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.

9 comments

  1. Eirewolf says:

    Angela! I am so glad that you and Kev (and your art career) survived this very scary time. I can relate some, as we also dealt with some serious health problems this year. It makes it very hard to focus on ANYTHING else, especially creative pursuits. And then there’s the fear that the other shoe will drop at any moment.

    Thank you for sharing this. I pray that your next year is so amazingly wonderful that it makes up for the awfulness of the last one. <3

    • Angela S. says:

      Thanks for your well wishes, Erin! I’m sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with hardships as well! It’s taken a lot of willpower to just wake up every day and not expect something awful to happen. Slowly, but surely, normalcy is creeping back in. May the next year bring cheer for the both of us!

  2. Alessandra says:

    Angela, I’m so glad you guys are better now. I know that tragedy strikes randomly. There has been quite a bit of death in the family and friends in the past couple of years, and this fact has awakened me too. There’s no sense pursuing thing you’re not passionate about, so I’m glad you are still pursuing your art career. God knows I’m gonna need some time and to start mine over again.
    You know James and I will be here if you guys need any support, we are a call away and I’m a fan of your work, keep going, fast, slow, it doesn’t matter and yes, success comes in many different forms, not just monetary.
    I’ll keep hoping that every year will be better and better for both of us in our careers and let’s keep the CoM going, ever if it’s very small for now! I think it’s a good support system. 🙂

    • Angela S. says:

      You guys have been so wonderful. So many of our friends have! It’s times like this year that I’m so glad we have you all in our lives. Thanks for being there for us! <3

      I definitely have no plans to stop creating or to give up on CoM either. Every big thing starts small, after all. Let's do this!

  3. That is a hellish year, but I am so thankful you both made it through. It sounds like you have a wonderful partner!
    I am in a similar situation: my fiancé has supported me since I got laid off from my mundane job last year, saying, “this is what you needed to fully pursue your art.” And anytime I freak out about not bringing in the bacon, thinking maybe I should go back to mundane for a while, he points out that that would mean defeat, and we can do this. We owe it to ourselves to keep going. This blessing of a supportive environment helps our art grow, and when you are down, look back at all that you have accomplished since solely creating. Don’t look at the numbers, look at the increase in speed, improvement of quality, improvement in ideas since you have more time to flesh them out.
    I had a breakthrough in the whole money thing this year, too. And it was when I was explaining to my fiancé’s 10-year-old daughter that “just because someone is rich or has money, doesn’t make them any more powerful than anyone else. If *we* put power in money, if we let it control how we feel, then *we* are giving it power over us.” Now, I still cried yesterday when I had to pay $603 in traffic fines, so I am still training myself to not let the money control me.

    • Angela S. says:

      It’s a funny catch 22 isn’t it? I think we can’t deny the power of money since we need enough of it to live off of and to continue working on what we love, so it’s necessary. But after a certain point of survival, there’s a question you have to ask yourself about what the value of living is once you’re ‘comfortable’ and if you choose to be satisfied or not. It’d be nice not to have to worry about random emergencies not causing extra stress and money pinch, but thus is one of the big downsides of a freelance commission based livelihood.

      Major upside though – picking one’s own schedule, no commute (mostly), and extremely satisfying work!

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