When I need a creative outlet away from the computer I often turn to baking.  It is a great way for me to let my right brain percolate and to allow the plot twists to work themselves out.  The downside to this approach is that I end up with too many cookies to tempt and a kitchen that is a wreck.  So I decided this time instead of reaching for the pots and pans, I’d sign up for an art class.  I know nothing about art so I selected a mixed media class ‘open to all levels.’

The instant I received the supply list from the instructor, I knew I was out of my element.  It took three craft stores, several hours and lots of questions before I’d assembled the basic supplies.  I didn’t like not knowing what I was doing.  I missed my cooking classes where I felt at home with the equipment, terms and techniques.  But I reminded myself that this was about creativity and sometimes being creative means trying the unfamiliar.

So what did I learn?

Sketch Book.  I didn’t realize how much artists preplan what they are going to create.  Many keep a sketchbook that they hold close at hand.  That book is where they can experiment and try different ideas without worrying about review or criticism.  Reminded me a lot of the notebook (or scraps of paper) I carry around when a story is brewing.  I am forever making notes, crossing out ideas, and most often reworking the concepts for greater depth and meaning.  And just as our art teacher would not share her sketchbook with us, I would never share my notes and scribblings even after the book is finished.

Exercises.  We started off class with a few art exercises.  Kind of like warm up for the primary piece we would work on in the afternoon.  This was our time to not only get used to the paints and papers but to figure out what appealed to us.  These exercises were all about discovery.  What colors did I like?  What shapes resonated?  Did I prefer pastels to ink?  Reminded me a lot of free writing…those pages I write in the morning before tackling the day’s work.  Free writing is my chance to experiment, to discover.  Instead of paints and charcoals I’m dabbling with point of view, setting, character motivations, or literary devices, but the concept is exactly the same.

Failing.  When I started writing years ago, I expected the words to flow perfectly.  Of course they did not.  And it wasn’t surprising that my first attempts in art class were dismal.  I didn’t have the right paper, broke two sponge brushes in the first five minutes, and got paint in my hair.  But with a little borrowed paper, more brushes and a promise to wash my hair, I kept working.  After a while I got more and more comfortable with the techniques and images.  Now I didn’t produce world-class art but I did get better over the course of the class.  I was reminded of something I often say to would-be writers all the time when our art teacher said, “Failings are lessons.”   You can’t let failures stop you.

The day ended up being great fun.  I not only came away with a few pieces of art and the desire to try again, but with a few more plot twists and turns for the latest book.