This week I painted bleeding hearts with the paint I mixed last week.
It’s lovely to be working with flowers from the garden again. But it’s also been a bit frustrating trying to get back into a groove of art-making and gardening and all the other stuff that life demands.
The long weekend threw me off. It was wonderful, lots of time spent in the garden, but I started the week tired and sore. I’m not sure if it was overdoing it in the garden or sleeping in a weird position (or both), but all week my neck and shoulders have been stiff and painful (a kick in the pants to get back to yoga, something I’ve let slide out of my routine*).
When I sat down to sketch on Tuesday I filled pages in my sketchbook, but felt uncoordinated. My sketches were messy. I didn’t feel ready to work on a sketch for what would be a delicate, detailed painting.
On Wednesday when I tried again, it was hard going. Negative thoughts swirled in my head. I wanted to abandon my painting. And I chided myself for the failed tulip painting and for not finishing more paintings these last couple months. All sorts of fears and lies surfaced as I worked.
Ugh. Our inner critics can be hard to ignore.
I know every artist feels this way sometimes. There are so many books about overcoming our inner critics (and I just noticed this podcast episode on the topic, too). I remember reading the chapter in Bird By Bird where Anne Lamott talks about “radio station KFKD”. At the time I didn’t get it; I was young and in love with writing. Now, although I love painting, I understand the negative voices.
These voices, these fears, they’re the reason so many people give up on art or abandon creative endeavors altogether. The important thing, though, is to keep going.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I came up to my studio. Austin Kleon’s new book was sitting on my shelf. I knew it was due at the library soon and I sat down to read a bit:
“I’d been writing and making art for more than a decade, and it didn’t seem to be getting any easier. Isn’t it supposed to get easier?
Everything got better for me when I made peace with the fact that it might not ever get easier. The world is crazy. Creative work is hard. Life is short and art is long.”
I needed to hear these words. I needed to remember that creative work is hard. Yes, it can be joyful. Yes it can be fun, but it’s also hard. Hard to sit down and commit to something that might not end up the way I want it to.
And so I kept painting. Tuned out “station KFKD”. Listened to the orioles, robins and cat birds singing in the trees out my studio window instead. I savored the colors on my palette and the shapes on my paper. I reminded myself how lovely it is to be sitting with flowers on my table, windows open and a paintbrush in my hand.
On her blog a couple weeks ago Dana Barbieri wrote about how art making should feel good while admitting that sometimes it causes stress and anxiety. I think no one is exempt. We all have uncertainties. We all have doubts. We all fall short of where we wish we could be. That’s just life. Not failure.
Cherie Altea shared an illustration on Instagram recently, a visual representation of the artistic process as described by Lisa Congdon, fueled by enthusiasm with doubts and criticism in the middle and beautiful art at the end.
I think knowing that we’re not alone with feelings of doubt or anxiety can help us move past these feelings. It also helps to look at them critically. Is that voice in your head spewing negativity voicing the truth or your fears? Does a failed painting mean you’re not an artist? If you bake a cake that doesn’t rise does it mean you should never bake another cake? If you plant sweet peas one year but don’t get any flowers should you give up on them altogether?**
I think the answer to those questions and more like them is pretty obvious.
Just keep going.
If we keep going we work through our fears. If we keep going we pass by our doubts. Even if my painting hadn’t turned out, it wouldn’t have been a failure. It’s only paper. I agree with Dana when she says: “we can learn something from everything we make even if in the end it isn’t quite what we had hoped it would be”.
At times like this I remind myself of my word for the year. GROW. Part of growing as an artist is understanding that not everything I make will be a success. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It’s just a natural part of the process. And I’m always learning.
So what have you been struggling with lately?
*Thanks to a recommendation from Dana, I started Yoga with Adrienne earlier this year. I enjoyed her Yoga for Beginners and her encouragement of gentleness and self-love. This week I searched her channel for “neck” and especially liked this and this.
**No! Last year my sweet peas only gave me one flower and I had about ten plants. This year I planted three times as many.