When I was a small child, even before I was in kindergarten, I would often wake up in the middle of the night with brightly colored visions of animals floating around my room. The next day as my mother was straightening my room in the bright, sunlit morning; I saw all of the animals floating around again, just as they had the night before, only in pastels rather than bright colors. One time, I was afraid at night and on my way to my parent’s bedroom, as I walked through the living room, I encountered a huge life sized elephant. I must have figured that this was normal because I was so young, and life went on as usual. As I look back on my years in elementary school, I realize that I had very few verbal skills and that my mind did not connect the same way as my classmates. But I did have a talent for art. Since I was five years old, I considered myself an artist. My parents told me that my kindergarten drawing was beautiful and I believed them. I never forgot it! I think there must have been natural talent inside me that attracted feedback from friends, neighbors and teachers reinforcing the belief in myself as an artist. This became my identity and who I was. My life depended on it! In junior high and high school, the little girl named Therese McMahan had her picture in the local paper a few times, and there was more recognition for her artwork through the years.
"Walking Home from School" mid 50's
But the problem was, she expected approval from people and if there was no prize or compliment for the beautiful creation, she felt unaccepted!! My art was everything to me; it meant more to me than just being good at something. It was my way of connecting with people, perhaps in an unbalanced way, since I was so shy and had no other way of expressing what was inside me. I could draw something, but I couldn’t say it using words! I depended upon others to talk about what I was doing, but I could not think of a way to say it myself. I could see that my artwork was beautiful to some people, but I had such low self esteem and I felt so different from other kids that I had to reject my art, unless someone else liked it. I just didn’t believe in my self. Other people had to tell me it was ok.
I'm the cute one (as my mom said) on the lower left.
As you can see, I’m no longer the little girl, Therese McMahan; As an adult, I’m Therese May and I may choose my own style. What I do now is give myself permission to act from my heart in whatever I’m doing and let go of attachment to what others think. And I want you, too, to experience the creative freedom to be yourself as an artist. I encourage you to give yourself that same permission.
Cuz the more you do your own work just for you, the happier you’ll be and the more authentic you’ll be when you create for someone else. The choice is to give yourself freedom to do you. Each one of you is a unique expression and your style is like your DNA. You may learn techniques and materials from teachers, but like penmanship, with practice each of you develops your own signature style. The same is true of artwork, when it’s done from the heart and from the Spirit it’s totally you.