Bouncing Back After Failure

Hello all, remember me?  I don’t blame if you don’t, it’s been such a long time and writing this post was so hard for me.  I think it always is when you know you failed.  But learning to come back after failure is one of those important lessons in life.

So what happened in the last couple of months?  At the end of May I completed my “Make a Splash” challenge to make 50 watercolour paintings.  50 paintings!  In less than a  month!  I felt thrilled to have done it, it was a genuine accomplishment for me because of the effort it took to make each one, sometimes two or three in a day.  One day I might show you the rest of those paintings.

But after it was done I could not bear to pick up a pen or brush.  I was completely burnt out.  I thought I’d just give myself a day or two to recover but even after that I couldn’t bear to look at a blank sheet of paper.  I sewed, knitted, baked, photographed, but drawing was the last thing on my mind.

I had failed my daily art challenge in a big way.  I lasted 6 months before dropping completely off the wagon and that reality pushed me away from art even more.  I figured that was it, no more drawing for me.  Ever. I’d just let my art accounts die a quiet death, nobody needed to know what happened other than I failed and never posted again.  I was sad and bitter about the whole thing and tried to push it to the back of my mind.

But after a month something strange started happening.  Relieved of any responsibility or obligations I felt the urge to draw come back.  I’d doodle a little bit here and there, and play with paints with my children.  I started feeling excited about art, something I honestly never thought would happen.  My sketchbooks started coming with me again, my art books reread, blogs followed.  The last week I have been following the Urban Sketching Symposium in Singapore with interest and envy.  I dreamed about being there amongst so many inspirational artists, workshops, lectures.

Yesterday they announced that the next symposium would be in Manchester, UK, a mere 4 hours away by train.  My breath quickened, this could be it, my chance at being there.  Not just imagining but doing.  And the excitement of sketching flooded back, and I knew, as hard as it was, I wanted to get back into the fray.

This time I don’t have any specific goals, I don’t want the pressure of having to do something everyday whether my heart is in it or not.  I want to keep practicing, learning, and hopefully gain more confidence in my own drawing.  Will I be going to Manchester next year?  I really hope so, it’d be the scariest and most exciting thing I’ve done in my adult life.  Whether I go or not, I’ve come to understand that art will always be apart of my life but my interest will wax and wane, and going with the flow is the best way to ensure that it will come back to me.

So, I hope you will join me once again in this art journey, I look forward to catching up with old friends and hopefully meeting some new ones along the way.  If you have any stories of losing your mojo or coming back after a break I’d love to hear it.

Following Rules and Being Kind to Yourself

Unfortunately I don’t have any sketches to share with you today because the last few days I have been completely wiped out.  I don’t get poorly often, maybe an occasional cold but something has totally sapped all of my energy.  Other than doing what was absolutely necessary I spent the last two days sleeping.

I spent a lot of time beating myself up about “failing” my art everyday challenge, but then thought, if this happened to anyone else what would I say?  “Take care of yourself”, “Get better soon” and “Don’t worry about the challenge, it’ll still be there”.  Sometimes we feel like we have to stick to the rules no matter what, or we’ll be failures, but that’s exactly what kept me from doing any art years ago and I don’t want to think like that anymore.  What’s probably more upsetting is that I felt like I was finally getting to where I wanted to be right before this virus or sickness hit me.

I did do a sketch today, though it’s not any good and it was a real struggle.  So I’m going to try and take care of myself, to get better, and get back on that horse as soon as I can.  I’ll allow myself these sick days, even if it means taking time off until after Easter.  I thank you all for your continued support in following my blog and art, and hope you know too that following rules on your personal project isn’t what makes or breaks you as an artist.

Fear of the Big Page

I’m not sure if it’s just me but I hate the idea of wasting materials.  My most expensive sketchbooks are waiting until I’m “good enough” to fill them, I dip my paintbrush into tiny amounts of precious Daniel Smith watercolours, and I cannot make myself use an entire sheet of A4 watercolor paper at once.  Maybe this is the curse of the beginner?  I’m hoping to one day get over this hurdle and recklessly fill an A4 (or larger!) paper one day to create an actual finished piece.

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For now I have been doing very small practice paintings on sheet folded into 4, so A6 size.  They are quick and so fun to do.  I get to try different techniques and see what works and just play with colour without fear.

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My ultimate goal at the end of this year is to have produce at least 1 finished work that I could hang on the wall.  I am in love with sketching and little practice paintings but I can’t say they are “finished”.  Maybe this is a reflection of my own personality that I find this so difficult to do?  Fear of commitment?

Any of you out there find it hard to work big?  Or to create what you would call a “finished” piece?  How do you approach a project like that?

Moving from Burn Out to Fun

Do you ever experience burn out?  I certainly do.  When working hard on a particular skill or subject (in this case landscapes) I find that I keep working going until I just find it too frustrating to go on.  I stop making progress, if anything things get worse.  At this point I let it go and do something relaxing, something that reminds me why I enjoy art in the first place.

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So late at night after countless failed landscapes I sat and drew my son’s bugle.  It is an old and battered thing passed down from his grandpa. I haven’t done this type of observational drawing for a few days and was surprised by how good it felt good to do.   One of those sketches where you just lose yourself and I was surprised by how confident my pen lines felt this time around. Maybe just a contrast with the struggle of painting?

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Another relaxing type of drawing I love doing is drawing from reference photos, particularly those great pictures you find on instagram.  This was based on a beautiful shot in London.  Again, pure relaxation, and I loved painting it in afterwards.

Finally after all of this I felt at peace again and wanted to try landscapes.

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Again this is based on a reference photo and I felt like I made such a lot of progress on this one, but the best thing of all was that it was fun.  I’m delighted to have a process that can work me through a funk or burn out.

When in doubt go back to basics and find what relaxes you.  Just have fun.

5 Advantages to Learning Later in Life

5-advWhen I tell people that I’m learning to draw I get the impression that they feel that I might have missed my chance to do so now that I’m older.  Even though 29 isn’t exactly old there is a misconception that you have to learn something like art or music early in life to succeed.

One of the artists I find most inspiration is Lisa Congdon who didn’t begin seriously making art until well into her 30s.  Now, ten years later, she is a successful illustrator, author, fine artist, and teacher.  A friend of my in-laws also became a fine artist after her children had grown up and left the house in her 50s, selling her prints and paintings at local galleries.

I think there are a lot of benefits to learning later in life.

1. A New Appreciation for Time: Knowing myself, I think if I had gone to art school at 18 I would have squandered the opportunity.  As a kid you don’t have much appreciation for time, things can always be done later.  I was the queen of procrastination.  Now with so much on my plate time is an absolute premium and I treat it as such.  Any moment that I can devote to art I do so.

2. Not Afraid to Fail: I was pretty good at school and praised a lot for my work and I think I developed into a young adult who was positively paranoid about failure.  I avoided anything that I felt I might fail at, which meant a lot of missed opportunities.  Since having children my mindset has completely changed.  I need to teach my kids that they aren’t always going to be awesome at everything they try, but some things are worth working for.  Now I’ve learned to practice what I preach.  I am more comfortable with making lots of bad drawings because I tell myself one day they might become good, or even great drawings.

3. More Critical of My Own Work: I’ll be the first to say that I was an arrogant teenager.  I felt that everything I did was brilliant.  Now I would cringe to see what I did back then. Growing older I’ve recognised how good the top people in the field really are and how much I suck.  The ability to see the faults in your own work help a lot in moving towards improving.  If you can’t see what’s wrong it’ll be harder to fix.

4. Understanding What it Means to Practice: I started playing music when I was 10 years old have been told the old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” countless times.  What people don’t tell you is practice is more than just repetition.  It is all about analysing what you are doing.  Are you making a good sound?  Is that the right angle?  Is that the right sort of line?  To get to where you want to go you have to know what steps are needed to go there, just doing isn’t enough.

5. Patience: I think most kids lack patience and I was no exception.  I always wanted to know the quickest and easiest way to do something.  If I was told it’d take years to get good at I’d lose interest.  I still struggle with patience and sometimes have to force myself to slow down and continue to work on a piece that I want done right now.  But I understand now that progress doesn’t come in a day, or in a week, but over months and years.

Have you started learning art or a new skill later in life?  I’d love to hear your personal story.

2015 Year of Making Art

This blog is my personal art journey, it all started on the eve of my 29th birthday.  2014 had been a rather intense year of work and knitting for me, which may sound stupid unless you are into knitting.  Seriously, it can be intense.  While I enjoyed it, I did wonder what would happen if I spent all the time I had used for knitting on learning something else.

Art is something I’ve dabbled in casually throughout my life, and it’s something wanted to be really good at.  What usually happened is I’d start a drawing or painting project, get discouraged and not do it again for another year or two.  It was easy to chalk it up to not having enough talent compared to all the amazing artists I admired.  Growing older I stopped believe in the talent myth and started believing in the power of practice.  I wondered if I spent a whole year practicing art, how good could I be by the time I turn 30?

My plan is to practice drawing or painting everyday for the whole of 2015.  By this I mean more than a 10 minute sketch, hopefully at least an hour or two of dedicated practice.  This isn’t easy when you have 2 children to homeschool, a business to run, and 4 people to feed three times a day, but if I managed to knit 12 sweaters last year, I know I can make the time.

I will be straight with you, there will be a lot of bad art here.  The prevailing theory is that is takes about 10 thousand hours, or about 10 thousand paintings, to start becoming good.  But the idea is that pushing through those bad paintings and drawings I’ll start improving, learning more about art, and about myself.  Hope you enjoy the ride.