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  • Writer's pictureLaura Skinner

Telling My Story

When I started college, I didn’t realize that art school isn't focused on teaching you how to do things. How to paint a perfect painting, how to draw a great drawing, or how to throw an amazing pot. Of course you learn plenty of skills and techniques, but what caught me off guard was that it’s much more focused on learning about yourself. I honestly don't mean that in a cheesy way- every single assignment you do, painting you paint, and sketchbook you fill, it’s all based on research into your personal story. You find yourself looking through old family photos for your homework. Sitting outside and watching people walk by, or calling your parents to ask them about their childhood for a project. It's the most introspective four years, where you dissect your life from the inside out. If you are in need of a good soul searching, get a degree in art.

When I started digging into my own personal story, it always came back to the most prominent people in it- my family. I was completely fascinated by how their stories and history played a major role in the person I was, and I wanted to learn all I could. Old family photographs became my textbooks. My grandparents starred as the subjects in almost all the work I made. I retold stories of family relationships and dynamics. Stories of travel. Stories of love. All soaked in a huge vat of nostalgia. For any painting or drawing, I could tell you a whole story about the people and places depicted, and even better yet, anyone viewing my work could come up with their own narrative about the piece. I kept up with this theme in my work for my entire college career. After I graduated, I had an art show that exhibited a collection of my paintings, all featuring these strong family narratives. Telling these stories was what really made art ‘click’ for me.

After my painting exhibition was over, I didn’t have plans or solid direction for any future projects. I was out of the academic setting, and was eager to explore what else I could do with art. I started focusing on surface pattern design, something that I got into when I was decorating ceramics in college, and really interested me. I love a good floral pattern. I started sewing pouches and bags and backpacks. I figured out how to construct any bag I wanted to make. I got into illustration. I studied models in magazines and learned more about fashion than I ever had before.

But you guessed it- there weren’t strong narratives for me in any of that. There were bits and pieces, but not the substantial kind that I needed, so I felt distant from the work I was making. And don't get me wrong, I truly loved everything I explored in the past year. I just feel like I jumped around so much because I didn’t tap into the narrative I was craving for any of it. My whole deal, the part of making art that actually interested me, was the story about my life that I got to tell.

This lack of story recently dawned on me, and helped make a lot more sense out of why I was struggling. And this realization isn’t a magic solution, because I still don’t know exactly how I want to tell my story, or exactly what story I want to tell. But just by writing this blog post I’m getting back into it, so I’m already feeling better.

Thank you for being here, friend. Stories are much better with an audience, and I’m truly grateful you chose to pull up a chair and listen.

Before you go, I’d love to know- Have you ever felt distant from your work for a similar reason? Have you figured out a good way to share your own story? Tell me about it below!

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