Written by Graduate Student: Khrista Richardson
When Cat Bennett’s book, The Confident Creative: Drawing to Free the Hand and Mind arrived at my door I opened it up and couldn’t help but to look through it immediately. I was excited by the fact that almost every page included some sort of beautiful, colorful image, printed on glossy, high quality paper. Soulful, vibrant pictures dancing on the pages of books are a luxury I had taken for granted as a child, and dearly miss as an adult. Why can’t more books be beautifully adorned with a variety of artworks to explore between the written words? Why do children get to have all of the fun?
As I began to read, I found my first impressions fitting, and was delighted to realize that this book was about more than just the act of drawing. Bennett presents her book, which stems from the genre of self-help, with a resonating, heartfelt introduction that gently reminds the reader how their view of art-making and creativity developed and changed as they aged. She takes note of the pleasure that was experienced while drawing as a child. Bennett then drudges up the fact that many lost that sense of freedom and pride due to high expectations of others, and the desire for quick results. This honest and direct introduction works as a sort of call to arms for readers. Eloquently, Bennett manages to rally the reader to let go of their pre-conceived notions of what it means to be the perfect artist; to take chances and to be the creative person that they are, without judgment or hesitation.
Like a caring and extremely articulate friend, Bennett writes honestly, encouragingly and personally by incorporating her own experiences and ideas into this inspiring book. Much of The Confident Creative is comprised of “how-to” sections, making it both accessible and easy to thumb through for ideas or exercises. As an art educator, I found that most of the drawing exercises Bennett included weren’t as diverse or cutting edge as I’d hoped they would be. Although, they could most definitely be useful to a person just getting into art making, or someone looking for some new ways to come up with creative ideas. Bennett instructs and gives visual examples of the included tasks, such as gesture drawing, in which you quickly sketch the shapes of objects, being sure to always keep your hand moving, and blind contour drawing, an exercise which involves rendering an object without ever looking down at the paper. Bennett also includes more entertaining and novel, higher-order thinking tasks, such as using random word prompts to get you started on a drawing. “Pink skyscraper dream”, or my favorite, “red moose man” are a few of the mentioned phrases. She also suggests drawing from memory, something that children naturally do frequently. The tasks Bennett included, though they may seem silly or childish, are invaluable and will surely help readers relax and concentrate on the process rather than the product.
Throughout the book, Bennett expertly offers advice to help the reader overcome conscious and subconscious thoughts that adversely affect the ability to be creative and to experiment. She even loosely incorporates yogic practices, such as single pointed focus, and links them to the act of drawing. I found this association extremely refreshing and it reminded me that art making can be a relaxing activity, a simple concept I had lost while taking several rigorous art courses during my undergraduate years.
Bennett also based sections of this book on simple notions, such as “Making Friends with Mistakes”, which discusses, to the horror of some readers I’m sure, that embracing and even incorporating your mistakes into your artwork can bring genius ideas and beautiful results. Another section, “The Sneaky Voice of Unreason”, discusses the power of positive thought and the importance of self-confidence. Bennett clearly has a firm understanding of what psychologically affects us both as art makers and as creative people in general. She presents her thoughts clearly and honestly, leaving the reader with the tools and knowledge they need in order to overcome obstacles and to be successful art makers.
In addition to my fondness for the beauty and variety of the artwork within, The Confident Creative will sit on my bookshelf for years to come because of the inspiration and hope it left me with. Bennett reminded me how to enjoy art making again, like I did when I was a child. She gave me tools, ideas, and inspiring words to live by. And she even let me look at pictures while I did it.
Bennett, C. (2010). The confident creative: Drawing to free the hand and mind. Scotland: Findhorn Press.
Khrista Richardson, a current Creative Studies graduate student at Buffalo State College, has a Bachelor's degree in Art Eduaction. Khrista is currently fulfilling a year of service with Western New York Americorps ABLE (Americorps Builds Lives through Education) program, working as a full time tutor at a Buffalo charter school.