“The best artists colour in straight lines,” my second grade teacher says aloud to the class as she stands over my drawing. She has shiny brass wire-rimmed glasses that tend to slide down the bridge of her sharp nose when she peers at me through them. I look down at my picture.
The assignment was to draw our favourite summer memory. Mine is simple: a cerulean blue sky behind a pumpkin orange kite floating next to fluffy grey clouds. Green hills and trees frame the image. Way down in the bottom right-hand corner, my stick-sister and I hold the kite’s string together.
And my colouring strokes go every which way.
The clouds churned as they flew through the sky that day. I remember understanding that the wind was responsible for our kite’s ability to stay up. My sister and I marvelled at the grass and leaves on the trees dancing the same steps as our kite, all thanks to an invisible puppeteer: the wind. I had swished and swirled my green crayon all over the page in an attempt to capture that movement. I love being in that memory and recreating it with my crayons. My colouring lines were joyful before the teacher spoke those words. Now I cup my arm around my drawing in an attempt to shield the childish scribbling from my neighbouring peers.
Thirty years later, I am standing in the Vincent van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I am recording a new album, but I find myself with two rare free hours this afternoon. I am in awe of van Gogh as I learn more. He sold exactly one painting in his life, and it was to his brother, who supported him throughout his short and painful existence. Now millions of people from around the globe visit this museum just to get a glimpse of his original paintings. Pure, unsaturated colour thickly spread on like slightly melted butter glistens beneath the gallery lights. Purples and greens, deep oranges and yellows, his brushstrokes pushing and pulling the paint all over the canvas. Van Gogh was painting more than irises and starry skies. He was painting what we couldn’t see. Energy. Wind. Light. Awe.
I stand in front of his work and remember my second-grade teacher. How many students felt the same shame I did that day for letting their crayons capture things that couldn’t be seen? And how many people go through life believing they are not creative because of someone else’s limiting beliefs?
I am now a full-time visual artist and songwriter. It has taken me years of learning and unlearning to be able to embrace my full creative power—this unseen force in my life that makes it all the more worthwhile. All the more blissful.
My dream is that everyone can find this creative force for themselves, whether through crayons and paints or flavours of food and dance moves. It’s all around us. Invisible, yes. But real nonetheless. And it’s all yours. Can you feel it?