Category: mental health and artists

Confessions of an Artist: Embracing Defeat

This post needed some humor so here it is!
This post needed some humor so here it is!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a personal/art career post here.  The main reason for that has been the absolutely disastrous year I’ve been having.  Rather than continue putting on a happy face, I thought an entry of candidness might be more helpful.  After all, I started this journal because I wanted to talk about my journey as an artist and I want to stay true to that instead of let this place devolve purely into WIP’s and self-promotion.

This year started with my partner nearly dying from heart complications from bronchitis.  Nearly dying being terrible enough on its own, the ensuing mentally draining recovery topped with an icing of medical bills made a perfect cake of disaster.  The funny thing is, we were more prepared for this than most and those savings got us through a difficult time, including the time immediately after his recovery where my partner was let go from his job.

I’ve said in the past we’re a single income household, with my art bringing in some income, but not a lot.  There followed another extremely stressful and depressing period where we both weren’t sure what was going to happen next.  Even still, my partner reassured me that it was okay to continue trying to do art as my living (because he’s awesome and so, so loving).  We had enough to live off of and emergency measures in place.

But I had something to prove.  I didn’t want to be a money sinkhole when we were in such a period of turmoil.  Here I was in my own little dream world trying to squeeze every penny out of my art, which only made it harder to create anything with that pressure to make everything I made worthwhile and profitable.  I spent more days tied up in a lack of motivation and depression than producing anything at all.

As this year wore on and other medical catastrophes and setbacks happened, I hit a low point.  I gave up for the briefest milliseconds on the notion that any of this struggling to be a professional was worth the suffering it was putting me (us) through.  It felt like everywhere I went, people I respect were bombarding me with the fact I was especially failing this year, that I should be farther than I am.  I needed to be stronger!  My insistence that I could never show weakness and should react by working harder and beyond my limits only worked against me because I turned all of that stress inwards, causing my own physical and mental health to decline.

In a strange way, finally accepting defeat this year has been freeing.  I have become increasingly aware of the long game and the shortness of life here on this earth.  Entering the IP Development Mentorship with Robot Pencil earlier this year was a game changer for me.  I have a lot of ideas I’ve always discredited because they weren’t producing results RIGHT now, but here were several professionals telling me my ideas are “F**king awesome”.  I’m not sure I would have entered this mentorship otherwise if I hadn’t been in the place where I was just so tired of struggling and really wanted to give those unacknowledged passions a chance they would not have gotten otherwise while I was obsessing over proving myself.

It’s funny how we need permission to just do the thing we always wanted to do…

Luckily, we’re doing much better now.  Kev has been making leaps and bounds with his recovery and has also found employment.  We continue our game plan to let me build my art career.  And while I feel guilty for having this privilege when so many other artists don’t, I’m not going to squander this opportunity with guilt anymore because I’m trying to impress those who quantify success as merely money, when success in life is so much more than that.  That path leads to elitism and becoming the kind of person and artist I don’t want to be.  With our income stable for now, I have also started saying no to a lot of jobs that I feel aren’t going to advance me as far as my personal projects might.

I’m still terrified of the unknown and of waiting for another bad thing to happen, but I’m hoping that surviving one terrible year means we’re better equipped the next time.

I suppose if there’s any advice for other artists to take away from this, it’s that sometimes you have to embrace failure because it’s one of the best ways to learn how to do anything right, that other artists who you admire more often than not are projecting a self-image of success (even when it’s not true), and that doing so doesn’t make them any less of an artist.  Also, try to save up backup funds for those rough times because they are waiting to sucker punch you in the gut when you least expect it!

Meanwhile, I’m still here…a little older and a little wiser.

Artists and The Illusion of Failure

Well, guys, I messed up.

I had so many big plans for this year and I haven’t achieved any of them.  I had an action plan that began by entering Painting Drama, a course on narrative composition, with a dedication to push my artwork to the next level.  I had an actual written strategy guide to paint exactly four portfolio pieces to present at IlluXcon this year, which is coming up next week.

I’ve only managed to do ONE in all this time.

Life has been chaotic beginning with a very traumatic death in our family.  Just when we were starting to breathe again, we also had to deal with unexpected health concerns and our apartment flooding, which resulted in having to pick up and move yet again after having moved less than six months ago.

But of course, my artbrain can’t see the cause of my ‘failure’, it only sees the effect.

It tells me “If you had slept less and painted more, you would have succeeded!”

“Why can’t you focus and be more productive? There is nothing physically wrong with you!”

That little voice inside that most artists have telling them that they’re crap for not being productive doesn’t acknowledge the fact that we are not machines programmed to plot points on a paper no matter the circumstances.  We drive ourselves to succeed, even when we are not up to the task, even when our work would suffer from our lack of focus, when sometimes we just need to take time to heal instead.  When we don’t hit a certain benchmark of success, there is a dangerous point where we feel like giving up because the steps to succeed are just too small and too ineffectual.

And that is where the illusion of failure wraps us up in a cushion of despondency.  I messed up, so why should I keep trying if it will never pay off or show results?

Thankfully, I can say after going back and forth with these feelings, I can whole-heartedly tell myself STOP THAT.  Sometimes, life is just out of our control and there is nothing we can do except acknowledge this fact and move on to the next thing.

Art has never been about the end result.  For me, it is about the inspiration.  It is about the joy I get when I take a story out of my brain and express it in such a way that another person outside of my own brain can feel the drama and the passion of it and be inspired.

(Honestly, if I ever painted the ‘perfect’ image, I think I would lose some interest because where is the fun in never learning something new? OR I’d have to get a perfect image every time from that point onward and striving for that second achievement of perfection would just drive me on more!  Or I’d just go a little insane by the end…)

Art is about doing what I’m passionate about every day because that is how I want to live my life.  Spending 90% of my time here on earth at a job that bores me to tears is not how I choose to live or what fulfills me as a person.  When I do a non-art related job to pay my bills, it is also a way to support me while I create.  It is never ‘that thing I do because I failed at art’.  Considering it a failure is only a matter of perspective.

And so it is that failure is an illusion.  I have failed only when I stop doing what I’m doing or stop acknowledging my own passion as an artist.  Sure, I may have messed up and didn’t paint all the things I wanted to paint in the past, but that does mean I cannot create more in the future.

Being too old, too broke, too slow, these are only self-imposed restrictions that do not exist until we let them control us.  As long as a brush/stylus/pencil and sketchbook/canvas/etc. are in front of me and the ideas are stuck in my brain, there is the potential for art to happen.  I can succeed.

I strongly consider this 4th year of operation as Angelic Shades Studio to be my Year One.  I’m starting over with a new focus, a new dedication to the narrative works I’ve always wanted to create, and a new drive to really get my name out there.  I will not be afraid that I am not good enough anymore.  If something is not good enough, I will simply ask myself and other artists and AD’s “How can I improve?”  I will be fearless in accepting critique and showing my work to others.

I will not stop.  Stopping is not an option.

There is no spoon…nor is there such a thing as failure.