Discover more from Diane V. Mulligan - Teacher, Novelist, Artist
Prelude: On being a paint waster
Allow me to introduce the Paint Wasters’ Club with a little explanation the title of this newsletter, a sketchbook prompt, and a book recommendation.
Update, September 23, 2023: When I first started by Substack, I called it “The Paint Wasters’ Club,” and you can read all about that below. I have since, however, changed the title to simply: Diane V Mulligan - Teacher, Novelist, Author. I made this change for a few reasons. The primary one is that I realized that I was basically hiding behind the original title. I was afraid that—although I am the actual author of three novels and two novellas with experience as a lit mag editor, and although I have over two decades experience as a teacher, and although I am a practicing artist—no one would want to read my musings. I had a doubtful voice in my head saying, “You’re just a self-published author. You’re just a high school teacher. You’re just a hobbyist.” But I had things to say! So I thought that if I called my substack a “club,” it might somehow seem more legit. I have since come to realize that—drumroll please—my substack is legit. Full stop. I don’t need to pretend it’s a club. It’s just me, sharing thoughts with whoever is interested. So I’m going to own that. (With lots of true and encouraging self-affirmations: “You are an award-winning self-published author. You are a very good high school teacher. You are a painter.”)
Also, I realized I want to write about all the things I love, not just about painting. I wanted to celebrate being a multi-passionate person. So, effective now, the scope of this substack is increasing. I do hope you enjoy!
That said, all the stuff I originally said about being a Paint Waster is still true, so please enjoy the post below.
The Original Post…
Welcome to The Paint Wasters’ Club, a space for anyone who wants to find more time in their life for creative play and self-expression. The newsletter will officially launch with Volume 1 on August 1, 2023, with updates on the first and fifteenth of each month. For now, please enjoy this preview of what you can expect if you subscribe (and I hope you will!).
Who is the Paint Wasters’ Club for?
If you remember the joyful abandon of coloring outside the lines of your coloring book as a child and you want some of the happy abandon back but aren’t sure where to start, this newsletter is for you!
This newsletter is for anyone who feels the impulse to make art but who has a little voice in their head that says making art is frivolous, making art is a waste of time, making art is not as important as all the other things they should be doing, and on and on. One week at a time, I aim to help you turn that voice down and tune into your inner artist. This newsletter is for you if you’ve ever grabbed your supplies and said, “But what if this is all just a waste of paint (or paper or time)?”
You didn’t think it was a waste of paint or paper or time when you were a kid scribbling madly all over the page, did you? And even now, when you see children enthusiastically splashing colors all over pads of paper, you never think, “What a waste of time.” No, you probably think, “How great that that child is being creative and doing something other than watching TV or playing video games.” And yet, when you toy with the idea of doing some drawing or painting yourself, it’s a waste of time and supplies. Why is that?
Somewhere along the line, many of us internalized the idea that creative play was childish and that, unless we were exceptionally gifted and therefore able to support ourselves financially through art, we shouldn’t bother. Somehow we got the sense that making art was frivolous and that we should use our time more wisely.
It’s funny to me that we don’t tend to impose the same criticism on other types of play, like, say, golf. The world is full of adults who play golf just for fun. They spend a lot of money on clubs, lessons, greens fees, apparel, tournaments, and so on. They spend huge amounts of time, as golf is a famously slow game. These are people with normal jobs who know that they are never going to be professional golfers. Most of them know they aren’t even ever going to win a local tournament. Still, they put time and resources into this hobby. They like to play, so they play. Why should creative play be any different? Why are games like golf somehow more socially acceptable than spending a few hours painting?
Maybe it’s because golf is primarily a wealthy person’s game. Maybe it’s because golf is often a social activity, whereas making art is usually a solo activity. I’m sure I can find a ton of flaws in my analogy (such as the fact that loads of people do consider golf a waste of time), but it’s not just golf: Plenty of adults play recreational sports or play video games or regularly press play on one Netflix show after the other. Creative play is no more a waste of time than any of those things. Indeed, I would say it is far less of a waste of time than playing video games or watching TV. And yet, for many of us, the notion that it is a childish way to pass the time is enough to stop us before we even get started.
Personally, I have no idea where I got the idea that making art was not a good use of my time. It wasn’t from my family, who always encouraged me to paint. Wherever it came from, this notion that there was no point in making art because I wasn’t ever going to be a “real” artist took hold and I didn’t touch my art supplies for about two decades. I finally came back to my easel and paints in the late fall of 2020. COVID rules meant that I was spending much of the day tied to a computer screen, and I needed something to help me get away from my devices. The more I painted, the more I wanted to paint, until the room that was formerly my home office and writing space became my art studio. I can write anywhere, but I needed a place to set up my paints so I could use them any moment that the impulse struck. I cleared away my writing books and replaced them with painting books. I covered my desk with a vinyl table cloth and I turned the tiny room into an art haven.
I mostly paint in sketchbooks. I paint for myself and for the experience of painting. Every now and then a thought of selling a painting pops into my head, and I do occasionally sell paintings when the opportunity arises, but that is so far from my motivation that I would say it is not a factor at all. For me, The value in painting is in the experience, not the outcome. If I feel anxious, stressed, frustrated, angry, or sad, I can go to my desk and paint, and soon I am so absorbed in what I am doing that I am completely at ease. I wouldn’t call it cathartic—I don’t exactly paint my feelings—but it is therapeutic.
Do I ever feel guilty, like I am wasting time and materials and space in my home to do something that is solely for myself? Sometimes. But mostly I feel so peaceful and happy when I am at my desk painting that the critical voice goes quiet.
It is my mission and passion to help others unleash their creativity and reap the benefits of creative freedom beyond the page or canvas because I think making art can improve a person’s daily life. I am here to tell you that it’s never a waste of paint or paper or time to unleash your creativity, no matter the outcome of your efforts. “Wasting” paint is part of being an artist, so next time your inner critic says, “That was a waste of paint,” I want you to turn around and say with a smile, “Yep, that’s right, wasting paint in the activity I’m engaged in today,” and then get right back to what you were doing. In other words, being a paint waster is a point of pride, not something to feel bad about! Take that criticism back and embrace it. Become a paint waster! It might just change your life.
Let’s get started right now with your first sketchbook prompt!
A SKETCHBOOK PROMPT TO GET YOU STARTED
You don’t need any particular art supplies for this task. A child’s play watercolor set or acrylic craft paint will do just fine. I do recommend using an actual sketchbook that you will continue to fill throughout our journey together, but if all you have is loose paper, that works, too.
If you already have a sketchbook in progress, that’s great! Open it up to a blank page and enjoy today’s prompt. If you are cracking open a new sketchbook for the first time today, congratulations! Let’s get you over the fear of the blank page or the fear of messing up your nice book or the fear of not being good enough.
For our first prompt, let’s begin with a centering exercise that pairs the movement of your pen with your breath. This exercise is adapted from the Draw Together podcast by Wendy Mac.
Your sketchbook or a blank piece of paper (but a sketchbook is recommended)
A pen or fine-tipped marker or colored pencil (but not a pencil that erases!)
Watercolor paints or another type of paint such as acrylic or gouache that can be diluted to appear transparent.
Step 1: Choose three colors that feel joyful to you.
There are no right or wrong answers. This is an entirely personal response, so choose whatever three you like. Don’t worry about whether or not these colors “go together” based on some half-remembered lessons from middle school art class. Go with your gut.
Step 2: Open your sketchbook to a fresh page* and starting in the center, paint a puddle of very diluted color, any of the three you’ve chosen.
Work outward from the center, pulling that puddle along and adding other colors when you feel moved to do so. Once you’ve neared the edges of the page, stop and let the paper dry completely. See my example below.
*TIP: If you are opening a new sketchbook today, don’t feel like you have to use the first page! Some people find the first page very daunting. An easy solution to this problem is to open the book, flip the pages to something random in the middle and start there!
Step 3: Grab your pen and place the point about two-thirds up the page, in the center of the page.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, slowly draw a line to form half a heart shape from the divot in the center down to the bottom point. Don’t worry if the line is wobbly or wonky. Let the line be whatever comes out as you exhale. There are no rights or wrongs. Take another deep breath in and as you exhale, slowly draw a line up to almost complete the heart, but instead of closing the circuit, finish slightly below your starting point. See my example below:
Repeat this process of breathing and then drawing on the exhale as you gradually spiral that heart shape inward as shown in the picture below.
Step 4: Once you’ve completed your heart spiral, set down your pen and take stock of you how feel.
You might even want to jot a few notes down on your page about what was going on in your mind and body as you completed this exercise.
The heart spiral is something you can do again and again, whenever you want to center yourself and get positive, creative energy flowing! I’d love for you to share your thoughts on the exercise in the comments if you feel comfortable doing so, but no pressure, as you are doing this just for yourself and there is no obligation to share at all.
You can also carry this exercise forward into your doodling or sketching by linking your line or brushwork to your breath. Be still as you breathe in, and then slowly move your pen or brush as you exhale. Give it a try between now and the next update on August 1. I’d love to hear how it feels for you to connect your arm and your breath!
RESOURCE FOR ARTISTS
Today’s resource is a book recommendation: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. This book is a classic and for good reason.
After a year of describing myself as someone who liked to paint but was bad at drawing, I realized I was going to have to work on my drawing skills if I wanted to advance as a watercolorist who makes figurative, representational art as opposed to abstract art, so I turned to this book.
Through the explanations and exercises in it, Edwards explains how anyone can improve their observational skills and become better at drawing. I diligently worked my way through it from start to finish, completing every exercise. As I did, I went from being a person who said, “I’m not very good at drawing, I just like to paint,” to being a person who said, “My drawings are pretty good. Now if I only didn’t mess them up when I apply paint!” How’s that for progress (LOL)?
If you are interested in improving your drawing, this book is a fantastic foundational course.
Thanks for reading!
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, reactions, and questions, so please join the conversation in the comments, and subscribe so you never miss an update.