I am notoriously bad at self-portraits. I’m just not good at making faces look like the person they are supposed to be. I’ve learned to look at my various attempts as “interpretations” of myself, such as this one from when I was 16 and a smoker:
I deliberately kept it vague so it was more of a representation of me. Then there was the honest attempt I made when I was in an art class at 23:
Which I like even less. You can see I tried, but I was so focused on getting the individual features right that the whole face turned out distorted.
But of course, it’s time to try again. This is my latest attempt, although at 27 I made myself look 40. That’s ok. Sometimes I feel 40 but without the advantage that another 13 years of experiences would bring me.
I had an art teacher once tell me I should steer away from color paintings until I had a better understanding of how to use them. I still don’t understand, and I often have anxiety once the colors start hitting the page. But I like the way this one turned out, at least up close.
Does it look like me? I guess you’ll never know. But the answer is no, not really.
Anxiety…it’s a familiar word for many people. I think most people experience it at one time or another, others are constantly plagued by it. I fall into the second category. I won’t bore you with too many details, but when it comes to being an artist anxiety is an interesting thing. On the one hand, it can serve as powerful inspiration. Some of my favorite works of art were born out of my own anxious thoughts or feelings. But on the other hand, anxiety can prevent a person from performing pretty basic tasks that most people find easy, thus making it difficult to be successful long term.
I always thought I was destined to be a successful artist. Maybe not famous, maybe not full time. But I thought I would make a name for myself at least locally, or apply my skills in some profitable way. Funny that never happened.
I think part of my problem is I can’t perform well if I’m feeling pressured to please other people. When I was in school I would occasionally get a request for a drawing or something like that and for whatever reason I just couldn’t do it. I remember being a teenager and my school bus driver asked if I would draw her a picture of a tree so she could make it into a family tree. I happily agreed. Then the anxiety set it.
What kind of tree was she looking for? How big? Using what materials? Color or black and white? Realistic or stylistic? These are some of the questions I had spinning in my mind. I could have asked her but I never did. Instead I got on that bus every day for the rest of the school year empty-handed and feeling guilty. Each time I sat down to draw that tree I decided I was doing something wrong, this couldn’t be what she wanted.
It was just a tree. And yet it defeated me.
I never considered myself a perfectionist, seeing as my life has always been “in shambles” so to speak. I have never been able to keep my living space clean, I got poor grades in school, and my artwork has always been pretty sloppy. In retrospect, however, I’ve accepted the fact that some of these failures stemmed from a desire to be perfect in a way that is not achievable. At least not for me.
I tend to put off cleaning up after myself because I am very particular about how things get put away. I like for every object to have its own home, preferably labelled, and placed neatly there. This is rather time consuming, and as a result my belongings tend to hang out wherever I drop them until that magical day when I will have the time to create the perfect space for them…you see where this is going?
In school, I often gave up on assignments if I couldn’t get them just right, preferring to take a zero rather than reveal to my teacher the sub-par-whatever-it-was that I came up with. It doesn’t make much sense when you actually think about it.
And then of course there is the artwork. I already said it’s usually pretty sloppy. This is because I get frustrated when things don’t go the way I wanted them to go, and then I end up rushing through the rest and giving up. Or just not starting at all. Frustration.
So I am learning to let go of perfection. I keep telling myself it’s ok if I make a mistake, and it’s ok if I’m not using the top quality materials, or if I’m using the “right” techniques or the “right” brushes or whatever…the truth is, I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing most of the time. I just don’t care anymore.
This is a painting I did a while ago and recently updated. The original was a spray painted design that was meant to be abstract and reminiscent of outer space. Recently I decided that I hated it. It was the start of something I never finished.
The updated version is a little better, but now it contains ghostly figures rising. Where are they going? That’s a good question. Maybe nowhere. But at least they appear to be moving, and that’s a start. Now instead of a page I’d say I have a chapter…someday I’ll finish the book.
This painting started out as a bland, fearful attempt to be creative. I painted it over ten years ago, and I recall even after I finished feeling like what was the point of that?
I was anxious and I was always trying too hard to be something. Anything. Instead of just allowing myself to be. I was always focused on the end result instead of just enjoying the process. This sad canvas board is a snapshot in time of that artificial lifestyle.
I recently updated it, mainly so I do not have to look at it anymore. It’s funny how rusty my painting skills are, and the end result is something I once would have beat myself up for. But this time at least I know it was painted more honestly and with less fear. So that’s something.