An Artist’s Challenge


Sophie Young

Illustration by Preston Randall

Even if you’re an amateur making art once a month, you’re still an artist.

I need to remember that. In high school, I took four years of art classes and never went a day without creating. Staying connected to my creative side in college has been a struggle. I feel like a fraud if I don’t make art every day, incapable of using the talent I’m told I have.

I would love to say that art is a release for me, a form of therapeutic expression, but that’s a lie. Sometimes, I can let go and simply let colors flow on paper. Most of the time, making art is a painstaking process for me.

Stage one: Inspiration strikes. I get obsessed with an idea, and I have a vision of how to translate it to paper. Spoiler–it doesn’t always translate well.

Stage two: Preparation. I pick my medium and the canvas or paper that goes along with it. I do preliminary sketches in my sketchbook, then a “final.” Of course, it’s never a “final,” art is adapted along the way. I create a graph to capture the details of reference images. I do a color study to match the perfect shade of green or orange or blue. My analytical side delights in this part. Once, I spent two hours making my own skin color from the primary colors of acrylic paints. It has a surprising amount of green.

Stage three: Create. At the very beginning of a project, I’ll start laying down basic shapes and backgrounds. I have moments of doubt when I can’t see the full picture yet, but I have hope. In the thick of creating, I can spend hours on tiny details in one sitting. These are the moments when my brain is no longer in charge. I act on instinct, the pencils or paint or markers guiding me. I’ll admit, my instinct can definitely be wrong–not every piece is a masterpiece. I know I’m ready for the finishing touches when I start to dread working on my project. I get tired of the process, wondering if I’ll ever finish.

Then, I give up. I decide at some point that I can’t add anything else. I can’t make it any better. 

You’d think, as an artist, I would look at a finished work and be proud of what I made. I only feel relief. 

I still can’t see the full picture.

The moment I finished it, I hated the best piece of art I’ve ever done. I spent a month grinding my Prismacolors to stubs, drawing a row of bourbon bottles as a Christmas gift to my stepdad. I learned to hate how light reflects through glass, the way it glows and morphs colors. I could only see the mistakes in my process. I left the labels and lettering until the end, which I regret. I scraped off layers of my colored pencil so the white “Mattingly” would show. 

Three months later, my art teacher entered it into a county-wide high school art show. It won third place. My stepdad proudly hung it in his office, making sure to show it off to everyone who stopped by. Only then, far removed from the process, could I look at what I created and see the full picture. 

Finally, I was proud of what I created. 

That pride, knowing your combination of talent, time and effort made something beautiful, is what I chase. I don’t always get there. Many times, I practice creation just for the sake of practice. I explore different mediums, I never choose one style, I leave projects unfinished. 

Yet, I love it. I love art. I love creating. It’s become more of an effort in college, when I know I’m not required to complete a certain number of projects to pass a class. Now, whether I’m writing or painting, I do it because I’m passionate about it.

I will doubt my potential. I will make mistakes. I will question my talent. But I know it’s because I can’t see the full picture–at least, not yet.