Overcoming Fear: Can I Really Be The Artist?


Promoted from our Community Blogs!

[Find that inward motivation to express creativity can be tough under normal circumstances. Add in the overlapping burden of family legacy, and you’ve got a hell of a dilemma on your hands. D-Volt shares with us a story of how his love for artistic expression hit a serious roadblock, only to be redeemed by the unlikely duo of a TV painter and a video game. This blog is fantastic, folks, and goes to show how video games can sometimes mean more than their face value. D-Volt got his work featured on Dtoid’s Front Page by contributing to our Bloggers Wanted prompt, running with a new theme every month. Why don’t you try your hand at it? – Wes]

Author’s Note: This is the first time I’m including an audio version of my C-Blog. I know sometimes people want to read a blog, but don’t have the time. I figured having the option to consume my work in audiobook-style format might make my work more accessible. You can also read through my blog while having it narrated by me or not use this option at all. The choice is entirely yours. But PLEASE, if you use this option and enjoy it, let me know in the comments! Making these takes a little extra time, so knowing whether it’s worth it or not would be very valuable to me. With all that said, enjoy!

When I was eight years old, I used to draw comics with my older brother. We’d pull the whole art supplies drawer right out of the cabinet and dump the entire contents onto the living room carpet. Crayons, colored pencils, stencils, pastels, watercolor sets, and more cascaded across the floor. We’d gather them all up and let our imaginations run wild. My favorite creation was Stickman, a stick figure with a cape, flaming head, and strong sense of justice. My brother and I had hours of fun pitting our heroes and villains against each other in comic book form. Neither myself nor my brother were particularly great at art, but that didn’t matter in the least. When we presented our comic to our mother, who eagerly read each one with apparent interest, we just wanted to share our fun with others. Art to us wasn’t serious or difficult. It certainly wasn’t something to be embarrassed of. It was our incredible hours of fun, made manifest in the form of a few colorful pieces of printer paper.

Over time a chasm began to form between the level of art skills of myself and my older brother. He began creating comics at his school between himself and his friends, comics so good that his art teacher told our mom that he had “a gift.” He took art classes in high school, made art commissions for hire, and finally graduated an art major from college. My brother’s work became the real deal. I, on the other hand, took a different path. I was much more interested in politics and journalism as a profession. I focused more heavily on my studies, graduating in the top 10% of my class from elementary school through high school. I’m currently working towards a degree in World Politics (think a mixture between International Relations and Political Science). Art had no place in my future plans, so I let it fall to the wayside.

I had purposefully done this because I was afraid of creating art now. Whereas once it was a fun escape from the laborious tasks of everyday life (taking out the garbage had been considered such a task to an eight-year-old me), now I was too old to create art just for fun. When I did try picking up the colored pencils again, people would begin to ask, “Why are you drawing stuff if you’re not going to do it for a living?” Worse still, the people who knew my older brother would always compare my work to his. There’s nothing more discouraging than to have your amateur work compared to that of a master. I had scaled a rock wall only to see Mount Everest in the distance, its sharp, craggy surface seemingly twisted into a mocking smile.

It’s a strange feeling, having something you once loved corrupted into a fear. The only similar feeling I can think of is reconnecting with a friend years later, only to realize you no longer have anything in common. You want to be friends and you know you could be again, but you lack the time and motivation to make it happen. Far easier to reminisce over old times, say your goodbyes, and occasionally like their posts on Facebook. Art was the childhood friend of both myself and my older brother who grew closer to my brother than me. In time I forgot about my desire to create art and soon it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was no artist, and I never would be.

October 29th, 2015. It was another normal day as a sophomore in college and I had been studying in my room for much of the day. During a study break, I decided to hop on Twitch to see what the whole “Twitch Plays” phenomenon was all about. I could never have imagined that the first step to rediscovering my love of artistry and overcoming my fears would come to me via a video game streaming service, but it did in the form of a ’80s/’90s TV program. I hadn’t known it, but at the time Twitch was launching its new art streaming category, and to kick things off they were streaming an endless marathon of The Joy of Painting. Curious as to what this was, I veered off my intended trajectory and began to watch.

Don’t mind if I do, Bob. Don’t mind if I do.

I was enraptured. Something about this program instantly grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Bob Ross would create beautiful landscapes out of nothing and play it off as the easiest thing in the world. In his soothing voice he insisted that anyone, ANYONE could be an artist. It didn’t matter if you weren’t going to pursue it as a profession or your art wasn’t particularly great. What mattered is that you made something you could be proud of and had fun doing it. This man may have died earlier in the year I was born, but he was talking to me, personally, in the here and now. You know in Pixar’s Ratatouille, when the rat Remy has that dead chef Gusteau always floating around him, constantly espousing his personal philosophy that, “Anyone can cook”? Bob Ross was my Gusteau, whispering in my ear with every scratch of his knife on the canvas: “Anyone can paint.”

If what Bob said was true, even I could be an artist once more.

I must have watched at least 70 episodes over the course of that marathon. I listened to Bob when I studied. I listened to him when I went out to lunch. I watched him before I went to bed. The seed had been thoroughly planted in my brain: I wanted to be an artist once again. At the realization of this, however, fear once again gripped my heart like a beartrap and the doubts entered my mind: Where do I even begin?! I don’t have the money for an art set! I don’t want to join an art class if I don’t know if I’ll actually enjoy it! Bob had brought me once again to the Door of Art, but it wasn’t his place to give me the key. I jumped on Amazon and searched for art supplies, how-to-draw books, and other art necessities. However, when I saw the overall price in my cart, I deleted all the items. Discouraged, I put down my phone and started playing Rune Factory 4 on my 2DS. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning between the eyes.

My 2DS! That was the key to opening my door! I loaded up Amazon once again and purchased Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone for $15. In the next two days until my game arrived I was in the throes of fear and loathing. The doubts about my purchase that occupied my mind were all-consuming, never leaving my thoughts for more than an hour at a time. Not even watching the The Joy of Painting marathon could assuage me now. I don’t think I ever ran to the mail center as fast as I did when I got the confirmation email my game had arrived (which is saying something, since I ran pretty fast when Super Smash Bros. for 3DS came).

Could this be the key to my salvation?

Art Academy proved to be just the key I was looking for. From the step-by-step lessons, to Vincent’s (your mentor in the game) interesting commentary on art theory, everything about the game brought out the inner artist I had been suppressing for so long. Eventually though, it was time for me to ditch the lessons and create something by myself. Though daunting, I knew this moment would have come eventually if I ever wanted to defeat my fear. I ended up making two pieces of art. One was a painting of a mug my roommate had gotten me that had the Seattle Space Needle on it.

The other was a drawing of my family’s cabin.

And…they looked okay! They weren’t high art, that’s for sure, but I could identify what I had drawn! I was an artist once more! But why then did I still feel fear weigh me down? Though I enjoyed my hours spent painstakingly making these two works, I didn’t feel free from my fear. I realized the only way I would rid myself of this feeling forever would be to share my works with the world. I made myself an Instagram and uploaded my work.

I hadn’t experienced a moment where I felt time stood still until I uploaded my art to the internet. My fear had frozen me in place and I was left staring at the screen, awaiting the opinions of the world. It would either reject my art or embrace it, there could be no in-between. Every agonizing minute became an hour. I broke out in a cold sweat. Something had to happen and it had to happen now.

And then, when I couldn’t bear to wait a moment longer, the likes poured in. My notifications wouldn’t stop. Now a comment: “Wow D-Volt, I didn’t know you could draw!” My friends messaged me on Facebook asking why I hadn’t shown them my work before. My older brother told me that my work was “pretty good.” I received follow requests from all my friends. My art had been vindicated. Maybe not by “the” world, but by “my” world. All these people who knew me personally didn’t think me weird for making art even though I wasn’t going to be pursuing it as a profession. Instead they encouraged me to make more, just as Bob had encouraged me.

I’m not usually the type to be moved to tears, but I cried. I cried until my eyes hurt. All those years of being terrified of rejection and judgment were at an end. I could make art whenever I wanted now and share it with whoever I wanted. The chains of fear that had long weighed me down were broken. I was free.

I never thought my love of video games would eventually bring me back to art. It was my love of gaming that attracted me to Twitch and brought The Joy of Painting into my life. And it was my love of games that convinced me to buy Art Academy and use my 2DS as the means to combat my fear.

Today I still make art on my 2DS, but overcoming my fear has also broadened my appreciation of art and brought new forms of art into my life. I became obsessed with mashup artists Triple-Q and BotanicSage [BS] and their amazing video game and anime music mashups months after I became an artist again. With my fear conquered, I wasn’t afraid to actually start making mashups myself. I started out terrible, sure, but over time my work became something I could be proud of. If I hadn’t overcome my fear, I likely would have given up the moment I made my first horrible mashup. (I’ll leave a link to my mashup works in the comments below if you’re interested in sampling that.)

I’m an artist today thanks to video games and I couldn’t be happier.