When I was young I called myself an art student, not an artist. 'Student' implied I was a beginner, a trainee, a wannabe. Nobody expected my art to be any good. Least of all me.
There was a lot of potential in my art. But, like so many creative young people, I turned away from it. Based on the advice I was given and the society I lived in, I assumed that good grades in a traditional academic subject would lead to a good job and a happy and successful life.
Statistically, that's probably true. But it depends on your definition of happiness and success.
"Couldn't you carry on doing art as a hobby?" asked one of my teachers during an A-Level options meeting.
No other comment had a more damaging effect on my attitude to art. Except perhaps a tutor's dismissal of my sketches as "pretty pictures". Apparently that was a bad thing.
So I studied a traditional academic subject, English, and then worked in the offices of large organisations.
I never felt at home. I felt like I was playing a role; living somebody else's life. Inside I felt frustrated and lost. So at lunchtime I would sneak out and sketch. I'd draw people, buildings, anything.
I had to. If I didn't do something creative, I felt like I was going to burst.
Eventually I did.
It happened when I was a newly qualified primary school teacher. I had assumed that my creativity would be beneficial to the role. But it was stifled by more bureaucracy and box-ticking and stress than ever before.
"Why am I struggling so much to do a job that comes naturally to other people?" I thought. "I should be doing something that comes naturally to me."
So I quit.
I'm not proud of it. I do not like giving up. Ever. But enough was enough. It was time to do what I'm good at, what comes naturally, and what I enjoy doing. I allowed myself to be an artist.
How do I know that I am an artist? Because I always was an artist, I am an artist, and I always will be an artist.
It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's nothing to boast about either. It's just a fact.
Some people are naturally good at mathematical calculations. Good for them. Some people are naturally good at talking to other people. Great. Some people are naturally good at hitting a fuzzy yellow ball over a net with a racket. If that's what they're into, fair enough. Me? I'm naturally good at drawing.
Are you an artist?
Richard Pettitt, cartoonist.