The other day I went to a life drawing session at a local event space. It wasn’t a class, just a session where a model would throw some shapes and people would draw them. I’ve never done anything like this before for one simple reason. I can’t draw. Why would I pay to sit in a room with a naked stranger and attempt to draw them? That sounds like a perfect cocktail for anxiety and depression, right?

Thing is, it wasn’t. I was nervous beforehand, but I know the difference between being nervous and having devastatingly bad anxiety. I was more nervous about how to deal with a naked stranger’s body I had to look at for 2 hours than I was about feeling like I would fail to draw anything. Which is precisely why I was doing this. I wanted to challenge those nerves and hopefully learn something.

I’m starting to understand those thoughts in my head that are seemingly shocked by something but are actually subconsciously curious about it. When I first saw people cold water swimming, I thought they were being stupid. That woman who swam naked in the lakes of Wales, why?! I’d never do something so weird. Fast-forward several years, I’m doing the same thing and completely understanding why people do it. Secretly, even to myself, I am curious. It may take years of seeing something to remove the subconscious layers of protection to maybe stop me doing something silly, but I get there. I used to think people were stupid for running a marathon, and yet I got there, and it was incredible.

In psychology, this is known as “reaction formation.” An idea by Sigmund Freud. I’m no psychologist, and I’ve only found articles to back up my cognitive bias. Take this idea with a pinch of salt.

Whatever is going on, learning to spot these times and trust in curiosity over judgement can lead me to something interesting. Instead of letting my brain run on judgemental autopilot, I should ask questions. Be curious.

In this case, it lead me to a place where I found a way that I can draw. All my life I’ve tried to learn how to draw. In school, I had a book on how to draw stick figures. I wanted to do ‘A’ Level art for the photography side of it, but that was only a small portion, and I was no artist. I kept telling myself I couldn’t draw, and I kept proving to myself that I couldn’t. Until I made a piece of art in the style of Mondrian, and I began to understand that there are ways I can draw and ways I can’t. Figuring out the ways I can, was the way forward. Lessons? Nah. Just playing with things.

I googled for life drawing ideas, found things I liked and had a go. The style was forgiving enough that your mistakes were what made it yours. There was no wrong or chance of failure. It was simply freedom of expression in the way you only got to do as a kid.

I went into the life drawing session with this idea, and I spent 2 hours sketching various poses. I found the longer poses allowed me more time to concentrate, which ultimately gave me more time to try to perfect lines. That is when I was most anxious. The shorter 5 minute poses allowed me to be more chaotic, frantic and care free. There was no time for perfection, only fun. I wasn’t slowly creating the perfect curve. I was just going for it. It was fun!

For 2 hours, everything else in my life was outside the room. Mainly because inside the room was a completely naked stranger, and I was completely out of mental energy to process anything but that. That “terror”, lacking a better word, helped give me focus. No time to check social media or start exploring random ADHD thoughts. It was refreshing.

Of course, I definitely thought the model had to be bonkers for doing this. Why would they get their clothes off in front of naked strangers to be judged and drawn? Why would you even do that?! I’d never do something so weird… Seemed quite empowering, though. It would be nice to be that confident. Could I ever be that confident or happy with who I am? Let’s just keep drawing for now.

In that spirit, here’s my first arty self portrait. A person happy in their own skin and happy with their art.

Sketch of a male form. They are green on a purple background with their back to the artist.