Janet Meinke-Lau

Art and Surf Blog

Conversations around the process of creating and being an artist and surfer.

Are you an artist?

I feel super self-conscious when I'm urban sketching or drawing and painting en plein air and people get curious and ask me, "Are you an artist?" On good days, I take a breath, exhale, smile and say "Yes." On other days, I can only blurt out a "sorta." 

Not being an artist by formal training and being a 31-year old adult, my recent fascination with and interest in creating art has been pleasantly surprising to me and those who know me (as a former finance, now urban planning professional). It started with all of the hand drawing we did the summer I attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Policy (GSAPP). I realized, in the 5th hour of working on my axonometric, that I actually enjoyed sitting there for several hours drawing and creating something from a blank sheet. (By the 8th hour, maybe not so much ;) Below are some drawings and a model of my final project for the summer program.)

Much like surfing, I find drawing and painting meditative and completely engaging. My mind clears and I am so in the moment, focused on the next line, curve, color. There is no room for distractions. There is only the next step, the next movement, the nervous excitement/anticipation of performance and creation.  It is so important for us to  have those kind of moments in our lives - to be forced to let go of the good/bad thoughts that occupy us continuously, that clutter our minds and weigh us down. Much like with surfing, I feel refreshed and ready to take life head-on again after drawing and painting, regardless of whether I performed well or not in either.

I’ve received extremely kind encouragement from old friends who follow my Instagram account and several people say, with various degrees of seriousness, that they too want to draw more, but that the fear of being no good is stopping them. You can’t be good if you don't start. Let go of the expectations of yourself and your poor hand, forgive your wobbly lines, and just go for it. 加油!

I’m so grateful that I have been able to find a medium that resonates with me - pen and watercolor. I have to thank Elisa, a Singaporean artist who teaches the Skillshare course: “Sketch Your Life: Create Expressive Sketches in Pen and Watercolor”. She introduced me to sketching with pen instead of pencil. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. It's fast. We all live busy lives, and if you are like me, time is the number one excuse not to start something. You can finish pen sketches while waiting for the food you ordered, your train to arrive, you date to be ready, your latte to be empty, etc. If you want to draw faster still, don't pick up your pen. This is the takeaway I won't forget from taking Robert Regis Dvorak's The One-Minute Drawing Class. Start by outlining the contour (boundary lines) of your object in the air. When you put ink to paper, commit to one line for the contouring - don't "chicken scratch". Another quick method is blind contouring, where you draw the contour of a subject in a steady, continuous line without lifting the pen and without looking at the paper. It is a great method to loosen up my hand and relieve the pressure to get everything exactly right at the first go. To be even looser, hold your pen higher up so you can flow using your whole arm - this is similar to doing flourishes and swoops in calligraphy.

  2. It's permanent. Pencil is extremely frustrating as a beginner artist. You keep erasing, re-drawing and adjusting your work to get to something that resembles reality as well as possible, but you'll never get it exactly right. The pen, however...what liberation! You draw your line and you let it flow, let it go where it wants to take you. Doesn’t look proportional? Oh welp, too bad - can't change that now; call it Picassoesque. Line came out funky? Better next time. Let it be. Just stick to a single line for the contour and look forward, not backward.

The pen helps me to let go my high expectations of myself, to not be caught up in the outcome but to focus on enjoying the process. And lots of times the result sucks. Sometimes it’s satisfying enough. But sometimes, it’s is better than I could have imagined, and I feel giddy and proud and am encouraged to draw and paint more. And the more I draw and paint, the better I get.

I am an artist. And so are you. 

Above: The first blind contour is a self portrait (with my hair in a pony tail). The next three blind contours are my friends - Flannery, Erron and Chuck - I quickly drew them while waiting for our beers at Lola's :)