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    Perfectionism and the art of self-encouragement

    Would sit and draw alphabets and patterns for hours -and with no one else around to compare with- it wasn’t as threatening as drawing realistic subjects

    Hello, I’m Emma. I’m an artist,

    but I haven’t always believed that.

    artist printing

    Growing up in sub-Saharan, wild Africa, where we cooked on a charcoal stove and washed out of our recycled oil drum “shower” my dad had rigged up, we were only one of two white families around for many miles and as a result, my only playmates were the twin girls of the other expat family, five years older than me.

    In my five-year-olds’ mind (and the perfectionist-in-training that I was), when I compared my drawing skills to theirs, I definitely came out second-best.

    I decided then and there that I “couldn’t draw.”

    It’s funny how we make these inner vows from seemingly insignificant circumstances; a careless word here, a lack of encouragement there – and all of a sudden, we find ourselves entangled in a web of negative self-talk holding us back from our dreams.

    Despite this inner dialogue I couldn’t stop making things, and when I was given a calligraphy set a few years later, I was hooked.

    I would sit and draw alphabets and patterns for hours -and with no one else around to compare with- it wasn’t as threatening as drawing realistic subjects.

    Despite my budding perfectionism, I found that with calligraphy, even if I’d made mistakes to individual letters, I could change the look and feel of them just by adding to the shape of the lines.

    This ability to add in a margin of error was a godsend and also worked in really well with my overdeveloped attention to detail!

    Despite studying art in high school, pursuing a career in the creative arts was discouraged in preference for ‘real’ vocational opportunities so I studied biomedical science at uni and to this day still work in a Pathology Laboratory.

    That makes me sound real smart, doesn’t it?! 

    Truth is that it’s a heck of a lot of paperwork, and making sure you get details right, so you don’t accidentally kill someone 

    I digress. Pushing down the self-criticism still nagging at me that I couldn’t draw, every chance I got through uni and my early twenties, I would hole myself up at a desk in the corner of my bedroom, drawing and experimenting for hours with all different types of pens to produce wildly diverse effects, remembering to just play.

    Copying copperplate calligraphy and other people’s artwork, I slowly began to develop my own style with blended lettering and illustration, gradually building confidence in my skills.

    Being published in an international lettering competition was a real turning point for me, boosting my confidence and -ironically, the winning quote was Fear Not But Take Courage Dear Heart …you know I was really talking to myself!

    I began posting online, sharing my art and people were really responding! Then it hit me: my art wasn’t just for myself anymore.. it had become about encouraging others on their journey, just as much as it was an outlet for my own thoughts and feelings.

    People started asking me to do lettering work for them—wedding chalkboards, window art, commissioned pieces here and there but having my boss at the time as a returning customer really encouraged me to keep going with my artwork.

    art print

    Due to the upswell of public interest, I started to look at ways to produce prints, to share with more people.

    In an exciting move for my artistry, I began a collaboration with another artist to make affirmation card sets. This would be branching out from the mostly black and white lettering I had been doing up until then, getting bold with watercolours and blending – it was so exciting!

    .. until I realised that some colours just DON’T capture well on scanning, especially with watercolour. I clearly remember the moment when I picked them up from my local printers.

    Opening the box with excited anticipation, my stomach dropped as I stared at the colours.

    Completely different to the original. I felt like I’d made a huge mistake.

    The colour balance was off and the inks I’d used were actually much more delicate than the scanner could pick up, which seemed to over-saturate them. Those prints are still relegated to the very back corner of my Cupboard of Shame at home… don’t ask me about it I don’t want to talk about them (Read: how perfectionists deal with failure).

    Discouraged, I went back to just doing black and white drawings, printing them at Officeworks and hoping no one would notice the colours were off (yes, black and white colours can be off!).

    When through happenstance, I had an opportunity to have my artwork reproduced with a professional printer, specialising in fine art reproduction I leapt at the chance.

    Handing over my originals was a little scary given my previous experiences, but the team really knew what they were talking about and put me at ease with their to-the-point questions, about what my expectations were and the options I wanted to explore regarding scanning, ink colours, textures and paper finishes.

    I felt “held” in the process, without being condescended, overloaded with information to or rushed through to get the job done.

    So it was a trepidatious and exciting moment when I got my prints back.

    How they managed it I don’t know, but the professional printers had used some sort of secret sauce process for the scanning and to be honest, I almost couldn’t tell the difference between them and the originals!

    If anything, the originals were slightly grimier with my fingerprint marks, whereas the prints were like their airbrushed supermodel doppelgangers. It was magical and the response from my customers was amazing – I sold over $1500 worth of art in the first week!

    This process of working with professional printers has given me a whole new lease of life in my artwork, my new Christmas cards are flying out the door, and I’m now working on a series of encouraging quotes that my fans are really loving!

    digital print art

    And when the time comes to make prints of them, I’m excitedly looking forward to producing prints that actually have the feel of the original artwork.

    To get my art out there into the hands of people who are excited about my work but can’t necessarily afford the cost of a custom commissioned piece is like a living dream for me. Thank you Creffield!

    “Emma Davis is a Melbourne based calligrapher and handlettering artist.

    Her passion is to encourage others in their journey in life, art or whatever they set their hearts on – especially that of stepping out of anxiety and into calming fields of peace for the soul. She makes affirmation cards and creates commission pieces for her growing fanbase on Instagram @emmalinneadavis. You can find prints of her work at www.studioofem.com

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