Week One's Artist Date: Being a Kid Again with Art

The time had arrived for me to stop reading about connecting with my artist and to connect myself to her through action. For my first week of artist dates I learned how to crochet flowers for two hats I was making as Christmas gifts, outlined a children's book about my cat, and incorporated artist dates into my day job as a virtual learning tutor. This post will focus on the later two.


Penelope: A Feline Partner


Penelope came to me with the heat and power of a lightning storm. I had just left my friend's apartment and it was one of the last times we would spend an evening together before he was stationed somewhere else with the Air Force. I was having a hard time adjusting to this new change in our friendship. As I left his apartment, I stopped to stare at the heat lightning storm that was blazing through the sky. When I went to take my next step towards my car, I noticed fur brush against my ankle and a small, wiry cat was staring up at me. Penelope became my new best friend that night and I often refer to her as my familiar. My artist has begun to itch, craving to tell her story.

The term familiar is an European folklore term referring to an animal or pet who assists a witch in her magic. It is the perfect description for how Penelope has engulfed herself into my spiritual practices. It is hard for me to put a definition to my spirituality. I know that I meditate, pick a certain mantra or concentration for a week, and I do small rituals that help embolden my reflection on the week's mantra. While my rituals have little to do with cauldrons and magic potions, I do feel that my life and this newfound desire to connect to my inner power has become magical. There is no clever term or phrase that describes the way I singly employ my connection with the earth and my spirit, but there is a name for what we would call Penelope and it is familiar. It was through a frenzied accident, that a story about Penelope learning how to support me and my empowerment popped into my head.

As one does when they are unemployed during a worldwide pandemic, I was doing a meditation on prosperity and finding abundance. The ritual I had chosen required the use of peppermint oil. I, being clumsy and trying to read while pour at the same time, got some on the floor and Penelope was sniffing and laying near it. It was then my brain reminded me that most essential oils are poisonous to your pets. A hyper, panicked episode took hold and launched me into a distraught need for a solution. I was convinced of the idea that I had just sentenced my cat to death and I needed to do something immediately to fix it. I hurriedly scrubbed my entire bedroom floor on hands and knees, sniffing out any trace of peppermint. I washed myself with olive oil, and then brushed olive oil through Penelope's fur hoping to get the oil off of both of us. Exhausted but still fluttering with nerves, I monitored her for poison symptoms all night. I winced and cringed whenever she licked herself. She was all but put out by my antics. We had gone from deep breathing and calm to me attacking her with water, oil, and a comb. I was not the most impressive cat parent that night. However, because my mind is always churning a solution to what ails me, I did think of one morbid thought. Penelope, like all loved pets, would perish one day. If she was a children's book character, I'd never truly lose her. Thus that was the most permanent solution to make sure I never felt this manic about her health again. I mulled over what book my cat held within her as the days between the Peppermint Panic and me sitting down for my first artist date passed.

One evening as more thoughts of the concept of "Penelope's book" distracted me from binging tv, I outlined a children's book from Penelope's point of view. In my outline, now manuscript, I wrote about how Penelope joins me during my meditations, yoga practice, and other rituals I carry out during my week. A book about Penelope just watching me breathe deeply isn't going to fly off any shelves or get a publisher hot to meet with me. Therefore, I had to get a little more fictional with the storybook version of Penelope. So, I crafted these instances where Penelope knows she's my familiar and she is to help me continue to tap into the strong power residing within me. The main problem is she doesn't know how to be helpful without distracting me or almost causing herself harm. The book goes through her learning different ways to interact with me during my practices in a way where both of us are involved but I get to practice without interruption. A book about a confused, but loving cat was taking shape.

I'd love to tell you I read her the manuscript and she's learned to be the perfect cat. And yet, she is still stealing my meditation cushion while I set up the candles and mantra cards. When I hit the perfect child's pose on my yoga mat, she can be found nipping at my hands and batting at my feet. The idea of her being a perfect partner to my daily rituals is still very farfetched. Perhaps, she is still learning her craft and I write faster than she learns. We shall see if her behavior changes once the book is finished.

I was proud of my outline but it couldn't keep my anxiety about doing The Artist's Way "correctly" from creeping up as I finished writing. Does something you create but may want to send to publishers and make money off of count as a connection to your inner artist? Or does it simply reflect more on you buying into the capitalism norm that is so prevalent in my current society? Did my inner artist feel romanced because I took her out writing? As I continue editing and working on the manuscript, I no longer count it as a "date". However, the first evening that I sat and no longer procrastinated on an idea that was floating around in my head seemed like a big enough moment to count towards this journey. I was slowly learning to allow myself to play around and take risks with my time.


A Lesson in Going Back to Basics


One of the ways I have been financially surviving the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is by going into families' homes and assisting with virtual school. I will be referring to the student I was working with when I started The Artist's Way as "O". O was a young lady who told me time and time again that she loved art. I found this lovely because it meant we had something in common. However, O and I also shared perfectionist tendencies. This would make art class a struggle because a first grader's hands could not craft the same straight lines or gradient shades as a seasoned, adult artist like her teacher. We had many conversations about how art is meant to look different, no matter if we're all given the same prompt or task. I tried slowly to build up her confidence in her work. I decided to include her into my goal of creating everyday and we began to do drawing tutorials we found online. Pictured below are the illustrations that resulted in both of us taking a chance with some pencils and crayons.

I have never been someone who draws for pleasure and I tend to avoid it at all cost. I rarely sketch out a painting as a first draft or doodle in paper margins. I'm not sure when I was convinced I was terrible at sketching, but I do have prevailing memories of not being able to mimic a certain drawing style in art class or being so confused by a grid lesson we were using to practice portraits. I was taking a small, yet mighty risk in allowing a first grader to bear witness to me drawing. I found myself utterly pleased as O and I took these step by step tutorials and my hand could mimic the movements of the teacher. I am a 32- year old woman and I am grinning because I too can take a children's art lesson and complete it. As we practiced daily, I began to realize that while I still have difficulty with scaling and proportions, I do have the basic skills required to draw. I am just simply out of practice and that can be blamed on myself and my unwillingness to practice. I was taking steps to being one of those people who can have a romantic afternoon in a park, sitting in the sunshine, and sketching the horizon. With this new dream percolating in my head, I was ready to play with the pencils we had at O's house and see if my childhood artist could have a resurgence in a long abandoned skill.

It felt so refreshing to be playful and have low pressure thoughts about drawing. These small, funny cartoons gave me such a high, I shared my work with friends. Do not misunderstand, I wasn't fully healed as an inner-critic. I still made my self-deprecating, sarcastic captions such as "Catch my gallery Natalie Tries at your local art museum" or "Still killing it at the kid art game", to hide how proud I was to be accomplishing something I had given up on decades ago. O was also benefitting from us drawing side by side together. When we did this sushi cartoon, I challenged us to draw and environment for the sushi and to create a unique sushi on the plate. We then presented our pictures. My piece depicted a plate of cute sushi in my favorite sushi place. She went completely imaginative and created a sushi family with cousins visiting from out of town. We were both on our way to finding confidence in our artists. I beamed proudly as she started using language like "mine doesn't look like yours and that's okay" or "I don't need mine to look like the video, I still did it!" I'm hoping O has even more confidence in her drawing when she's 32. I hope it is because she wasn't pushed away from the craft out of fear of failure. When I got home that afternoon, I put my sushi cartoon in a place of honor on my fridge, reminding me everyday I can practice all the things I've told myself I can't do. I felt the pathway to me finding my way to art was close at hand.

Eventually, week one and these two artist dates had me feeling inspired to let my mind fill with all the art I could be doing within my week. When O's class was practicing collage and making bird puppets, I dreamt of a collage piece of a bear in an enchanted forest. I had to collage right then and there, remembering how much I enjoyed tearing small pieces of paper and using them to mosaic together a whole new shape. I eventually took our mermaid drawing and turned it into a playdoh rendition. We made unicorns to delve into our magical sides with one of our favorite animals. It was through a week of playing artist with a child and trying to process the safety of a pet that I got bold enough to let my mind wander. And my mind is still wandering. There's a whole google doc full of artist date ideas as proof.

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