How Your Expertise And Enthusiasm Can Lead To Miscommunication

An Interview With Divya Kato, Founder and Author of When in Doubt, Draw

Divya oozes enthusiasm. I met her at a FEW (For Empowering Women) meeting. Then, when I heard that she ran art workshops, I decided to give my family a couple of hours of drawing together as a Christmas gift. It was great fun and a new way for us to communicate as my parents (who were visiting Japan from England), my husband, my daughter, and I sat around a table focusing intently on a vase of roses and created what we saw on our canvas.

In this interview, Divya talks about the influence of her family background and tells us how her expertise and enthusiasm didn’t always lead to the most effective communication…


What kind of communicator do you want to be?

I want to be a communicator who inspires creativity in others and actively and excessively communicates the benefits of living a creative life.

It’s all about expression. Art is universal, and we don’t have to use language itself. But the language of expression can touch different people with different languages.

Communicating this, which is essentially wordless, is quite a challenge and a wonderful way to spend life is to find different ways of making self-expression easy.

So I want to be a communicator who is constantly researching ways of doing that and helping people express themselves, helping them get into this creative place, and sparking ideas.

I have to be both careful and really aware of how I communicate with each person. If it’s been a really long time since they drew anything, I have to be gentle. I’ve got to see things from that perspective. To them, the canvas is really far away, and they really want to get there.

Someone else might be champing at the bit to something get started. They might need to take a step back and have a look. So it’s how I communicate with them.

What is one communication success that you can share with us?

When I first started, I was so eager and excited to share drawing with people that it came out in a rush of words. I was also approaching this idea of sharing creativity with my own lens, with what it did for me.

So my biggest success and learning point has been asking at the outset of my classes before we begin and at the outset of the workshop. I ask people why are you here? and what do you want to get out of this time? Then listening to their answers really helps shift me out of me and into, okay I can focus everything on addressing their specific problems and needs.

So it’s a total shift in the way I deliver a class or workshop. It sounds so simple to ask first, but it’s easily missed.

How did you learn to focus on the audience?

Even when I’m scared, I’ll do things. So I’ll go and speak to people even if I’m nervous.

Before learning to focus on the audience and having presentation skills training with you, I was so willing and eager that I could see that I startled people.

So finally I thought, okay I’m going to have to take a step back and look at the way I’m delivering this because there are some people there that I’m not reaching or that look scared. This is drawing, so it should be safe and fun. So what is it that I’m missing, and why am I losing some people?

The other experience, which is why I also signed up for training with you, is the experience of standing in front of people even if you might have rehearsed everything in your bedroom. But when you’re standing there, all these primitive things kick in and your mouth goes dry. And you can’t really say things properly. I realized that was happening to me, too.

A lot of people would love to be able to be that courageous. Where does your courage come from?

When I was very small, my parents loved having really big parties, and our house was always full of people. And my sister and I were pushed into the center to do either some kind of Indian dance or sing a song. Or at the time I was learning piano, so my mum would tell me, play the piano. And I really didn’t want to. I really had no idea who most of these people were. So I think quite a few parties later, even though I was still nervous, we just did it.

After my parents’ divorce, there wasn’t much money. And again, when I was nervous, I had to ask for things I hadn’t asked for before. Can I do this? Can I apply for this? And I just pushed myself to do things. I heard all these stories about things going wrong if you miss an opportunity. So when I was young, my courage came from fear of everything disappearing.

What is one communication failure that you can share with us?

Before starting my business, I experimented a lot before I left full-time employment. I was test trialing everything. My first ever drawing class took place in my small apartment.

I just gave them everything I had, which was a lot. I was sharing everything I have learned about drawing in the space of an hour and a half! I also made them Indian chicken curry, and I just pulled out everything. The good point about that was I really think I gave them my all. And it was great for my first class.

The failure was because this all came out in huge rush. Luckily, these were my friends that I had invited because I wanted honest feedback. But they were all stunned. They said, Oh my gosh, Divya, what is going on? There are sparks flying. We haven’t even started.

So I could see that it was too much information for them. And I had to get clearer, more essential, and break up my classes into digestible pieces. So I couldn’t show them anything about drawing in one class, which was my desire. I had to think about them.

What is the most easily digestible and accessible way that I can get you into drawing? And asking that question already calmed me down.

I had forgotten that people don’t think about drawing as an extreme sport. It’s not like snowboarding or bungee jumping. You have to have a break with that level of concentration. So I noticed it’s attention-intensive. It was too much at once and I knew I could make it much easier for people.

Overall, I had completely missed the point of ‘the why’. I want to share drawing because it sparks creativity. It’s the most accessible way to creativity.

It makes them see that they have the power to create anything they want to from nothing, that despite their own doubts and fears, they can make something.

So I completely missed that. I was talking about all these things about drawing, artists, ideas, different approaches to art, and bringing people back to nature. And I missed this point about looking at the flower as representing nature, about thinking about your doubts and fears as you are drawing, about contemplating your own creativity.

If I had just said those three things — or even just one of them — and let them get on with it, they would have understood why I was sharing it. But I completely missed the point with that overload of information.

What is most challenging for you in communication right now?

The challenge now is two-fold. One is what I talked about before. As an artist trying to make expressing yourself accessible, through words and without words, my challenge is how to make this possible to different groups of people.

So I have to really challenge myself to look at my classes from the point of view of the seven-year-old that I teach on Saturday. Then, getting into the week, I teach a group of young professionals with a couple of retirees as well. I’m talking soon about working with an elderly group, so I have to think how to then make it accessible to them. Their needs and wants are going to be very different from the seven-year-old who just loves drawing.
He just wants to draw and draw and draw. So my biggest challenge is to tailor my message.

The second point is to constantly keep myself in this space of awareness where my focus is on them.

I’m able to remind myself to keep doing those things by investing in making myself a better person. So taking presentation coaching with you was wonderful.

I stay close to my own craft with daily practice and daily drawings. And finally, challenging myself with new opportunities all the time. If the gap is too far, then I know I need to invest in something to help me get there. So new opportunities, staying close to my craft, and investing in training.

What communication skill, resource, or advice would you recommend to our readers?

The first one is very simple. It’s called ‘start and see’. ‘Start and see’ is a technique that can be as simple as putting the tip of a pencil onto paper. It doesn’t just apply to drawing. It can apply to everything.

Start and see if this is the job for you by visiting the building. Start and see if yoga really is the thing you want to do for the rest of your life by speaking to a yoga teacher, taking a class, or even picking up a leaflet.

There are so many small ways of starting and seeing something before you make a conclusion because the mind will just spiral out of control and can stop you.

My business is called When in Doubt, Draw. I’m always thinking about the doubts and fears people have. So one way to address those doubts is this ‘start and see’ approach. I talk about it a lot because it allows you to sample things. We do tasting with so many other things, with wine and chocolate, for example, so it seems quite natural to me that we should sample things we feel would be good for us.

Even if you can’t go to the dream place right away, you can get a picture of it. Or you can buy a book about it.

After each step, I would stress just coming back to being still. I find it very difficult to be still, which is why I have to make myself do it. Being in a heightened state of energy is good, but each thing that you start and see needs attention and stillness. Otherwise the why, or the purpose, gets lost.

What else do you want to tell us about?

I would like to tell Sasuga! readers that — number one — Helen is awesome and so is her family for that matter. She’s helped me a lot in practicing for the presentation that I had, which in turn has opened up more opportunities. And I know it wouldn’t have those had I not invested in that training with her.

I would like to share that I’m here for no other purpose than to spark creativity in people. I love seeing faces light up. And in Tokyo, I share this through drawing classes. These happen in two places now. One is in a beautiful rose shop called Afrika Rose in Hiroo. The second is starting in September at Tokyo American Club.

How did your presentation at Tokyo American Club go?

It was a ‘meet the author’ event because I’m still working on my book, When In Doubt Draw. At that event, I met a wonderful editor. I shared how the When In Doubt, Draw philosophy came to be. My mum was there, so we talked about all of the things that happened when I was a little girl that kept bringing me back to a sketchbook. Even when I didn’t have words to express my feelings, I was drawing. When they were saying I had to leave my school, I drew myself to a scholarship to stay in that school. There were so many personal things that happened, and I processed them all through drawing.

In the presentation, I shared all of this. And I talked about how I’m writing this book to share part-memoir for how it’s helped me. But the book is going to be a journal with pages for the readers to participate in some of the things that I drew and did. I shared how working with different groups of people has helped broaden my spectrum of what and how creativity can help others.

Later, my friends told me that I really got straight to the point of why I’m doing this and how When in doubt, draw started. So I was really happy to hear that because it means my message is getting clearer. I’ve done the work, and I’ve been practicing. It makes me so happy that other people can see a change.

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You can find Divya on Instagram @divyamariekato or at her website DivyaMarieKato.com.