Category: artist’s block

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 a.  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.

My Portfolio Building Homework – Part 4

I’m feeling hyped after my last assignment where I formulated a strategy to take on the mighty portfolio beast.  But like anyone at the mouth of the dragon’s cave, I’m acknowledging a few of the fears that have kept me from realizing my action plans in the past.  Fortunately for me, that’s exactly what this week’s homework is all about!

(Don’t forget to read Jon’s exercise before reading my homework so you aren’t missing any of the great advice on facing our fears.)

Home Work Assignment:
• Look back over your strategy and plan and see in which ways you can improve them, and use them to set you up for success.
• Look at the roadblocks that you have put in your way in the past, or are currently putting in your way, and share them with the community so that we can all learn from them.

Improvements to the Plan

I realize after looking at my portfolio action plan that the dates I set were a bit hazy, as far as providing me with specific goals to focus on.  So I chose to break each image down to two dates, one for the sketch draft deadline and the second for the final draft.  This way I have until the sketch deadline to get all my ideation, thumbnailing, and studies done for each piece.  Then I have until the final deadline to refine till my heart’s content.  I find breaking the plan into time phases like this keeps me from dwelling too long in the idea and research part, which is a really bad habit of mine.  I tend to get very caught up in having the perfect idea before I ever put pencil to paper.
I’m also debating adding more paintings to the list. I thought better of it, however, because I notice one of my bad habits is to overload myself with projects until I get overwhelmed and just give up on them, especially before a big event.  More than once I’ve stressed myself out before big selling events like DragonCon by trying to go above and beyond for my gallery, which turned into many frustrated nights of staying up late to meet the incredibly unrealistic goals I set for myself.

My Roadblocks

Some mentioned in my improvements above, but here’s a quick rundown of my most common roadblocks.  Let’s face it, guys. I’ve made portfolio lists in the past here in my journal and haven’t exactly realized all of them.  Apparently I am my own worst enemy, as most artists are!
Overloading myself with projects and artistic distractions. 
(Solution:  Start simple, stupid! Don’t try to do too much at once. Focus on one painting at a time.  Minimize other projects that are just for fun.  Start with less paintings and add more if it feels I have more time.  I had originally planned eight paintings and shaved that down to four.)

Being unable to keep focus due to outside forces, like deadlines for my other job, distracting people, unorganized creative work area, etc. 
(Solution:  Stop trying to outdo every turnaround time at work, learn how to minimize distractions by speaking up about them and setting boundaries, keep my art desk clean of the piles of junk from other job that keep me from being exciting about working there when I sit down.)

Feeling overwhelmed and rushed by the fact that I am practically starting over for this portfolio. None of my past work fits and I feel like I am back at square one with my body of work and that nothing will be good enough from this point on. Worse, I simply don’t have enough time to catch up with the rest of the industry and younger artists who are already ahead of me!
(Solution: Realize that life isn’t over. I’m still young enough to realize my goals.  Slow down and take this one painting at a time.  Realize that even though I’m starting over with relevant pieces, I still have many skills under my belt from my past body of work.  Everything worth doing takes time and other artists who have ‘made it’ also put in their dues as far as practicing, creating great work, and meeting rejection along the way before finding their path.)

Feeling too intimidated by technical aspects to feel confident about painting the pieces.  For example, the idea of doing a piece with multiple figures is intimidating because I don’t do them often and I can’t afford to pay models to pose for me so I can draw them as accurately as possible.  
(Solution:  Do the best I can and try to come up with alternate solutions, like taking photos of a single model separately and photomanip them together. Maybe find images on stock searches.  Do studies in the areas that I need work on before each piece so that I can build some confidence with the skills I feel I don’t have.)
I’m hopeful that now that I’ve sat down and put a face to my fears that they become less scary.  All that’s left now is ACTION!  I am ready for this dragon, baby!

Inspiration Dies a Slow Death

I was having a discussion with a dear friend of mine recently and she said something that really struck me.

“The less I read and sketch and talk to people, the less urge I have to draw.”

It struck me because I notice I’m having, and have had, this problem for while now. I’m quite certain I’ve even talked about it in this journal before so some of this might sound like a broken record.

There was a point in time where I had this incredible need to draw or I would just get antsy and feel completely worthless.  The ideas were bursting and they had to be let out, or ELSE!  Of course, this urge was strongest before I started attempting to do art professionally and I suspect most pro artists deal with this problem as they transition into the craft.  Nowadays, the Need to Draw is nearly gone, but the feeling of worthlessness when drawing doesn’t happen hasn’t gone anywhere, despite the fact I know bloody well that I’m not worthless.

Thinking on it, I was the most productive while I was in school.  I hung out with other artists and we sketched in mad hazes of creativity in the lunch room.  We had life drawing sessions, assignments, and access to a large library to encourage us to draw all the time and never stop.  Even all those seemingly pointless assignments led to more productivity after hours as I let it inform my personal work and bring it to new heights.

I think that’s one of the best lessons college taught me, despite my reservations about the need for college in a previous entryOnce you’re out on your own, it’s easy to let yourself slip out of the habit of keeping your mind (and body) active with inspiration.  There’s always work or time with family or just wanting to stare into space and watch the TV because you had a long day.

I used to read a book a day.  Now, I’m lucky if I read a book a month.  It’s tough and I have to force myself by holding that next art book hostage. No more books till I finish what I have! This is tough for an art book bibliophile like me.

I used to travel to gardens and paint by creeks. Nowadays, I make excuses that I can’t afford the gas or the parking or the food.  It’s partly true, but the fact remains I need to get away from the computer, the monotonous routine that deadens my inspiration, and the environment of distraction that is my current household.

Another particularly hairy problem when it comes to the decrease in that urge to draw is this sense of being rushed every moment of the day.  If the art isn’t going to be a successful piece I can make money off of, my motivation to do it goes way down.  This dying motivation to draw is at cross-purposes with the fact that I need to do studies, sketches, etc. to keep my skills sharp and to improve to the next level of technical skill I need to get the kinds of jobs I want to get.  There’s a sense of urgency I know I need to learn to shake because every piece I make can’t go in a portfolio and that is a hard fact of the industry!  We have to make more than the minimum if we even want to dream of being successful.

I’m learning to accept that drawing a lot of bad art is a natural part of having one or two great pieces to include in any good portfolio.  This fact has been harder to digest than I thought it would, especially after my most recent portfolio reviews where I was informed that only 5 out of my 20 or so pieces were really worthwhile.  That is one hard pill to swallow, for sure!

I’m working on a few solutions for myself, the big one being the creation of a blog called Artist Ambition.  I started it to house all of my own little assignments for myself, like Draw 100 Heads or Paint with a Complementary Scheme.  It’s open to other artists too, since I figure I’m not the only one who wrestles with this gradual dying of the Creative Urge or the lack of motivation to draw those boring things that need to be drawn to increase our skills between those masterpieces.

(Drop me a line if you want to join!  It’s completely open to everyone right now, no matter your skill level).

Next up, I am hoping to make a monthly trip I’m calling The Inspiration Vacation.  Once a month, I’m going to get myself out of the house to go to a museum, a park, or a garden and just sketch, paint, or otherwise focus solely on things that inspire.  I can afford a small outing once a month.  There will be NO guilt of ‘ohh I should be working instead!’ attached.  Being inspired  IS an integral part of my job and I can’t ignore it, even if spending money on something as intangible as inspiration may seem like a waste to everyone else around me.

Finally, I have to say what an incredible burst of motivation I’ve had with actually doing something else creative instead of drawing.  Recently, I’ve been taking part in my first ever NaNoWriMo using my own original characters as a spring board and I have got to say that I have not felt this motivated to actually draw in a long time!  I find myself wanting to do concept art for their tattoos, armor, etc.  I find myself wanting to do story boards of the dramatic scenes I’ve discovered in this flurry of writing. Something magical is occurring here and I’ve found there’s a fertile ground here in my own intellectual property that can certainly be milked for my own devious needs.  I think also pursuing a craft outside of your work can really help refresh that creative well.

So here’s to my continuing education and the end of this long ramble!  Do you struggle with this lack of motivation to create art? How do you deal with it?  If you take inspiration vacations, where do you go?  I’d love to know!