lost her mother and we both felt that these life-changing moments (death/birth) unleashed something within us that wanted to let go of the unimportant things that had so preoccupied us before and make a U-turn in the opposite direction.

Having a baby awoke something inside of me.

I opened my Moleskine and revisited art with an entirely new perspective—and an open mind. Instead of focusing on drawing as a means to any sort of end, I just grabbed my sketchbook and started doodling, mostly repetitive shapes. I thought up ideas that could be interesting and I started experimenting with tape and different mediums. I made abstract drawings and moved toward recreating them in paint on canvas. I did everything for myself all as exercises in personal satisfaction – in self-soothing. I shared them online to force myself to stop hiding and to truly own it (I’d done this once before and then pulled everything down in shame). And it was then that I decided that I would use art as therapy, knowing that I’d probably been doing that all along but in the wrong way.

My “sessions” have only just begun, and I still see things through a distorted lens. Sometimes I look back at my old sketchbooks with overwhelming pride and enjoy revisiting some of my prior styles to see how they fit in with my new work. There are also times when I finish something and I’m beaming. However, there are times when I hate my art. I’ll wake up the next day and look at yesterday’s work I loved so much with a “what was I thinking” attitude. I’ll hate it so much I want to set it all on fire. I don’t know if it’s jealousy (not over a particular person but the entirety of amazing artists that have ever lived) or if it’s just a part of me that can’t ever be happy for me. It’s like having an overly critical mother that lives inside me. Even as I am writing this article, I can hear myself being hard on me. I think this article is terrible. Maybe it is, but dammit if I’m not going to write it and share it and own it. That’s part of what I’m working on here…

Untitled, 2013 9"x12" ink, marker and watercolor on watercolor paper

Untitled, 2013 9″x12″ ink, marker and watercolor on watercolor paper

My repetitive drawings, like my strings and striped snakes, are a way to keep me calm and focused. They are a type of meditation that allows me to escape and think about nothing else—it’s a weird kind of Zen place to be but when I am there, I am very happy. It’s very Buddhist, this whole art thing; I’m finally able to live in the moment.

I use my paintings and abstract drawings as a way to battle the impatient perfectionist inside. The one who is overly critical, sees only the negative, and constantly compares to an unattainable inexistent ideal. It’s a process; a lifelong practice. Like yoga. I want to bring these lessons into every aspect of my life. I do it to improve myself, to help steer parts of me in a new direction and to accept and accentuate the parts of me that I like best.

But mostly, I do it for my daughter.

Because I don’t want her to watch me color inside the lines. I want to show her how to break free from them.

–Jaime Derringer


This article originally published in The Compose Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [September 2013].
Download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.

Jaime DerringerJaime Derringer

Design Columnist
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A Jersey girl living the laid back life in SoCal, Jaime operates JD2 Media and the “Milk” sites, collects milk cartons, buys too many weird necklaces and lusts over one day owning a striped Gaetano Pesce Up5 Chair.

Jaime has been noted as an expert on design trends, speaks on design, design blogging & social media, and does some consulting on the side. She likes to run, write poems, draw, and paint.

Photography: Jaime Derringer