I Confess: My 3 Most Embarassing Moments as a “Wannabe” Artist

Posted: August 26, 2014 in Art and Creativity
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve loved art my whole life. I remember drawing elaborate pictures with a little quarter sun in the upper right corner of the paper, green trees, or a rainbow when I was 6 years old. A parade of unicorns, running horses with four legs all on the same side of their bodies, a happy family posed from tallest to shortest. Those were my earliest pictures. I took art class in high school and dreamed of being able to go to college for art and become a real artist. That’s all it was, though – a dream. Like wanting to be a ballerina or a superhero. At the time, I knew it wasn’t practical and I also was very insecure about my ability to “do it right.”

I couldn’t give it up completely, though, so I took painting classes in college as I pursued my degree in Child Development. I even minored in 2-D Art, although I still to this day have no idea what that actually means. I found myself frustrated with painting realistically. I loved abstract art, where I could use weird tools, or throw gold splotches in random spots. I loved the freedom it gave me, and that it almost felt like I was playing.

I worked on two series of paintings in my college courses. One featured large, dramatic skies and tiny houses that were almost like an afterthought on the landscape. The other series depicted large abstract horses, done using sponged on colors in unexpected hues: a red horse standing still, and a blue-green horse hunched over as if in a downpour of mottled paint/rain.

While I was taking those painting classes, in the last three years of college, I lived off-campus in a tiny New Hampshire town about twenty minutes away from the college I attended. My boyfriend at the time and I rented an apartment in an old farmhouse right on Main Street. In front of us lived an aging hippie couple who owned an iguana, and above us was a single lady with a prickly personality. The large attached barn behind our apartment was “The Happy Giraffe Barn,” filled with flea market wares sold by an older gentleman named Tom, but only on those certain weekend days he felt like selling things.

Hey, Mister – You Wanna Buy a Painting? Or, Something With Paint on it?

One year, when the Bradford Fourth of July celebration was coming up, I got the idea to sell my art at the street festival after the parade. People could just throw stuff out in front of their homes or businesses, and all those travelers who flocked to New England for vacation would no doubt be happy to wander up a quaint street to see what the locals had to offer. I would set my paintings out in front of the apartment building. The Happy Giraffe would be open for business. What could be better? I spent days beforehand sponge painting little clay pots and finishing a painting of a lighthouse that I was doing on the flat top of a small decorative bench. I even printed out little tags that I planned to tie onto my wares with craft ribbon.

On the day of the street fair, I set everything outside on tables and leaning against whatever sturdy things I could find. We put a couple of chairs out there, and even got a good view of the parade as it went by. Then, I waited for the crowds of people who would be making their way up and down the street. Sure, there were plenty of people, a steady stream throughout the day.

I cringe. Memories are sometimes painful, or painfully funny . . . or both!

I cringe. Memories are sometimes painful, or painfully funny . . . or both! P.S. Am I rockin’ the John Lennon sunglasses, or no? No . . .okay.

Not one of them bought any art. Not even a small clay pot. At the end of the street fair, I lugged every single thing back inside. Not one of my pieces had sold. I think I might have even given away some of the smaller items at a yard sale years later.

Was I embarrassed or discouraged? I’m sure I was.

But it didn’t stop me from doing virtually the same thing a few years later!

Miles of Art

This time, I lived in Augusta, Maine, and it was the summer after I graduated college. The University of Maine at Augusta did an event called “A Mile of Art.” There was a nice shaded trail on the university property, and for this one day, artists could rent space along that trail, set up a “booth” and sell to the people who apparently loved to combine hiking in nature with viewing art.

Let's go hiking, and . . . look at art.

Let’s go hiking, and . . . look at art.

Depending on where you were positioned, it could be quite a hike just to get to your designated spot! I had to back my car to the trail entrance, unload everything, lug paintings, tables, chairs and other art to my spot, and then set everything up. Then I sat all day as people floated by. Many stopped to look, and chat, but nobody bought anything – again. At the end of the day, there I was, lugging everything back to my car.

Needless to say, I didn’t sell anything.

My First (Gulp) “Commission” – A Complete Disaster

One of the things I liked to do, besides abstract paintings, was paint a portrait from a photo. Even though I got frustrated with realistic painting, mostly because I lacked the patience, for some reason I liked the challenge of turning a photo into a painting. That same summer, a group of people from out of state saw my paintings at The Mile of Art, and contacted me to paint from a photo they had of several family members. I thought I was being very official when I quoted them a price, and had them fill out a receipt for a down payment of the piece. (Of course I wouldn’t ask for it all up front! I would collect the remainder upon delivery like a good business person!) Could I be any more naive? After I had gotten started on the painting, I realized I had made a huge mistake. When I went to look at the receipt, I couldn’t read it at all. I had no idea what their names were, or even where they actually lived! Somewhere in Massachusetts? This was before the days of “Google everything” and social media, so I was pretty much stuck.

If I were to ever see them again, I would happily hand back that deposit with a sincere apology for being such a jackass.

It Took Years, But I Finally Learned From Those Art Fails

After that first summer back in Maine, I was hired as an elementary school teacher, and art went on the back burner for quite a while as my life went down several different paths. Art never disappeared completely, though. But because I tend to be shy, introverted, and overly sensitive, it took me a long time to get over the embarrassment I felt at “not being an artist” because I wasn’t able to sell my art.

The truth was, while it really was cringe-level embarrassing (My art, I mean. Did you see that pink horse head? Shudder), that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was learning that to be successful as an artist, or any creative person, it takes more than just talent or creativity. I could have developed my talent further and made some amazing stuff. The problem was that I lacked all the other things a successful artist needs:

1. Belief in myself. I was insecure and unsure of my ability.

2. Knowing that how you market your talent or creativity is often way more important than what you create. This is also true of marketing yourself as an artist.

3. Creating a realistic plan. Was it reasonable to think that an artist could make a living with what was basically an art yard sale? No. Never in a million years.

4. Not letting my mistakes define me. I thought because I had failures, I was a failure. Now I’m starting to see that how you handle the failures matters much more than having failed.

The girl in the photos is long gone. I’ve had so many new experiences and grown up in so many ways since I was her that I look at her in those photos like I would view a stranger.

There’s so much I could tell her, but none of it would matter because she had to learn it for herself.

Life is full of embarrassments, mistakes, and things that didn’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you’re worthless, incapable, or better off bagging groceries. (And I’m not knocking grocery baggers here, I promise!)

A real artist is one who creates art. When it rains, when it’s frustrating, when it’s sunny and you’d rather be outside. When your head hurts, or the kids are underfoot, or you sit for an hour and put one stroke on the canvas or add one note to the song. And if you want to make a living at it, you’ll learn how to market, how to position yourself, who your audience is, and what it takes to be a business person who creates.

You’ll do all the things it takes to be successful at your chosen pursuit, with the same belief and hope you had when you were young and naive, but now with experience and knowledge to get you where you want to go. And some days, when things get you down, you’ll have a good laugh when you think of your younger self, lugging a giant painting along a hiking trail in the middle of summer.


C’mon, spill! What are some cringe-worthy things you’ve done in your career? Let me know in the comments! P.S.- Bad fashion doesn’t count!


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