Drawing always felt like it was something other people did. People with a natural talent… like artists. People like me looked longingly at art supplies (maybe even sometimes bought a sketchbook and a pen) but never actually “drew” with them!
Back in the early 2000′s I was spending a lot of time in bed. I’d been diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy (commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and I was feeling very low. There was very little joy in my life.
For years I’d look on enviously at those of my friends who had taken art classes at school, some of whom had gone on to art school and were now practicing artists. At 32, ill in bed and feeling as though I had no talent it seemed as though it was too late for me to even start to try and draw let alone become an artist.
For my 32nd birthday a friend gave me a very small sketchbook and a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. At first Julia’s wonderful ideas for discovering our artist-selves seemed to be merely taunting me. I was only able to sustain reading for very short periods of time let alone work up the energy to act on them. But slowly – very slowly – I did work my way through her book in 20-minute sessions.
I felt encouraged and empowered by Julia’s advice that it was never too late for us to start thinking of ourselves as artists, I began to shift my twenty minutes of reading to spending twenty minutes with my new sketchbook. Because I was in bed most of the time I had to practice drawing the everyday and ordinary things around me — a pile of books, my teapot (I drew my teapot a lot), or my bottles of medicines.
Those early drawings, as bad as I’m sure they were, ignited a spark in me. There was something life affirming about really looking at the things around me, and then doing my best to replicate the shapes I saw.
As my health improved (I’ve no proof that it was learning to draw that helped me physically, but I can’t help suspecting it was), I began to attend a weekly drawing class. My confidence grew. In 2004 I began blogging. I wrote a little about how I was doing health-wise and made a small drawing of something that was in front of me to accompany the blog. And I still worked in my 20-minute chunks of time.
Today, I still tend to draw in short spurts. I still draw the things around me. But now I think of what I am doing as “drawing my life.” By doing so I’ve learnt to see the joy in the mundane. I’ve learnt that taking just small steps to do something creative builds over time into a substantial body of work. I’ve learnt that it’s never too late to start to think of one’s self as an artist.
Michael Nobbs is an artist, blogger and tea drinker — not necessarily in that order. In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and now blogs and tweets about drawing, keeping things simple, and maintaining a creative career despite limited energy. His book, Drawing Your Life: Learn to See Record and Appreciate Life’s Small Joys has just been published by Perigee/Penguin. Check out his website at: http://www.sustainablycreative.com.
Follow him on Twitter @michaelnobbs