Crack It Wide Open

Faculty Guest Blogger: Beth Tyrrell

Beth Tyrrell: “You’ve done it, Pollock. You’ve cracked it wide open.” Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden) stares in amazement at Pollock’s first breakthrough “drip painting” in the 2000 film, Pollock. Pollock, who is portrayed masterfully by Ed Harris in the film, looks on in a little disbelief as well. In order to create something so utterly unique and innovative, Jackson Pollock had to remove himself from the process; this “himself” is in all of us: the judging, calculating, self-criticizing artist we all possess in our heads. It is that inner artist that makes us doubt ourselves as creatives, that causes us to tear up half-finished illustrations in a frustrated rage, fling a paintbrush across the room, or stalk away from our work desks convinced we’ll never “crack it wide open” ourselves. Ignoring that inner critic is the first step in breaking through.

I’ll be the first to admit I was a lazy undergraduate art student. Yes, I could draw. I filled up sketchbook after sketchbook, blazed through reams of paper, doodled on every available surface offered to me growing up. My art style, however, was something I never thought of. I was a mimic: my entire childhood was spent copying meticulous studies of animals in “how to draw” books or detailed renderings of my favorite Disney animated characters. This, I thought, is what being an artist is all about.

That Disney-worthy illusion died week one of my MFA program. I was the youngest one there, fresh from my BFA undergraduate world into this new, highly competitive arena: Marywood’s “Get Your Masters with the Masters” MFA program. I stood next to art superstars in each workshop, and met other art legends during our Study Tours in NYC. It didn’t take long for my inner critic to begin whispering, “You’re not good enough to be here.” I was further humbled unto tears when Lynne Foster, a renowned collage illustrator working for Pratt in NYC looked at my pitiful collection of undergraduate work and told me, “You’re never going to make it. You’d be better off leaving the program now.”

I sat in my basement studio in June with a collection of sketches and concepts for a children’s book dummy I was at work on for a course team-taught by the talented Meghan Hasley and Melanie Hall… it was called The Dove’s Egg, and my job was to find a new way to illustrate a very old tale. It hadn’t been going well, and Lynne’s last comment to me that past spring was still needling my gut. I grabbed a pot of ink and drawing pen and just began random, haphazard sketching on large sheets of paper. It’s a tale in India, so let’s be exotic, I thought. Let’s make the dog in the tale a Saluki, the cat a Siamese… oops, I splashed that ink… oh who cares… leave it. Oh I don’t have my paints to color… just use marker and scribble it in… I worked for days on a new concept. I left the criticisms, the self-doubt, and the rage all to the side. I was creating – for the first time in my life – and I was in the moment. I didn’t even care about the results – I just wanted to make art.

Beth Tyrrell

July came and I hesitantly carried my dozens of new sketches back to campus. Lynne was back with raised eyebrows when she saw me get up to present my latest pieces. “I didn’t think you’d be back,” she challenged me.  I displayed my work, talked about my concept, showed off my illustrations, and held my breath. Lynne’s smile echoed the faint, yet grudgingly impressed one of Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada: she liked it. “Well done,” she told me after my presentation, “and welcome to the program.”

The Wolf by Beth TyrrellIt’s been some time since I found myself on the student side of the lecture room and my style has indeed changed over the years. What I gained from that experience – the one thing that I took with me – was confidence: confidence in myself, confidence in my line, confidence in my style. My artwork now focuses heavily on line and character, with color being used more as accents to what the line is saying: think Bill Watterson meets Hiroshigi. I have developed fun, engaging characters with my own – and their own! – quirky sense of humor; I work with materials such as liquid gold leaf and spray inks in ways they were never intended by their manufacturers; I strive in my artwork today to continually “crack it wide open.” We all have to overcome that same blank page or canvas, and we all have to be able to swallow our pride sometimes, take a step out onto that creative ledge and jump. Just because we’ve always done it one way doesn’t mean we can’t dare to try something new. It may mean more crumpled mountains of paper, but pushing ourselves to that ledge will always result in a more creative inner voice.

Explore more of Beth’s work at

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