How do I know if I'm an artist?

When you decide to become an artist, you have to carry with you a measure of faith. No one will tell you that you are likely to succeed, and whatever face you might present to the world, inside you are probably questioning, "Do I have what it takes?" Angela Fehr watercolor paintings

I remember fearing that I didn't have the "right" to call myself an artist; it was a question I struggled with in my teen years and early twenties. I had loved painting and drawing since I was a little girl and loved creating artistic projects, writing and working with my hands, but as a homeschooled teen living in a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea, I didn't know if I was good enough to be an artist. I knew better than to believe in the praise of my family and friends, people who loved me and supported me but didn't really know art. And I didn't really know what an art career would look like. I assumed it would be a life of creating paintings and putting them in galleries, but I wasn't brave enough to approach a single one.

I knew that I needed good instruction, and  when I moved back to Canada at the age of 18, I took a watercolour course from a local artist. The class was mostly populated by older women who enjoyed painting as a hobby, and they were like grandmothers to this shy teenager, supportive and generous in their praise and guidance. They even shared their expensive Arches watercolour paper with me which was when I learned that good paper makes a huge difference in improving painting skills and results. I fell in love with watercolour, but grandma praise didn't really answer the question, "Am I good enough?"

I don't know what could have happened if I had never chosen to answer "YES" to that question. I don't think I would have stopped painting, but it's hard to say. Life gets busy, and there are so many things I love and enjoy doing. Maybe I would have chosen a different path. Maybe I would have fulfilled my creativity in another area. It would have been a good life.

alaska highway wildflowers 1998

But one week at my kitchen table in my first apartment, I made a painting that I decided was "artist quality." How painstakingly I shaded and defined each petal of those wildflowers! I think I probably dabbed off more brushstrokes than I actually let dry, but when it was complete I looked at it and thought, "Yes, I can." That single painting gave me confidence that I could choose art as my path and produce paintings that could be publicly shared without shame. I latched on to that painting for my early artistic credentials, and while it's very different than anything I would create today, it represents the starting point to my career as an artist.painting portrait

Because of that one painting I gave myself permission to identify as an artist, to create and show my art. I joined arts groups and entered competitions (and even won a few). Because of watercolour, I learned to empower others to embrace their own creativity. Because I said "Yes, I'm an artist" I learned to weigh criticism of my art against my inner certitude about my work. I took jobs that taught me skills to promote and market my work, and I learned photography and web design to show my work to the world. I buried that little voice that said, "You're not really an expert" and began to teach, sharing my "light bulb" moments with the world on Youtube and my online courses. Because I dared to be an artist, I met people doing amazing things and joined a community of people who love and embrace creativity in thousands of forms.

Frosted Fencepost watercolour by Angela Fehr

I have been so blessed by saying "yes" to art. I'm living a dream that I just get so excited about and love to share. What about you? Did saying "yes" to your dream change your outlook on life? Or are you questioning, like I once did, needing your own confidence boost?

It's not always easy. It can be lonely at times, and frightening. There are still dark nights when I look at my goals, and look at myself and think, "What are you thinking? You have no right to want that." But I believe that there is no shame in pursuing excellence in creating art, in seeking the most genuine expression of me, in finding ways to give and share with others, and I'm going to dream and set goals and say "yes" as many times as I can for the rest of my life, cause it just seems like a better way to live, and it has been so far.