I would love your help.
I am working on my next book. It is called ‘Shut Your Monkey‘ and is about the little voice in your head that criticizes and scolds and warns and limits you. It especially plagues creative people.
If you are familiar with this voice, would you mind sending me stories about how it has impacted you, how it may have stopped you from taking a particular path or interrupted your work.
I AM MOST INTERESTED IN SPECIFIC STORIES OF HOW THE MONKEY EFFECTED YOU, not just strategies for fighting it.
I would be most grateful to learn about your experiences and will protect your anonymity if you want me to.
Please email me your stories to email@example.com.
44 thoughts on “Can you help me?”
Danny I have that voice! I used to call it “my other self”. I especially noticed it as I attempted to drop 70 lbs. (which I did and have kept off for close to 6 years). But at the beginning, that voice screamed that it did not want to work out. It did not want to get out in the cold to go to the gym. It begged me to stay at home in the warmth and comfort of my recliner (which caused my problem in the first place!). I wanted a new life so badly and recognized this voice for what it was – bad – danger! I started yelling back in places where no one could hear me! I would shout, literally, SHUT THE F UP!!! GO AWAY; LEAVE ME ALONE! I AM GOING TO DO THIS. I had to do that for weeks and weeks….Finally, the voice got quieter, but never still or completely silent. Just weak, a dying ember. I still hear it now and then but it’s easier to over-power it. Now, it’s getting stronger again since I’ve taken on journaling and other artwork. It says things like. Why are you doing this? What a waste of paper! You’ll just mess up and waste time and money. It’s really not that good compared to what this one or that one is doing. So….I do it anyway. The end.
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One shrink yelled at me once: You are like a monkey!
And it’s true. I dare, I get ideas. And I jump.
I then scream To myself since I never jump fast or Good enough.
And i have worked as a Copywriter, a TV-producer & have had My Own businesses. Always creative. Always daring. And terrified of the monkey in me. That keeps Yelling & Yelling me what to do & Why I shouldnt do it. Simoltaneousley!
Result: I dare & I do but I stop in the middle with doubt. Stop believing. And then I fall & fail.
Please hurry & help me silence My monkey!!
I’m on the run now. But can Write more another Time should You need more material From the BIG Monkey herself.
Bye From Stockholm Tina
Skickat från min iPhone
> 21 feb 2015 kl. 15:52 skrev Danny Gregory : > > >
I try to sooth my monkey and say don’t worry you will have a specified worry time but right now i am doing this and if i get interrupted my monkey gets NO time to say his piece. Later that day while i am cooking dinner i ask monkey questions and just listen like a therapist. I then let it go and it leaves me alone and i can do whatever i want like being let out of school early!
Thanks so much, Sheryl. I am also looking for stories of people who have been blocked by the monkey and what that was like, specific stories from your life about times when the monkey was loud.
Danny I don’t have a story or situation that you haven’t heard from a hundred others or experienced yourself before. But you touched on this in Art Before Breakfast — and I struggle with this every day — that the Monkey will whisper that making art is a waste of time, that it has no practical value. The Monkey whispers this to me every time I sit down to draw. It tells me I need to be cleaning the house, that I have work to do, dinner to make. It tells me that I’ll never be a professional artist or illustrator anyway so why bother and waste my time? Sometimes it wins, sometimes not. The older I get the easier it is to ignore, but it’s always there and sometimes it manages to stop me in my tracks. So thank you for writing this book — I am so looking forward to it. Because even though I KNOW why it’s worth it and it’s not a waste of time, it helps so, so much to hear the many reasons WHY.
I would love to help you but at this time my monkey says that what I have to share will not amount to much and that you are only interested in “names” and more successful people. I will send in something when I defeat the little bugger. Sketchbook Skool has provided the fuel and support in this battle for me.
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“Names?” M.Robert, I need your help, not that stupid monkey’s. I am most interested in stories of how you have been defeated, not just how you overcame the monkey.
I fell in love with nature journaling BUT it took all of three months research and supply accumulation to make the first mark on the first page. That is when I first saw the power of the monkey. All the while you wonder what on earth is the matter with you….this procrastinating on the thing you ostensibly want to do!!!
I suppose the monkey defeated me long ago. As a child I loved to draw and decided that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. The monkey spoke through my parents saying, “What?! That’s not a real job. Why not be a doctor, or a teacher or a lawyer?” They did pay for art lessons through a correspondence school thinking this was just a fad. Once the lessons got harder, the monkey started whispering in my own ear saying, “Your work is not good enough. You’ll never be an artist. The field of commercial art is too competitive.” My dream of having a career in art went poof just because I listened to that monkey. Now I am closer to retirement and my “career” is just a job. I have taken up drawing again as it is such a nice stress reliever. First, my scribbles were in secret; then I found out about Sketchbook Skool and became a student. Mr. Monkey woke up again and started pestering me… “you aren’t seriously going to post that online, are you?” Now I have the tools to ignore that monkey. Wonky is good. Why be perfect! Procrastination is still an issue where the monkey wins but less and less so. I am learning to love my art thanks to the many teachers and artists of Sketchbook Skool, I might just have a career in art yet and if not…..oh well. Making art makes me happy.
I think the key thing is to make friends with that voice! You’re in it together for the long haul… 😉
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I find it especially ironic that Monkeys are fun to draw. I’ve got several monkey stories, my shortest one is: In order to allow myself to start drawing, there had to be no skin in the game. I went to the Staples store and bought a ream of the cheap copier paper (on sale, not even punched). And I just used the basic ballpoint pens (Bic medium point black) to draw with. So, the monkey had to be pacified, sidestepped in this way. Luckily when I was spring cleaning, I found an old 9×12 sketchbook I had barely started…I said well, no sense in letting it go to waste, and that was enough to shut the monkey.
My monkey-story is actually my mothers’… (not that I don’t have that voice in my head, but this ‘monkeybusiness’ is the most recent one I know of). So, my mother. My mother is a creative woman. Although she will tell you something else. She has, for instance, a beautiful garden, so colourful, so natural. I love to spend time there, sitting along the small pond, enjoying the small insects that are flying over the water (they also acknowledge my mothers’ arty-work). I consider her gardening as a very creative skill. Years ago (and I mean a loooong time ago) she followed a painting course (Dutch, Hindelooper painting art) and that was it. After that, she says, she never did something creative. And she can’t (her words, I mean, the monkey in her head).
Last january my mother celebrated her 75th birthday. I decided to give her an ‘artsy’ present, with the motto ‘one is never too old to learn’: a short course of 5 lessons to get to know the basics of silversmiths (is that English? I the art of making jewelry). Ofcourse her monkey immediately started to find excuses. The best one was ‘You can’t make jewelry’. I said ‘If everybody could make jewelry there would not be a course to learn how to do it. Nobody would show up. After the first lesson I called her to ask how it went. In this first lesson she had to cut out a figure with a fretsaw. Something she did a lot as a young adult (when she made lots of wooden figures, but ofcourse she’s not creative… I guess she forgot all about that). And because she knew how to do this, she started to feel more comfortable. ‘Maybe I’m not THAT bad after all…’ (Beating the monkey) Last week she finished the course, made a beautiful silver ring she showed me. In october (after the garden season, because making a piece of natural art is still her priority) she might even go back to follow the whole course. I guess the monkey is beaten.
Ofcourse the monkey had to shut up because the course was a gift. She ‘had’ to go 😉
I grew up in a small town in Tasmania, Australia. Population 234. I was always very creative when I was young. I would draw, sing and dance. I felt confident in my abilities simply because I just loved being creative. My friends through primary and high school supported me and knew me as ‘the creative one’. I was surrounded with other people who were creative as well. I didn’t know it at the time but it was my whole identity. When I was 19 I moved to the mainland of Australia to seek creative opportunities and work. However it wasn’t too long before reality set in and I had to find work to survive. I was at a cross roads at this point. I had an opportunity to continue my education in creative arts, but talking to my mother she wondered how I would survive in the big city on the mainland. Financial security and safety was the most important thing to my mother (she never had it growing up) and often she would project her anxieties onto me. It’s funny how it only takes one conversation, one person to completely shake your confidence in your abilities. That’s the day my monkey came out. That day I gave up my dreams of being creative. I found full-time work and fell in love with something else – traveling. I stopped dancing, singing, drawing. By 23 I was dead inside – depressed. I could never put a finger on it. I tried different jobs trying to fulfill myself, but nothing worked. At 38 I became so severely depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I had completely lost myself. It has taken me three years to recover and am slowly getting back to my ‘real’ self by drawing everyday and attending art classes.
I’ve realized now that my monkey comes in the form of ‘other people’, mostly my mother nudging me to be safe and secure. To tread carefully and not take any risks in life.
Just kill that monkey! The monkey is just another name for FEAR. Almost twenty-five years ago I took positive action after seeing an art exhibit. I decided right then and there that I could do this! So I set to task, at the age of 50, to take college courses in drawing and watercolor painting. I never looked back. The mantra for me was “start it” in everything I did. In doing so I can the monkey at bay. Not only in art and creative endeavors but in business as well. For me, the monkey is dead. I am into my seventh decade and still going strong.
As long as I was doing my duty as wife, mother, daughter and daughter-in-law, I rarely encountered a Monkey. But as soon as I began exploring my niggling creativity that lurked in the dark in my early 40’s, they began to speak. Through Community College I took Creative Writing, every level of English available and lots of Art classes. As long as I had an instructor, an assignment and an”A” to be earned, I excelled. I did this for 20 years. My Monkeys have many voices, all with the aim of discouraging, distracting and condemning. Unfortunately I have not taken my Monkeys in hand. Like weeds in a garden my head is full of their thoughts so easily perpetuated that my hands are stilled. The Monkeys say,”you don’t have time.” The Monkeys say, “you’re too old”. The Monkeys say, “you’re not (smart, creative, good) enough.” Now the Monkeys say, “I told you so.” And yet there is an Artist and a Writer resident with me, searching for the confidence and perseverance to become. “Shut Your Monkey” is being written for me. Thank you, Danny. I will help in whatever way I can. Debra (the slow pony)
There is a monkey that sits on my shoulder. He whispers in my ear that my art
isn’t good enough. He points out to me the works of others that are so much
better. The monkey criticizes my work and tells me I am not good enough. Instead of perservering, I begin to believe him. I move on to a new ambition, where the monkey can’t find me, but he is still on my shoulder.
I have always made art one way or another, I can’t help it I have to! But when I was leaving school my art teachers told me to “keep it as a hobby”, So the message came over loud and clear that I was not good enough to go to art college and mingle with the super talented to become an artist.
Until recently I found it very difficult to believe people when they said my work was good, I thought they were just being nice.
Since I have retired I have taken various courses and joined Sketchbook Skool. I exhibit with a textile group and am reading Danny’s encouraging books. I am slowly coming round to the fact that I am better than I think I am and I must believe people when they are complimentary about my work, after all they would just keep quiet if they didn’t like it! Only monkeys tell you “you are not good enough”. I have to tell myself that “I Am GOOD”.
Why is it that I am absolutely and so totally sure of the fact that my artwork is not to be taken seriously?
I know that I have the ability and I definitely have the passion because I could spend my entire day drawing, painting, wrting, creating. I’ve felt that way all my life. Everything I look at stimulates my imagination and inspires creative ideas inside my head. I have been so lucky and blessed in my life, and I know that, but my critic never stops reminding me of that, and telling me that I should be doing something more constructive and less selfish than playing around in the arts. It tells me that I’m really not talented, it’s just that I have the luxury of time unlike other people who are struggling to put food on the table and pay their bills. My monkey tells me that I am not very imaginative. I want to write a children’s book, teach journaling classes to friends who have voiced interest, market my necklaces, sell my journals, paint large scale cows, but something stops me. My critic tells me that if I was good it would come more naturally. I have been told many times that I am a wonderful teacher, but my inner critic laughs at me and says I could never be successful. The angry monkey has defeated me over rthe years. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to market myself, but I haven’t. I have a website that i started several years ago, but recently I’ve stopped making entries… I think it’s fear…of what I don’t know. Stupid monkey.
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Danny, I have that voice in my head all the time. The past 20 years it has told me to put creativity on the shelf and be a “rational” person who pleases everyone else’s opinion on what a successful person is. I wanted to pick up drawing and painting classes but everyone else (including my devoted monkey) told me there is no money or long term payback in art. I secretly started drawing 2 years ago and my life has changed for good. I’m a better wife, mom and friend because of it. I’m happier and I feel more fulfilled. I’ve come to realize that even though it is constantly chatting at me that I have the choice each time to tune it out by reminding myself the consequences of listening to him(monkey). Your latest book pointed that out so clearly to me on page 128(lost art) The tragic thought of all my potential art not having room to exist in my future because of me allowing the negative influence of my own critical mind(monkey) to dictate wether my art is worth something or not is devastating. I have wrestled with this for way too long and I have finally learned to tell myself that any drawing is better than no drawing when I will look in my journal later. Thank you for your new book. It is such a great inspiration for me,
I can identify with Karen’s story. I have always dabbled in art and stitch but I never really found the confidence to go forward with it until I met two people who would change everything for me. One, my second husband who believes in me and gives me space and encouragement to be me and two, my City and Guilds Embroidery Tutor who guided me through the course, became my mentor in more than just textile art and is now my best friend and soulmate.
It was at the beginning of my marriage that I spotted an advertisement for an embroidery class. Thinking I would enjoy a day a week embroidering with other like minded ladies, following my step by step magazine projects that I used to do at the time, I went to join up. At the enrolment, however, I realised it wasn’t just a hobby class but a serious full blown four year course equivalent almost to a degree in textiles.
Scary??? I’ll say so. I dithered. The lady at the enrolment was the art director of the college and she suggested I went to my local library where they were showing work by previous students to get an idea of what was involved. I duly turned up at the library, husband in tow. I took one look at the amazing storyboards on the wall and the monkey within me rose up and started taking control. “Oh no” I said… “This work is amazing but I can’t do that…absolutely not! I wouldn’t last a week”. I was about to turn tail and leave when a voice behind me said “Well maybe you can’t do exactly that right now but you have the ability to learn….and besides, if you COULD do that now there would be no point in joining the course”.
The voice was that of my future tutor, mentor and soul mate who just happened to work at the library.
Lucky for me she was standing behind me at that moment and heard that monkey…. If not for her I might still be plodding along with my safe embroidery projects instead of feeling the freedom I do now to experiment in all kinds of media from stitch to paint, from the humble pencil to every kind of pen you can imagine. That monkey still raises it’s head but I now have the ability to quash it just by turning up at my work desk and picking up that pencil/needle. Who cares if I make a mess… I love the process and often I produce something I am proud of…sometimes I surprise myself but every time I pick up a tool of art I learn something new.
I bless the day I met those two people and I cherish them both. That course was the best thing I ever did…and to think I almost didn’t go. It was four of the best years of my life! It helps to have people who believe in you.
In 1976, I was living in Israel, madly making art and falling in love. Both lover and artist had a vision of a studio in the US, while making a go of it as a couple.
Dreamers do this. They latch on to romanticism’s hand and allow themselves to be floated along.
As realities of keeping home, buying groceries and paying bills set in, the dreamers became realists. Trouble was, realism is a learned experience and what seems tactile and relevant as a 21 year old, doesn’t play 40 years later.
In between those years. I worked as a graphic designer. I hoped the creativity would find its way back to my daily life. Thoughts of drawing and sculpture, writing
poetry again, were replaced by misspent time and unfocused reality.
The monkey was winning and beating his war drum louder. He didn’t have a name, but he screamed foul language. He slowed my hands into distraction and put gauze over my eyes.
Monkey talk is intoxicating. Monkey love is a sham. Monkey sing this song…
My me buzz you
with me walk watch –
just little fun.
Me do me; you do dance!
You do Tarzan,
little spank fun ape?
You girl speak?
You steam jungle?
Banana talk – ooh ooh la!
silly boys hot.
About 5 years ago, the monkey thought he won. All the whispered romance and love notes stopped. Monkey left me without a job and a clean slate to imagine. Yet bad relationships sometimes need a little help from a friend, or professionals.
That’s where a friend stepped in and enrolled me in Sketchbook Skool. Unfamiliar, my monkey stepped back in and whispered, “these people are amateurs. What do they know about art? You were a professional dammit.”
But sometimes the hand that holds, the direction invited, is unclouded. It was from a primal need that I grasped to survive.
The course was charted.
I took course 1, then 2 and 3 and noticed I was singing. I began sketching almost every day, sometimes twice a day. Monkey bit my toe. He no like, he pissed, he screamed. But I sang louder, sketched more and put him in his place for now.
Monkey still lives with me and scratches behind my ears. He makes nice all the time and blows wispy clouds of blue distraction. However, I have creativity and sharp pens on my side. I also have friends in Skool.
Joy is a monkey killer. It is the song of the creative heart.
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Reblogged this on barry comer.
I tried to give you some information on the new book but the address did not open. Let me know how to send information and i will. I have a lot of stories.
Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, James.
First of all I am one of those people who never “did art”. I overheard one of your videos because my wife Liz actively sketches and joined Sketchbook Skool. She kept saying, “you gotta hear this guy”, and I kept saying, “sure, I will”, but did not take it very seriously. But when I overheard your life story and how you were looking at drawing it really touched me. On a trip to Tahiti I started to draw and I have not stopped. I studied Buddhism and Indian studies at college, been to India twice, tried meditation, but although I believe in most Buddhist thought, it really did not alter my type A pursuit of whatever (Liz and I own 9 restaurants in Texas). Daily sketching has changed me. There are days that when I start sketching at say 7pm, and Liz comes out of our bedroom – “Jimmy are you coming to bed?”. I am sort of baffled thinking it is about 8pm. “Why are you going to bed now?” I ask. She’ll say, “Jimmy don’t you have early meetings tomorrow? It’s 2am.” This has happened more than once. More importantly, my thinking has been altered. I laugh at myself when I look at what I think something looks like and then sketch it by really looking at it. Particularly dealing with perspective. “I think you may be dyslexic,” Liz says like a Zen priest hitting me with a figurative stick. “Does that wheel on the truck look like it goes up from the other wheels? Look at it. Really look at it. Use your thumb.” Liz has become my coach. Every time I have a question, she throws a book at me – your books, Tommy Kane’s, James Richard’s, etc. I’ll complain, “I can’t make mist” and she’ll give me the book Making Colors Sing, or a color chart. I know it’s not important, but I am getting good. My kids (29 and 25 – not “kids”) look at my stuff. “Wow, that’s awesome Dad!” And Liz is sketching more. When I was a kid I loved Dinky toys. Remember Dinky toys? Those exact metal replicas of construction and military vehicles? So, I found a bunch to illustrate and having been taking photos of the real thing and sketching them.
It has taught me more of a servant leadership approach to my business. I have 500 employees. I have thrown out most of my preconceptions about them. (By the way, I have a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology.) I joke, “I am in pursuit of total ignorance, not quite there yet but working on it.” What is amazing is as you release your pre-conceptions about people, what replaces it is compassion – exactly what the Buddha would say, by the way. I was at one of my newer restaurant concepts, in a meeting with my chefs who I asked to make all the core items on the menu. And they were doing it all wrong. Well, not all wrong. And that’s the point, just different. Rather than getting pissed and taking “corrective action”, management-speak for kicking ass, I stopped myself and just decided to “see” what they were doing. In fact, the “correct way” was too time consuming. This lead to whole series of changes to a system that worked better for everyone.
I attribute this change in thinking to when I started sketching and challenging my preconceptions.
I’m 61, and I’m retired. But when I was 18, after graduating from high school and spending a year as an exchanged student in the USA, I wanted to study art seriously, but the only school I found was the university to be an art teacher. At the university at that time, it was not important to teach academic drawing, and hand made art, but they rather taught you intellectual things like “semantique of the art”, “does Art exist ?” and stuff like that. I was kind of deceived by that, and felt I would never reach the level. I had to learn a job, so I quit the university and entered a business school to be a secretary.
I worked 20 years as a secretary and I hated it. I finally quit working after my last daughter’s birth, and since, I draw and paint for my pleasure as much as I can. But I still regret I couldn’t have an artistic job
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My monkey made me quit my MFA in creative writing program, right when I was about to start my second semester and begin writing my novel. It made a complete wreck out of me, a crying, hysterical mess, just when I was starting to feel good about myself and feel that my life had a purpose. Yes, I was actually *happy* for once. Now I’m afraid to write, except in my diary.
I’m going to write you on my life long battle with my Gorilla. Right now it’s so fierce with “you don’t know what you’re doings”. I’m trying to educate myself about drawing and watercolor with serious classes. I’ve signed up for several Skool classes and have not followed through because of this doughter over my shoulder.
When I was a child my monkey was my mother, who told me that pursuing art would be a waste of my brains, and that I should leave it to my more talented siblings. I listened and gave up drawing, which I loved, for other kinds of study, which I also loved. But a part of me has always regretted that I didn’t keep on drawing.
I started drawing again after I became ill and couldn’t work for a while 10 years or so ago but that monkey is both inside and outside my head. it’s there every time I put pen or pencil to paper, telling me I can’t possibly draw that, it’s too difficult, I’m not capable of translating that shape into lines on paper, I’ll make a mess of it, I’ll get it wrong. When I first started drawing again I would have a go anyway ebpventaully if my sketches weren’t very good (I read your books and followed your advice and was hugely encouraged by them) but then I would show my work to family and they would become the monkey! They would respond with Hmmm’s and Oh! and Is that supposed to be? So I stuck with it for a while, tried to keep drawing and hung around the Everyday Matters group for a few months but In the end that monkey got the better of me and I would stop drawing for months at a time.
But I’d keep reading books about sketching and I’d read your blog and every so often over the years I’d start to draw again and try to overcome that monkey and I did find that if I was inspired I could ignore him for short periods of time. I just couldn’t ignore him for very long. So I’ve been a sporadic sketcher until Sketchbook Skool. The thing about Sketchbook Skool is that its given me so much confidence. The monkey is still there. He is still there every time I’m about to start a drawing. I know what I want to draw and I can hear this little voice telling me that I’ll never be able to pull it off. But now I know that I might be able to, and if I can’t, well I’ll have learned something from trying. He’s also telling me that my first line will always be wrong and he’s right, my first line almost always is wrong – but thanks to what I’ve learned in SBS I can work with that. I can correct it without tearing the page out of my book and I can work with the mistakes. So I can hear the monkey now and keep drawing.
I’m not sure that monkey will ever go away but I’m learning to live with him and while he was once a gorilla, he’s now more of a capuchin monkey.
From childhood to college I loved making art. It was fun and people praised my efforts.
Then I got my first job as a junior advertising artist I received a rude awakening. With my role as junior artist I was assigned a monkey. He was relentless and rude. He informed me that no one at the agency cared about making good art, no one cared about being creative. ‘just get it done’. Any feedback he gave me was brief, blunt, harsh or just plain rude.
I was raised to respect my authority figures, but this baptism of negativity shock me to the core. I fled – I quit.
Now I know this was only my experience and that there are many amazing companies and bosses, but it’s taken me almost 30 years to learn that.
When I ran away from my dream of being an artist, that bastard little Monkey followed me home. He’s continued to infected me with negative thoughts in almost everything I’ve done since. He’s even told me that I failed because I was never actually good enough. His favourite phrase was “you’re wasting your time, no one cares”.
Then a few years ago I found online art communities like, Everyday Matters, and dared to post a few sketches. With each new drawing and post, the monkey’s voice is getting quieter.
I’m less frightened to share and have even started my own Facebook sketch group for people in my town.
Finally, I like to make art for arts sake again.
Thank you Danny, your personal journey has been an inspiration.
Danny, I went to a Catholic elementary school where we didn’t have art classes. In the summer, my mother sent me to summer school at the public school to get me out of the house. She didn’t care what I took as long as I was out of the house. I took one art class. I remember happily coloring away with a green crayon when I heard some tittering from a couple of girls sitting at another table. They were popular girls from the public school. They were laughing at me because my coloring went in all directions and didn’t stay inside the lines. I was mortified. I didn’t take another art class until I was in college and then it was ceramics. I didn’t try anything related to sketching or color on paper until SBS. I have two monkeys – with the faces of those two girls. My husband tells me that no matter what I sketch or paint I always point out that it isn’t very good.
Oh yes, I know that voice well. Growing up, I loved to make all kinds of art. Our house was filled with my creations ,and my parents and teachers were my champions. Upon graduation from high school, I enrolled in college, declared myself an art major and looked forward to a continuation of my art training. Ha! Instead I found myself baffled, worried, embarrassed, angry, and feeling generally lower than a worm. I didn’t know what my professors were talking about half the time and the rest of the time I felt small and unworthy, not even close to being as good as everyone else in my classes. My confidence was shaken to the core and every ounce of enjoyment I had found in making art flew right out the window. I grew a monkey bigger than the world. I changed my major to English – which still wasn’t right – and ultimately left early, marrying after my junior year. That was 1968. I eventually became a teacher and then an administrater, starting my own pre-K-6 year old school in 1994. I did use a lot of art in my classrooms, but never made art for myself. I retired in 2004 and began poking around, trying to find “my thing”. I tried writing and cooking and gardening and music and hiking and biking and traveling – all of which I continue to do, but none of which was “my thing”. And then, in 2013 I discovered Koosje Koene’s classes and took her Awesome Art Journalling class in January 2014. It was the biggest life changer ever. That huge, loud, ugly monkey that had been sitting on my shoulder for so many, many years began to weigh less, to take a vacation here and there, to be less audible. And sometimes I even got to tell her to buzz off. And she listened. Then I took three semesters of Sketchbook Skool and fell in love with art all over again. Today I actually introduced myself to a new friend as an artist. And that’s the most wonderful thing of all! I am an artist, but one who let her monkey rule the roost for almost 40 years. I can’t ever get those lost years back, but I’ll be making art for whatever time is left me. And loving life because of it.
I started sketching in meetings because I was bored. This went from doodling to drawing peoples faces, and then as much of them as I could see. I was feeling pretty good about my ability. I got to where I can draw a person and you would be able to recognize who it was. It made looking through my notes fun to see the sketches taking up perhaps too much space on a page. This made me decide to take a drawing class or two. It seemed like it would be fun because I would learn new techniques. Then I saw the kind of work others were submitting for the assignments and it was way way beyond anything I could do. These people weren’t beginners like I felt I was, they were accomplished, on top of their game, and just having fun. Putting people of all skill levels in the same class was an absolutely horrible experience for me. It doesn’t matter how much someone may say, “Don’t compare yourself” it’s what I naturally did. The classes were no longer any fun and I quit taking them. I’ll add that everyone was very supportive in the forums in the classes. It was just too hard to look their work. I still draw people in meetings and that’s still fun but I feel like I lost the opportunity to grow my skills because I psyched myself out.
My Monkey tells me that all this art. all this sketching, all this time spent on art is a waste of time and who wants it anyway. Who cares what I think, or why I think? And am I a real artist anyway? What would make me a real artist, if doing art does not make me a real artist? This goes on all day in my head as I avoid my drawing board. I walk the dogs, I clean the house, I organized my studio, I meet friends for coffee…anything to keep me from returning to my useless, non-profitable, probably not all that great and time wasting art. I read compulsively and go to bed early, get up late. I try to squeeze as much procrastination in a day as possible. And then I start to hate myself. My fingers get itchy and hold a protest rally, slowly inching over to a pen or pencil. They make it..so close, but then it is not the right kind of pen or pencil. And worse, the drawing paper, sketchbook, watercolor paper, toilet paper, any paper at all – and it is still not the right kind. So I slink backward and take the dogs out. I can always draw another day. If it’s worth it. My monkey does not see any value in spending time drawing.
My monkey and I disagree. and so sometimes I get to draw.
I was thinking some more about monkeys yesterday and thinking how disheartening it is when the monkey tells you how awful your drawings are and you tear them out of your sketchbook and that sketchbook gradually gets thinner and thinner until its little more than two pieces of hardboard holding together a few sheets of paper with the few decent drawings you’re happy with. What I love so much about conquering the monkey is living always with a juicy fat sketchbook – when you see how fat it is when you pick that immediately instils confidence and makes it easier to deal with the monkey when you hear him. One rule I have now always though (on top of the rule of tearing out pages) is to not buy spiral bound sketchbooks excuse they make it much too easy to tear out pages. It’s so much harder to tear out a page from a stitched sketchbook – even if you really want to it takes so much more effort of will that you could probably have more a conversation with the monkey before you actually did it.
could you be a little more specific as to what you are looking for?
Oooh, be careful what you ask for! I have a couple (at least) very specific stories about this very subject and my on-going struggle with it, which spans several decades. How exciting that you have brought up the topic! I shall email you in the very near future. Now, I shall shut up the monkey that tells me I have no business yammering on in my blog, and just go and do it.
Danny, Going back over the last 50 years would be a trail of tears, so moving on. Most recently I was so discouraged by my attempts to create simple 5×7” watercolors for Spokane Watercolor Society fundraiser event that I wanted to throw it all aside and start over with a beginning class with Stan Miller even though I am currently going to an intermediate – advanced session with him (He’s a Spokane based master watercolorist). My stuff was muddy and terrible, had no life, didn’t say anything, what am I doing, I’m not a good artist and its a good thing I went into commercial art thirty + years ago or I would be cold and on the street. That’s my ongoing fight with the Gorilla. I’m sorry but monkey does not describe it well enough. The only time it shuts up is during drawing. I’ve been doing that since I could hold a pencil so I guess it just gave up on that front. So much I could say about this struggle but this episode describes the ongoing fight which includes ripping things up, throwing them on the floor, wadding it up, splashing paint over the whole thing, never showing it to anyone.
By the way I didn’t get a successful new painting out of the effort I just grabbed some from by folder of stuff and put it in a mat and submitted in defeat. And, one of them sold.
By the way, I have signed up and not completed several Skool Klasses, this is in part why – dammed Gorilla. Maybe it was that critical art teacher who hated my business card design in High School and called it trite. That’s a measure for ya.
Donald Walls email@example.com
An exercise from a book: write your name with your left hand, now write it backwards is what made me aware of why I had many art supplies (pens,brushes, paper, sketchbooks, pencils)’but next to no drawings or paintings. I did the exercise, was not pleased with the results, and was going to throw it out. I told self to STOP. I did. I kept it and did it a second time only slower. I am a beginner, maybe first or 2nd grade In drawing and watercolor. That was a turning point for me.
Reading books that gave permissions to be right where you are at in your ability has been a BIG help. Your book THE CREATIVE LICENSE was a big help. EVERDAY MATTERS was a big permission! I thought: oh! I can do that and drew some of your sketches. Why yes I could. It was fun. I noticed I tended to think I should be able to just quickly complete a drawing. Drawing a mug (CREATIVE LICENSE) was an aha moment for me. I did it three times. I learned that looking, seeing, and slowing down moved me from kindergarten to 1st grade
When my thoughts play: that’s no good. I remind my self I am a beginner, or beginning beginner. The expectations really fall away. It’s true and one can’t successfully argue with truth. I look at what I have just spent time on and like it anyway, or change it to something I do like. I think it is important to identify expectations and then toss them. My drawing/painting is what it is at any given movement. Doing it, picking up the pencil, pen, brush and just doing it. So rewarding. Respecting my internal,first grader and letting her do seems to stop the critic.
[…] when I read the post from Danny Gregory this week, asking for tales from our Monkeys, another bunch of dots connected: Monkey minded me, the battles with my daemons, and all the reasons […]
That voice has plagued me – and I’ve found myself actually mouthing its words out loud to my sweetie while he’s been teaching himself how to play the guitar, I am shamefully not proud to say. He’s made me aware of it and now I am trying hard to keep that voice silent. My parents – particularly my mother – has been my worst critic and biggest fan. Sometimes the voice can be useful but it is tiresome to fight against and I get more with honey – positive self-talk – than with that negative voice.
The monkey is so bad, I have a hard time even writing this. I could always draw, but never really did until I was about 24 and went to Comm. College night class. The teacher told me I had some natural talent. The voice told me she was saying SOME natural talent. The school was having an art show. She picked out a few things of mine she wanted to frame for the show. I never went back to the class after that because I felt I was not good enough and my stuff was not good enough. This was only the first time I started and stopped.