I had faked it till I made it.

This development occurred despite a distinct lack of encouragement going all the way back to my grade school art teacher, a lack of encouragement so profound that it would be decades before I produced anything more than a stick figure on a barroom napkin.

In high school, teachers lumped me with the "smart but not creative" crowd. In college, I looked with great wonder at the exotic world of the anointed art students, as if I were getting a glimpse into the lives of Old Money: You were to the manor born, or you weren't.

Me, I majored in something practical, something that would get me a job. There was a black-and-white line drawn between the likes of them and the likes of me.


LEFT: One of these was painted by a trained artist, Mike Miner, and the other by my friend Jack Winter, picking up a brush for the first time. They both have more talent than I. (Hint: Jack likes rivers.)

RIGHT: Barroom boats. The top one was sketched by the talented Mr. Winter while overthinking the subject; the bottom one was scrawled by me. Who's the artist now? (Hint: Mine is the one with the coffee stain.)


But desire simmered below the surface nonetheless. It found an outlet in my houses, with their brightly colored walls and floors, and in my garden, which reflects the impulses of someone who loves color and composition, form and function. I was aching to create.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you ever wish that you could join that rarefied realm of those considered to be ‘artistic'? Well, you can! If you are a gardener, you are already an artist, and that garden of yours will inspire you to branch out if you just let it.

It worked for me. I now draw and paint and quilt with abandon and feel comfortable creating luggage so distinct that it is easy to find at the airport (However, someone should have taken into consideration that painting "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" on black Samsonite is also a good way to get your luggage searched during those "random" security checks.).

It's a Picasso! It's a Seuss! No, it's underdog Summer Walla! (And a dying houseplant.)

Don't get me wrong -- I'm no Picasso. But awhile back I took to heart the advice of a wiser teacher than that that cranky art teacher who wasn't impressed with my rendition of a skunk in 8th grade. This second teacher, Terri Mangat, got tired of hearing a roomful of quilters whining about being good with fabric but not "real" artists because we couldn't draw."Don't tell me that you can't draw," she said. "Draw something every day for the next five years and then you will be able to draw. It doesn't just happen."

So, I would sit in my garden and doodle. Eventually, some nice-looking doodles emerged. In fact, they were quite expressive, if I do say so myself. I'll never be an accomplished realistic painter, but that's OK. My quilts and paintings are beautiful to me and, over time, I've even become a "successful" artist.

You can make that leap, too. In fact, it's a sure cure for the winter doldrums.

You don't need anything but that itch you feel in your fingers. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you have to have all the right tools, plus a video or a class, and that when you have everything read and the stars seem aligned you will take a deep breath and begin. Don't make the mistake of buying a fancy set of watercolor paints and an expensive sketchbook -- all they will do is intimidate you with their pristine snootiness. I stared at my blank sketchbooks for years, afraid to sully them with my timid ideas. And that 100-pencil Prismacolor set stared me down with its boxed perfection. They seemed like a thousand points of light that could only dim in my inexperienced hands.

Anyone could make a tree quilt like this; the fabrics do half the work. "The Borrowers" (below) is a quilt I liked enough to keep rather than sell. The same 2" squares were used, but the result is more abstract.

Just pick up a writing implement in one hand and grab a writing surface with the other, and then draw something. My suggestion for silencing any hum of fear is to choose a shape that you love in your garden and take a shot at drawing it. It might be a blade of grass, an unusual leaf, a flower petal, a bug or a rock. Even though it is probably the dead of winter where you live, and it might seem as if your garden leaves a lot to the imagination, the stark outlines you'll spy out there right now are ideal.

If you don't like your first attempt, try again. Maybe elongate your shape or make it fatter; give it a little dimension or fill it in with doodles. Don't crumple and toss. Keep working on it. Nobody's looking over your shoulder to see whether you're doing it ‘right.'

Try a couple of different tools. Pens are stingy and unforgiving, but pencils are generous and friendly. Chalk is fun; so are Sharpies.

One trick that I use to get my own creative side speaking is to study an object, abstract it in my mind, and then try to draw it with only one line, not lifting the pencil from the paper. Or, try drawing one-half of an object with your dominant hand and then draw the other side with your weaker one. That's how I created the wacky cartoon tree pictured here. The way my left hand thinks gave the drawing more of a sense of movement than my stiffer, more serious-minded right hand would have. I think this tree resembles a drawing for a Dr. Seuss book, and that makes me feel like a major talent. (This technique also works well for silencing any critics. If anyone dares to make a negative comment, you just cluck and say, "Well, I drew it with my left hand, do you mind?")

And guess who's famous for his line drawings, among other things? Picasso.

My simple shapes usually evolve into more complex works, such as the tree and landscape pictured here. It's still a tree, and it's still abstracted, but the small squares of fabric give it a semi-realistic look. In the third, larger quilt, I veered back toward abstraction, using the same-size squares but focusing on color rather than form.
Of course, perhaps you look at my humble artwork and think, "Gosh, I can do so much better than that." Which would mean that my work here is done if I've convinced you to pick up a brush or a Sharpie and see where it takes you.

Let your garden "draw" you in.

(To see the works of "real" artists on Dave's Garden, visit the Artisans forum, which is open to both subscribers and nonsubscribers.)