As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I grew up drawing constantly. I was as obsessive as about art as I was about horses and no blank surface was safe from me, including my bedroom walls (sorry mum). I used to carry art materials everywhere, even sleeping curled around piles of books and art things like a dragon with it’s hoard of treasure.
The subject of my art was almost always the same – horses. I recall the exasperated queries of “don’t you ever draw anything else?!” on many occasions from peers and family members. Proudly showing off my latest magnum opus often netted the disappointing response of “oh, another horse”. In my teenage years dragons joined the horses for some variety.
All was bowling along quite well with my art despite setbacks with mental health starting to crop up in my teenage years. With medication I managed to finish high school, complete a diploma in multimedia and then a diploma in graphic art. Partway through the graphic design course, my doctor switched me from my no-longer functioning medication to a new one and everything came to a crashing halt. I no longer seemed able to create anything without a lot of effort and it slipped away more and more until one day in my early 20s I looked back and wondered what had happened.
The next ten years were a desert wasteland as far as art was concerned, even though I only took that medication for a few of those years. I recall many hours spent in frustration with a pencil and a blank pad, just willing anything to come to mind so I could draw it. Even drawing from references seemed to go wrong most of the time. I couldn’t form mental images properly anymore and whatever magical connection I’d once had between my brain and my drawing hand seemed to have been severed. On a very few occasions I managed to do something of worth, but they were years apart.
On the plus side I was able to gain employment and keep it for a short time, but it became apparent that the medication was only useful to a point. Once the descent into anxiety began to uncontrollably snowball, I would have to quit and recuperate and start the process anew. Eventually I sunk into a kind of ennui – unable to find any self worth and plagued by everything in life presenting a massive battle, no longer able to find identity in my art or find a foothold in living an “adult” life. I just gave up. I had no other options at this point as I had no idea what was wrong with me. Depression became a constant friend alongside anxiety
In 2011, after ten long years of this, I had resigned myself to shelving “artist” as part of my identity. I was sure it was never going to return so you can imagine my shock when one evening I was suddenly moved to pick up a pencil and draw a picture from a coffee table book and not only was it suddenly easy to do again, it was also exciting! I relished every moment of it and I wanted to keep going. Suddenly my motivation and ability roared back to life and I was consumed with the desire to draw once more!
Initially things were quite sketchy. Realism with not a whole lot of detail, similar to what I used to do before my art skills deserted me. However it quickly morphed into something else again. It was as though I hadn’t lost that 10 years at all and I had spent all my time practicing instead! Below are three of my artworks from 2011/2012. The first two show my rapid progression in handling graphite. In the third image I decided to try my hand at painting in acrylics and researched what to do online, producing this as my first attempt.
I went on to try coloured pencil, scratchboard and various other art mediums, finding them all relatively easy to pick up with minimal practice. This is not how things used to be when I was younger – new skills came along very slowly with much practice back then. In fact it was so weird to me that I had a lot of trouble accepting that it was “real”, that it was my own art and not somehow some trick life was playing on me. I started exhibiting and winning awards and the weight of feeling like a giant fraud began to press on me so heavily that I dissolved into debilitating anxiety again.
I had immense trouble accepting compliments and talking to people about my art. At exhibitions I learnt to say “thank you” instead of doing a rabbit in headlights impersonation, however I was (and still am) at a complete loss over how to respond if they continued heaping praise on me. One of my pencil works “Black Caviar: Intensity” (pictured above) was accepted into the Inglis Equine Art Prize, a big deal thoroughbred art competition run by the racing industry in Australia. It went on tour around the country, but I hadn’t reckoned on the press suddenly taking an interest. One interview later and I disappeared into total panic, shut up shop completely, withdrew from the public and stopped doing art for a time. I was not at all equipped to deal with any of it.
What I had was “Imposter Syndrome“. Combined with major social anxiety and generalised anxiety, which I have since learned are related to challenges I have being on the autism spectrum, it was just too much for me to deal with. Once more I thought my art had deserted me. My motivation was gone, my ability to find any joy in any of it was shredded to ribbons. In my next blog post I’ll write about how it came back again and how it had changed – again!