Does this even count if I didn't consistently want to be an artist?
I apparently first started telling family that I wanted to be an artist when I was about five years old. I took a HUGE interest in arts and crafts at school and tried to mimic these things at home. I used to watch Art Attack (and to an extent Bob Ross, but both my dad and grandmother would switch away from him after a short while for some reason).
There were occasions where my grandmother would let me paint with watercolours while watching Bob Ross, but this only happened a small handful of times to my recollection. She seemed to tolerate his show on occasion just to satisfy my artsy needs, I guess.
I remember asking for art supplies for Christmas for many years, or random crafty kits. I liked creating.
My dad was impressed by my skills, as he can't do that stuff. He always said he can't even draw a straight line with a ruler (which isn't true lol). My grandmother preferred I had colouring books, or paint-by-numbers books. She encouraged the skills, but was very much a "colour within the lines" type of encouraging. Only use the markers that came with the book, only paint with the colour that corresponds to the number. I stopped with colouring books when I got bored of following the rules.
Here is where the rant comes in though.
I never liked art in an academic setting. I don't mean daycare or kindergarten. I mean the stuff that was actually worth marks. This does stem back to finger painting (I guess I did mean kindergarten then haha), but there was an increasing resentment to do art related stuff for school as I grew older. I will list some of my more vivid memories as this rant goes on.
I also have had some people, even recently, who just don't know how to do anything other than be discouraging. I understand constructive criticism, and I do welcome it, but there is a difference between said criticism and simply looking down on someone for the sake of doing so.
Let's get the mom-related rants out of the way (hello, stalker!)
I remember when I was about four years old, there was one night (after dinner, after bath time, but before bed) I was sitting at the kitchen table in the town house we lived in at the time. I had a pile of sheets of paper at my disposal, and some watercolour paints. I believe I wanted to do Rugrats-style scribbles and try to tell a story though it (if ever you've seen an episode of Rugrats where one of the kids scribbles on a piece of paper to tell a story, you'll understand where my four year old mind was going with this). I started with black paint and began some triangle-shaped scribble. Then my mom walked into the kitchen, told me that is not how to do art, and then took the paint brush from me, and STARTED PAINTING ON THE SAME SHEET I WAS USING TO CREATE MY MASTERPIECE. She was telling me I should paint "pretty" things like scenery or landscapes, and then proceeded to blend warm colours and put a sunset on my paper. I was LIVID. I was taught by that point in my life to not grab a pen from someone and potentially scribble all over what might be important to them, but that just happened to me. I remember telling my mom she destroyed my painting. I told her to throw it out. She put the painting on top of the garbage can and said she didn't put it in the garbage because it was still wet (made no sense to me because it was just going in a bag anyway). She left the kitchen and my dad walks in, sees the painting on the garbage can, asked why it's there because "it's so pretty", and then I ranted to him about how my mom destroyed my work. He laughed it off and I remember getting annoyed that he didn't take me seriously.
I repainted exactly what was thrown out, partly to vent, partly to mock, partly because that may have been the first time I was given permission to mix or blend paints without being told I'm either going to destroy the brush or the paints.
In case anyone is curious what came from this painting, I do have a version of the piece posted, but I did some enhancements to it before I posted it here on DA:
This is a case of not wanting to say what really happened in the description of the piece. The vertical mirror effect is a digital enhancement, but that is something I did traditionally as a child, so I felt it was an appropriate enhancement. The reason I titled it "Hey Bulldog" is because the mirror effect kind of creates a bulldog face in the centre of the piece.
There was another mom-related situation when I was six years old. I was trying to draw Sailor Moon. I had recently learned about outlining drawings (inking, I guess) from an episode of Art Attack. The way I outlined art as a kid was to literally outline EVERY piece of line work, not just the outsides or most prominent pieces of the art. That criticism I took in stride. The, "that's not how you draw a person, look at me draw it better than you" part of the criticism is what didn't sit well with me. I was criticized by my mom about not being able to draw a full human figure properly (at six years old - at least I wasn't drawing stick figures still), but the example she drew was only a head shot of Sailor Moon, and she gave Sailor Moon freckles, and I just felt it looked ugly because "that's not how you draw Sailor Moon" (she insisted that it was EXACTLY how Sailor Moon looked, including the freckles). I took my piece and my mom's drawing upstairs to my dad in the music room and asked him which one looked better. He said mine looked better (damn right he did! lol), and then I ranted to him about what happened and he laughed it off and told me not to worry about it.
The last mom-related art incident is a fun one, as it implied a double standard. My mom used to accuse my dad of helping me too much with my homework. I used him as a proofreader mostly because I struggled to differentiate between quotations and parentheses up until grade 2. My mom interpreted this as my dad telling me what to write for creative writing projects or journal assignments. He used to read what I wrote out loud and occasionally tell me to rewrite a sentence that sounded too bland, but he didn't tell me outright what to write. These accusations from my mom stopped around the end of grade 2.
So let's fast forward to grade 4!
My grade 4 teacher was a sports buff. A nice teacher, but moody as all hell when teams he rooted for lost. More on him later, because he's not exempt from this "you don't know how to criticize a child interested in art" rant.
My teacher had us sit in groups in the class. Every week we would change groups. Every week the groups had a different theme, and someone in the group would have to draw something that represented that group's theme for the week. The groups collected points based on good behaviour and other positive things, and the group with the most points got to decide activities for spare time (and sometimes phys ed) for the end of that week.
This one week, our groups all had Canadian team assigned to them. American football teams. Canadian American football teams. Canadian football teams? Not soccer is what I'm getting at lol. We were assigned the Calgary Stampeders, and we had to draw their logo (a galloping horse). I was appointed by the group to draw the logo.
So I went home and I drew the logo. I didn't trace it (I think I just remembered an additional mom rant! haha). I drew it while looking at a reference. I got the form right, and if the horse was a little overweight I had the anatomy right.
My mom thought it looked terrible, redrew the horse in front of me, and told me to submit hers instead of mine because mine was bad and hers looked better.
Yet my father was the one who helped to much with school stuff....
If I remember correctly, I took both pieces to school, and explained to my group and teacher what happened, and he brushed it off because this assignment technically wasn't worth marks. I was mad that the teacher didn't think this was a big deal, as this messed with my integrity a little, and I've already had more than half my life (at that point lol) of pent up rage that my mom was more focused on showing how she can do art better rather than actually knowing how to teach or encourage. Her painting is better because she blends and makes scenes. Her humans are better because freckles and no outlining. Her horses are better because they're not fat. These were not "here is how to do it better" situations. They were "watch me be better than you" situations.
The tracing incident was weird. When I first got into Pokemon, I struggled a lot to draw even the simplest ones for some reason. I could draw animals. I could draw other anime-related stuff. But to draw anime animals of sorts? Couldn't do it for some reason. So I got a Pokemon ultimate handbook from a Scholastic book fair, and I traced my favourite Pokemon. One night I was tracing away, and my mom came in and started telling me about copyright infringement, lying about the originality of my work, how working in ink right off the bat makes the authenticity of my work questionable because "nobody works with ink without a pencil base first". I was literally just trying to make art for fun, tracing to practice what I can now draw by hand freely. I wasn't taking credit or saying the pieces were my original work. I admitted to tracing them. I admitted it was practice, but it was also fun. I didn't realize that tracing something that next to no one is going to see would mean that I am a liar. Pretty deep art talk for a ten year old trying to unwind after school.
Oh, wait! There's ONE MORE time I just remembered! I haven't even gotten to the teachers or my adult experiences yet!
This isn't even touching on the stuff she said to my teachers after my parents split up, but I'm going to shove that stuff into the teachers section, because the message came from a teacher.
There was this one day where my mom and I were at my uncle's trailer. My aunt was with my cousin (who was still a baby at the time). We were in the kitchen part of the trailer. There were little dinosaur stencils, a pad of paper, and an inking pen (or some sort of smooth black pen) on the table for me to entertain myself with. I started tracing the dinosaurs, and I coloured them in with the black pen. My colouring wasn't solid (it was almost solid, but kind of scratchy - not bad for a six year old if you ask me). My mom told me that my colouring skills were bad, so she grabbed a piece of paper, traced her own dinosaurs from the stencils, and then showed me how hers looked better when they were coloured in. She didn't tell me how to gain that control. She just showed me that SHE could do it and that mine were bad in comparison.
Let's talk about academic life!
Finger painting in junior kindergarten:
I did the green hand piece on cloth where my hand had to repeat itself in a wreath pattern. I had no choice but to follow the rules on this one because the teacher was literally doing all the work for me. She had me by the wrist, dipped my hand in the paint, and placed my hand where she wanted it to be on the cloth.
The second finger painting was on a 16x20 glossy piece of paper, with orange paint. I wanted to be more abstract and smudge the paint with only minimal hand prints. I remember getting in trouble for not following the rules because my hands had to be the only markings on the painting or something. I liked my creation with all the orange smudged everywhere. My teacher said I was wrong, though.
I had a similar painting incident in senior kindergarten, but with sponge painting. There were sponges cut into various shapes and we were supposed to use them as stamps. We would dip them into acrylic paints and stamp them onto either construction paper or recycled paper. What I wanted to do in this scenario was similar to the orange finger painting, but with the added bonus of blending paints, just like my mom nagged me about!
My senior kindergarten teacher did this thing when she was trying to express that she was upset....it felt like a scene out of the Big Comfy Couch. She would stomp her feet and cross her arms, look down at her feet, shake her head and make a pouty face. Like a very 90's, animated "I'm mad" pose.
I had that happen to me when she saw my art.
Somehow for the entirety of grade 1 I had no art-related criticisms!
Then in grade 2 I had a teacher who hated minimalist work. Every page that had art as a requirement for journals or creative writing needed to have the complete designated space completely saturated in art. I actually felt somehow restricted by always having to fill a complete space. I also was annoyed as to how many pencil crayons I used up over the course of that school year. I found this as an annoyance, but I do feel it has shaped me into part of the artist I am now, as I feel a little incomplete if I can't fill an entire canvas with colour in some way.
Fast forward to grade 4! My teacher started the school year with the phrase, "good work takes time." That was his mantra. He didn't like to pressure students into finishing on time, and would only penalize for lateness if homework wasn't finished by the end of last recess on the day that it was due (or the day after for some homework). He also had this weird ice breaker story at the start of the school year about encountering a pink gorilla, but that has nothing to do with anything lol.
Anyway, there was this one assignment where we had to make a knight in shining armour as a mosaic. We were each given a black piece of construction paper, and a piece of shiny silver peel and stick paper that we had to cut up into tiny pieces and use to make our knight. About 90% of the class was not able to finish this assignment in time for the due date. This was probably the first assignment I remember stressing over, as I worked non-stop on this thing and was making no progress. So I, as with the majority of the class, stayed in for recess the day the assignment was due. I was actually annoyed that this piece was taking so long to finish. I remember hearing the teacher say, "There's going to be a lot of people getting C's and D's on this assignment!" That was in reference to late marks or something. He happened to be passing by my desk as he said that. I just stopped and looked at him and said, "Whatever happened to 'good work takes time'?" All he had to say was, "Well, you know..." I was not impressed.
This same teacher also played favourites with male students. I was the top smart girl in the class, and there was a top smart boy as well. There was one music assignment where we had to build an instrument. I did a glass xylophone. My dad mentioned to smart boy's mom that I'm doing a glass xylophone. Smart boy also does a glass xylophone. Students liked mine better. I got a 99 on the project and smart boy got 100. Students agreed that the only reason I didn't get the 100% was because I wasn't a boy. There was even enough evidence that the parent of smart boy deliberately copied my idea to try and one-up me on the project, but I still got the lower mark. Fun times!
Grade 5 and 6 kind of mesh together in my mind, because I had the same teacher. This was around the time that my parents broke up, so my mom was back on her kick that my dad thinks for me and does everything for me and all that jazz. Some weird other effect to my mom's weirdness was criticizing my art assignments.
Now that I think about it, I distinctly remember writing my lawyer about how I don't want my mom to see any of my academic work....I guess my words meant nothing in a legal setting as an 11 year old.
My teacher had either a phone call or in person meeting of sorts with my mom. Aside from my mom asking my teacher weird questions like, "is she shaving under her arms?" (not that a teacher would notice this because of school dress code), or "how's the dog?" (dog mysteriously sick when she asks the teacher how the dog is), she had told my teacher that my choices in colours for my art-related assignments are not bright enough, therefore I am depressed and lacking something in my life, and somehow that meant that I had to see my mom (someone was never taught that no means no lol). Now, you all see my gallery. That's nothing but colours exploding out of anywhere and everywhere. I've always liked using lots of different colours. The only times I limited myself with colours as a child were when I was short on pencil crayons or was asked to use specific colours for an assignment. I was annoyed but managed to laugh off the comment. I'm sure my teacher brought it up because there had to be concern expressed that I'm not depressed or missing my mom or otherwise under whatever restrictions my mom thinks my dad placed me under.
I remember bringing that up in a Rainbows meeting, run by my grade 5/6 teacher. Rainbows is a group meeting thing for students experiencing hardships such as divorce or loss in the family, or abusive relationships, etc. My teacher, like most adults, didn't seem to know how to respond to the passion/anger behind my art being criticized, so like most adults she laughed it off. I was annoyed that even when she wasn't around, my mom still managed to tell me my art is shit somehow. Sucks that my teacher was the messenger for this, and I never thought to go into detail about everything I just mentioned beforehand and how that may have led to my reaction.
I also had a French teacher who was really artsy. Except she only liked "solid colours" with pencil crayons. No markers. Only pencil crayons. No shading or gradients with the pencil crayons. Only solid colours. All art-related French assignments had marks seriously docked if we did anything other than solid colours with pencil crayons. She even did some students' assignments as "examples" and automatically gave 100's to the students she coloured in assignments for herself. I found this more as quirky than anything else, but whenever I use pencil crayons now, I still silently mock the "solid colours" thing in my mind and then go ahead with my gradients and shading.
My grade 7 teacher was extremely flighty. She seemed lost - as if she didn't understand anything going on around her. I think the year she taught my grade 7 class may have been her first year as a teacher altogether. It was definitely her first time at my elementary school.
This teacher gave the impression that she didn't understand the assignments she had to give us, nor did she understand how each student had their own unique way of interpreting said assignments. This was tricky for creative assignments.
There was one in-class assignment we had that was a music/art combo assignment. We had to listen to music, and at the top of a blank page draw a sound wave that would be our interpretation of how the song felt. The rest of the page was to be used for drawing a picture that we felt related to the music. This was a very subjective assignment that could have so many different results for each song played. I got relatively low marks on this assignment. I challenged the teacher on how she could mark so harshly on an assignment that's open to each listener's own personal interpretation of the music. She looked super confused, her eyes bulged out a little, and she just said, "What do you mean? I don't understand." After explaining what I meant a couple more times and still being greeted by the confusion of someone twice my age that's teaching me and should be smarter than me on that basis, I just gave up and accepted whatever my final grade on the assignment was.
Grade 8 was fun. Had a teacher that "loved art" and hated math, and gave lots of art assignments. I have one beef out of all the assignments I had in this class. We had to do a perspective drawing of our room, and turn it into an abstract piece. I did as I was told, and then came back on the day the assignment was due only to find out the teacher changed his mind and wanted a semi-realism or hyper-realism piece instead. I still got a decent mark, though, because this teacher had a way of creating marking schemes where the structure of the assignment meant more than the content. As an aside, I exploited this marking scheme to get out of having to read books for book reports, because the structure of writing the essay would guarantee an 80% with his marking schemes, even if there is little to no evidence that the book itself hadn't been read.
I didn't pursue visual arts in high school, as I was far more interested in music, and I also had so many awkward experiences with visual arts in both my personal and academic life up until this point that I really didn't want to deal with that crap. I heard the main art teacher in my high school was a bit on the arrogant side and a little elitist with how he provided criticism towards his students. I felt like I dodged a bullet there, to be honest.
Having said that, I did art-related things within my high school. As far as I'm aware, there is a quilt still hanging above the main office that contains one square I made. There is another quilt in the room connected to the school's chapel that also has a square I worked on (this one was more of a collaboration whereas the other one was all my creation). Grade 11 would have been the first time that I showed off my modeling clay skills to anyone outside of my household. I made game pieces for a board game (Egyptian pharaoh game pieces), and my history teacher fell in love with them. Three out of four of those game pieces might still be on my teacher's desk (if he hasn't retired yet). Not sure where the fourth game piece went. There's a chance he broke it. There's a chance that my best friend at the time wanted to keep one, because she was trying to take credit for them (she made the dice for the game out of modelling clay, as well as designing the game board). Overall, my visual art experiences were far more positive in high school, but I also didn't have my mom breathing down my neck about how shit my art was, nor did I have any teachers grading my art with their own art or gender related biases. My history teacher REALLY encouraged the creative stuff, and did so in the most un-biased way imaginable. It was great.
As for adult related art experiences....
I had a friend who said my art was juvenile/childish. She found my DA profile while stalking me online and told me all about how my art is simple and juvenile. I am no longer friends with this girl, but it had nothing to do with her critique of my work. It had WAY more to do with her aggressively flirting with me, convincing herself that I needed a roommate and her and I are going to be living together, always trying to make plans with me alone (she was technically my ex's friend, not mine), always trying to either sleep over at my place or encouraging me to sleep over at her place, and strongly suggesting I break up with my ex literally years before I was ready to break up with my ex. All digressing aside, I took her art critique with a grain of salt, as I hadn't seen her do anything artsy herself.
I also had (or have but am not in touch with) a male friend who went to OCAD. I showed him a few abstract pieces I have on this DA profile. He told me they were fantastic and filled with emotion/passion. Then I invite him into my apartment to show him some traditional pieces I made that are hanging on my walls, and he did a complete about face about my artwork. It was the strangest thing, and it left me more confused than hurt. This guy does seem to have his own demons to deal with so I didn't take it too harshly when he had his about-face moments.
I actually had great experiences in college with visual arts assignments. I had my guard up about grading art and the subjectivity behind it. I didn't experience that so much with the foundation course I took, or even the first year of game dev. If I received a lower grade, the teachers would explain exactly why, and I felt I could improve upon things. It was the animation stuff where things felt they were getting more subjective again, and it was one of many reasons I decided to drop out of game dev.
The only incident I had in college that annoyed me was when I had to do a perspective drawing/light study of a part of Union Station (anywhere I chose), and my teacher was accusing me and literally arguing with me that I was using a photo reference rather than a real life reference, and that there was photo distortion present in my drawing because of this. She sent me back to Union Station to re-draw the piece rather than doing whatever she had assigned in class that day. The following week I showed her the same piece (didn't redraw anything) and she had no issues with the piece. This was in the Art and Design Foundation course, not Game Dev, in case anyone is curious (not that it matters with this whole strike situation going on now).
I'd say that the most recent, and probably the most annoying of someone close to me being an art critic is concerned would be the boyfriend telling me that one of my game dev ideas was "nothing special". If it were anyone else I would have been able to brush off the comment, but this is someone who to date has no initiative to work on his own ideas, but he had the audacity to insult me breaking free from homework to try something new/try to get ahead/have a unique portfolio piece. When I called him on this comment months later, he pretended is was a big miscommunication (he's done this before with other situations), but then still stood by his initial sentiment that it wasn't anything special, but then said he would promote the hell out of any game I complete anyway (I don't want someone insulting my work with no feedback to back up the statement to be promoting my work in all due honesty). There have been other instances with other art or game dev ideas where if I show my work to my boyfriend, he says the work is "just okay", or he will shrug when I ask him what he thinks (just a non-verbal shrug). This guy wants to be an art director but doesn't know how to give feedback when it's asked of him....yeah....
My solution to the boyfriend narcissist/jealousy/insult reactions is to no longer ask him for feedback, no longer work on my projects around him (only work on days he's not visiting), and essentially never ask him for assistance even though we are aiming to be in the same field of work and could be a good team if he didn't have this weird desire to not want to say anything positive about my ambitions. I hope he snaps out of this before we ever discuss living together.
I was going to touch on chalk marker creations at Starbucks, but I did refuse to do these on many occasions because of how much being a lefty makes working with chalk markers super messy. There were also partners at Starbucks that were WAY better than me at drawing on those boards with those markers. I did do some of the chalk marker drawings once all the talented ones left, but I really wasn't a fan of doing these. I was told that the ones I drew were nice, but I personally didn't like them.
How has this all affected me as an artist?
I feel quite a few instances of imposter syndrome. Am I as good as my online connections say I am, or am I the crap artist that my mom thought I was? Am I actually improving? Is the feedback that I received growing up affecting my ability to think outside the box? Is the lack of support from someone I am in a relationship with (and in the same field as me) affecting my desire to improve?
My experiences do make me question what or whose best interest the adults in my life were taking into consideration with the way they "taught" art. There are so many people on this site alone that know how to communicate what looks wrong and how to improve it, but the adults in my life that are directly involved in providing this type of feedback didn't know how to do so when it mattered (yes, I'm referring to my teachers). In many ways I am a self starter, but constant awkwardness and discouragement does chip away at even the toughest people over time. Maybe one day I'll write an epic journal about why I gave up on being a drummer, as it has a very similar series of experiences that my art journey has.
I have days where I'm super motivated to work on game concept art or even do an abstract piece, and then I get flooded with thoughts induced by these memories and I lose all motivation not only for art for that day, but for anything else I set out to do. It's weird. It's not even a "dwelling on the past" scenario because I feel like I put most of this stuff behind me, but then it all creeps up on me when I least suspect it and affects whatever I set out to do that triggered those memories in the first place. Let's be real - 24 out of 28 years of my life I've had more negative than positive interactions when it comes to my art - that will have an affect on someone no matter how stubborn they are. It clearly hasn't stopped me from trying, but it has slowed me down drastically.
Long story short, if you want to help someone, learn how to communicate. You never know how much of an impact your words or actions may have on someone, especially when they are young and reaching out for proper feedback. Adults need to learn how to adult if they are to be accountable to the upbringing of future adults.
On that note, I feel LOADS better getting this all off my chest. I might do the same and have a tell-all about my attempts to play the drums growing up, as that's a recurring bit of negativity that pops into my brain every once in a while. It will be interesting to see if no longer internalizing these things will help me stop thinking about them....I don't necessarily want closure on these things so much to get them of my chest, I guess.
Thanks for reading if you made it all the way down to the end!