We are so pleased to share this powerful submission by community member and artist, Meredith Pennebaker. Meredith is passionate about illustration which ties in nicely with her love of reading fantasy and science fiction. She was raised in Detroit, spent most of her twenties in Chicago and Wyoming, and has lived in Mississippi for the past five years. Some of her past professions before settling into art have been: barista, brewer, baker, bookkeeper, and bartender.
Where do I find my confidence as an artist?
I had been bartending for less than 12 months, and I had no problem telling complete strangers that I was a bartender. After all, I earned money as a bartender, I had a cool bartending apron, and I knew how to make a mean Old Fashion (hint: less is more). It was a slow Saturday brunch shift. A lady sat down, alone, and ordered. Like most bar guests who sit alone, she wanted small talk. I asked about her day. She asked about mine. She asked how long I had been a bartender. 11 months. I asked if she had any plans for her day. Haircut. Then she asked if I did anything else besides bartending. So, there I was, shaking her Moscow Mule. The tin was getting cold in my hand, and expectation was building on her face. I strained her ginger libation into a highball, and I thought about her question. Did I do anything else besides bartend?
As I passed her the drink, I replied, “I’m an artist.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I panicked. I had never met this woman in my life, and yet I knew that she knew I was lying. She was going to call me out. She would stand upon her barstool and beckon those around her to toast to my humiliation and throw lime wedges at me. With my breath held, I waited for her reaction. Soon there would be laughter. At best, I expected a pity-filled look that said behold, another starving artist. Instead, she said, “That’s wonderful! What medium do you use? Can I see some pictures?”
Promptly, my fears vanished, and no fruit was thrown. It was the first time that I ever told someone I was an artist. I was 30. I had been practicing art since I could pick up a crayon. (Thankfully, I have progressed beyond the scribbles of a two-year-old.) Why was it so easy to tell people I was a bartender, despite having less than a year’s experience? Why was it so hard to proclaim myself an artist after decades of work?
I had expected her to call me an imposter, and yet, without me ever showing her a single painting, she believed me. She not only believed me, but she also wanted to know more. That was the moment I realized, the only thing holding me back from being an artist was believing I was one.
Now that may sound trite. I have seen enough inspirational posters to be sick of catchy phrases like “just believe.” It takes a lot more than belief to accomplish anything, and I think it is belittling to someone’s efforts to say otherwise. However, believing is still essential. Hear me out, now.
Being an artist is hard work. It means hours in the studio. It means closets full of creations that do not sell and should never see the light of day. It means losing yourself as you paint parts of your soul. It means facing rejection and beginning again. It also means believing that what you are is what you are doing.
I make art therefore I am an artist.
I spent years not telling people I was an artist because I am not famous. I do not have an art degree. My works have never been featured in a gallery. My mother is my biggest fan. Most of the world has no idea who I am and never will.
I am still an artist.
Am I confident in what I make? Not always. Am I confident in who I am? Yes. The funny thing is, when I started telling people I was an artist, my confidence began to change. I began to buy into what I was saying. If I cannot call myself an artist, how can I expect others to? I am amazed by the difference owning the title has made. It has introduced me to new people. It has opened doors. It has pushed me in the best ways possible.
The more I tell others I am an artist, the more confident I am as an artist.
If you still do not think you are an artist, I suggest you fake it till you make it. Try this experiment. Spend the next month telling anyone who asks, that you are an artist (no excuses). You might be surprised by people’s reactions. You might even start to believe you are one."
Thanks again Meredith for sharing your words and part of your story with us! If you'd like to learn more about her, click here.