I visited the natural science museum yesterday with my daughter, and, as we sometimes do, we brought our sketching supplies. We headed straight for the butterfly habitat–a lovely glass building filled with prehistoric-looking plants and hundreds of winged creatures–and began to draw. Within a few minutes, a mother and her two children passed by. Then they passed by again. On her third trip, she stopped and asked if she could show her children the sketch I was making. She said she knew it was a work in progress, but that it was lovely and she wanted her kids to see it.
I nearly fell off my seat.
Quite calmly–as if this sort of thing always happened to me–I turned the sketch around and talked to the kids about what I was drawing. They listened, nodded in appreciation, then shuffled away down the path. For them, this was nothing more than a thirty-second connection to a stranger, a passing glance at someone’s else’s creation. For me, however, it was a turning point.
After ten years of writing, I’ve grown somewhat confident in my ability to tell a story and arrange words. I say “somewhat” because that fear never really goes away. I’m sure some authors have gotten past it (Stephen King?). But I still get those little palpitations when I upload. Will the story pass muster? Will people like it? And, because you can’t please everyone, will the people who dislike it hate it enough to rip it to shreds? Blah, blah, blah. In the end, though, if I wasn’t sure I’d written an entertaining story with a tight plot and well-turned sentences, I wouldn’t have published it in the first place. My illustrations, however, are a different story.
As with my writing, I’m a self-taught artist. I come by the talent naturally, having received it from my mother and grandmother. And while it will never, ever stand up to the greats like Picasso or Rembrandt, my work is passable. My paintings hang in my home, proudly displayed, and many a time I’ve perused art festivals with a knowledge that I could’ve created something of similar aptitude. But I’d never made the move to sell my art until I wrote and illustrated The Easter Hound. A week after I published it, I called my mother–in a cold sweat, no less–and asked her if I’d embarrassed myself with this book. She assured me I hadn’t. But then again, she is my mother. This wasn’t exactly the proof I needed.
And then yesterday, a complete stranger liked my art well enough to stop and ask me about it. This, in case you haven’t figured out by now, was a big blinking neon sign that I should stay on this new avenue and further develop my skills. I won’t give up creating stories, of course. But it thrills me to know that, if need be, I can accompany them with the occasional illustration. Will my work ever hang in a museum? Nah. Will it amuse a few people? Only time will tell.
Do you sing, but only in the shower? Do you secretly draw without showing anyone? Do you journal for an audience of one? Do you dance when no one is watching?
If you have a talent that never sees the light of day, try sharing it with someone else today. It can be a terrifying experience. But things always grow best in the sun.
Your turn. Ever created something that you were afraid to show anyone else? Tell me about your first time publishing or your first time exhibiting your art. I’d love to hear about it.