~ Emily Dickinson
I'm not entirely sure how much sense this is going to make to you, but here goes. So this past weekend, as I was painting.... oops: Off the rails already. My interior intrepreter just tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me to tell you that I was painting a picture... not a wall. This is an old habit that stems from a time in space when I was in art school and a particular friend would call and invariably ask me what I was doing and I'd say "oh, just some painting" and she would be all like" Oh? What are you painting? The bedroom?" and then she'd reacted with a surprised "oh! Well! isn't that interesting" when I told her, "uh, no. I'm painting an illustration" and then I'd be completely stunned and literally hold the phone away from my ear and blink at the receiver uncomprehendingly, because HELLO?! Does this woman not know I'm in art school?! Doesn't she know that this is what I DO?! And didn't we just have this same conversation last week?! .... I decided I was going to try really hard to listen to what I was saying to myself as I was working. Because that really interests me... what people say to themselves when they are in actual creation mode. This is a question I asked Detlef as part of that interview game, and as I was reading his answer and noting with a grin that he refers to it as being "In the Zone" just as I do, I realized that I myself would have a very hard time telling you exactly what it is that I am thinking as I paint or draw.
Because mostly I'm not really thinking. Mostly i'm just feeling . I think I have described it before somewhere as floating like an astronaut in outer space, thinly (and one would hope securely) tethered to the rocket ship, just bobbing weightlessly in the atmosphere. Occasionally, words pop into my head, words like "Tuber." And sometimes they ricochet and bounce about like a reverse echo until the word actually announces itself with enough authority that i have to rouse myself from my trance, examine it and say "huh? what? Tuber? Tuber?! What the hell does that mean?" and then it registers: oh. Oh yeah. That tree is looking awfully tuber like and weird. Better do something about it.
There is, I think, a kind of fundamental disconnect between the logical, thinking side of my brain and the intuitive, feeling side. But on Sunday, I really tried to hear my inner dialogue.
I was only modestly successful with this, because I have a habit of slipping into zombie mode pretty much from the outset and it's difficult to hear your inner voice when engaged in zombie mode. And I'm beginning to think that zombie mode must be fundamental in someway to my process as it is so natural and easy to fall into that it happens almost instantly... ususally as soon as I pick up my brush or my pencil or whatever. And those days when I don't succeed in shutting off my rational abilities (therby entering zombie mode) tend to be unproductive and frustrating.
But I digress. So I'm bobbing along, trying to listen to myself and paint at the same time, and I suddenly became aware of the fact that I'm constantly wagging my finger at myself and chiding "Nope. That's cheating." Constantly. Like all the time.
Cheating? Cheating?! How am I cheating? Who am I cheating? Whaaaaa? This was quite a revelation to me. I mean, I'm aware that I make up certain stupid rules for myself as i'm working. For example, I kind of consider it to be "cheating" to use a blending stub. I think better gradation and shading can be achieved with patience and dileigent shading. And I have a hard time using photo reference material unless I have shot it or created it myself in some way or unless I really, really have to (like when I'm doing technical scientific drawings). And somewhere along the line, I've decided it's cheating to use black paint.
In someways, these stupid rules of mine have improved my abilities. For instance, the thing about using reference has forced me to develop my ability to draw from my imagination and I'm pretty good at it. But in other ways, it hampers me. I mean, really. When it comes right down to it, who cares if I used black paint or not? It's the end result which counts, not how you get there. And if someone is out there judging me on the basis of whether I used a blending stub or photo reference or something... I kinda think I don't really want to know that person because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like them.
And strangely, I only apply these rules to myself. I don't apply them to anyone else and it doesn't offend me if someone else uses a blending stub or photo reference or black paint or whatever as part of their technique. Not at all.
I know I'm not alone with this rule thing. I've heard other artists talk about it, the little rules they create for themselves. I remember reading an interview in Step-By-Step magazine with ... um... I think it was Gregory Manchess... where he said that he considers it cheating if he uses anything other than a brush to create a mark, although eventually he had to relax his rule a little to allow himself to use his thumb or a finger if he really, really had to. I remember that vividly because I had one of those "Aha" moments when you realize you are not alone in your insanity and are deeply comforted by that. And 'cuz that happens to be another of my little rules, though I suspect I bend it much more frequently than Gregory does.*
But the fact that I am constantly chiding myself and telling myself I'm cheating is disturbing to me, particularly when I'm doing it when I'm not even violating any of my stupid little rules. Because where does that come from?!! That does not sound like the kind of voice that comes from healthy self-esteem, now does it? That sounds like poison. That doesn't sound like the kind of voice I want to be navigating my rocket ship as I'm out there floating in space. I want my pilot to be all chipper and confident and encouraging, a go-with-the-flow kinda guy with a devil-may-care-attitude and a crooked grin like Dennis Quaid.
So, I've been thinking about that alot. And I'm still not sure where it's coming from, or why I do that to myself. But I have the sneaking suspicion that it sort of comes from the same place that makes me cringe a bit whenever anyone says "oh, you're so talented."
Yeah, I know. Can you imagine that? People saying such utterly vile things to me, calling me all talented and stuff. I know, I know. Sucks to be me. Your heart is breaking in two. But hear me out for a minute...the thing is that although I know most people mean it in its most sincere, flattering form, I have to battle against hearing the whiny, envious and bitter tone that I heard in grade school when I would get a good grade on an an art project and a classmate would remark "but it's so easy for you, you're so talented. It's not fair!" I heard that alot when I was a kid, and it always made me feel guilty and shamed somehow. Like I was cheating because I was born with a certain artistic gift. I felt sneaky, illegitimate, undeserving of praise or a good grade.
Even still, I feel sometimes like I have to work twice as hard, really work at it, spend loads and loads of time, because some part of me is deeply afraid that my work is going to be dismissed simply because it's something that comes naturally to me. I know that's silly. I know that rationally. But fear is rarely rational. And I know too that I have to learn to stem that, because I have a real tendancy to way overwork my illustrations and that's not good. It just steals away the spontaneity and life of a piece. I have to learn how to say it's good enough and not second guess myself so much if I happen to hit it out of the park the first time at bat. I have to learn... really learn... to accept that that's okay. That's good!
This realization is a bit shocking to me, and a bit embarrassing. I've been known to sort of brag about how comfortable I am with being a creative person, an "artist" and all the dangerous stuff that implies. But in fact, maybe I'm not so well adjusted. I mean, I freely admit that I am regularly riddled with self doubt and sometimes I feel like such an incredible fraud and such a hack. I kinda think that goes with the territory though, and I try not to let those doubts interfer with my creativity. But I really thought that I'd long ago wrestled and bested the idea that being an artist or an illustrator was not a legitimate, respectable occupation. Now I wonder if that is really true. Maybe that particular demon still lurks and shames me.
Sigh. I dunno. Does that make any sense? Any of this?! Much madness is divinest sense... (see? look what i just did? I brought it back full circle. Yay me! You go, you wacky girl! I'm so very impressive.)
* just so you know, I break my rules all the time. But I feel guilty about it, so it all evens out in the wash.