Friday, July 8, 2011

Scary Boots ’n’ All

I don’t mind admitting I do get a little anxious as it nears my turn for critique of my artwork in the class I’m taking at RISD this summer. I appreciate learning from every comment on technical aspects, of course, but that’s not what has me anxious. It’s people’s emotional reactions to my work that interest me most. I feel that if I can lick that, then I’ve won the major part of the battle. So far so good, but I’m about to go out on a much bigger limb as the end of the course nears.

This coming class—the penultimate class—we have been asked to present our ideas and sketches for the final project due the following week. I have chosen, without thinking or considering an alternative, to illustrate a double-page spread from a picture book text I’ve written. To progress with the illustration of this book and (perhaps even more so) to fall in love with drawing again were my goals in taking this class.

But even though I have achieved my greater goal already—I am well and truly on the way to besotted with drawing again—I am nervous about my decision to do something from my book. It would be easier, perhaps, to choose something random and unattached to a wider project, just to fulfill the assignment’s expectations and create a nice piece of art for its own sake. But my gut tells me this is the right thing for me, that this is what I want and what I truly need. But…

How do I go about it? Will I be capable? What if I fail? Do I have good ideas? Hell, do I have any ideas at all? I had some yesterday—where have they all gone? Do I have the guts and stamina required to push past the time and emotional barriers and make my project work in the way it must for me to be happy with it? Sure, it’s just a homework project, but to me it’s so much more. It’s a like taking a serious step in a new, intoxicating relationship (or is it like a hopeful rekindling of an old one gone sour?), and it’s as scary as it is elatingbecause if it fails, this one's going to sting.   

How do you push past the fear we all feel at some point on our creative journeys? Where do you place your focus so as not to succumb to it?

I, for one, am just going to listen to some music and draw and hope. And I’ve committed myself now, right here, on purpose, so I can’t back out, on my blog for all the Interwebs to see. So… here goes… I’m going to start… right… now…


  1. Marlo... I too am putting myself out there so I totally understand your fears. I have gone from picture books to illustrated novel and it has been exhilarating but terrifying the entire way. What if I fail after all the time and effort put in right? It helps to remind myself that I felt the same way when creating the picture books and even through all the self doubt I had I got smashing reviews and quite a few groupies along the way. I guess what I'm trying to say is you have felt this way before and you will feel this way again but remember in the past you did succeed after all that needless worrying. Have faith in yourself...I have faith in you. With that said I need to get back to work. :)

  2. I am always terrified! And I agree with you, it worse if both picture and words...somehow the words are the culprit. A picture is a picture and can be emotional and feeling in its own, but the crit is usually technical. Words are always more emotional than technical (hope the editor does not beat me for that), it's just their source is personal imagery and their power is what people imagine when they hear it.

    If not forced to share, I usually don't and that is something that I need to get past. I just feel I don't want to push my stuff on others and they probably don't want to read it or see it. In all honesty, they have NO IDEA what I am doing. My family and close friends barely see my work. So fear guides me in strange ways. I need to be forced and I need to believe that someone may actually like it and want to see more. But I've always been shy so it sucks to be me.

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  4. Artists put their work out for all to see, so you know it will be criticized. You can't possibly please all the people all the time. You have to push past the fear and do your best work. I's easy to say. I always wish my writing was stronger, better, tighter. But then if I didn't realize it can't be perfect, I'd never get to share it with the children I write for. And I can't communicate with children if I don't put myself out there. We must push past that fear and focus on those who will hopefully appreciate and benefit from our writing or illustrating.

  5. I think you're smart to put it out there and commit to your project in public. The more we care about how it will be received, the more we justify avoiding the work altogether. So good for you to put it out there. Whatever it takes to get the work done!
    One mental trick I use is to tell myself I'm on a long apprenticeship and somehow that takes some of the pressure off my perfectionism when contemplating any particular piece of work.

  6. Marlo, I think that there is no "fail" when it comes to creating. Art is always subjective and in the eye of the beholder, and as creative beings we can't fail in what we do because it's a process that may twist and turn unexpectedly or not as we'd anticipated, but always in a direction away from ourselves. Which is the whole point anyway. It's the trying that makes us golden. Good for you. Whatever you end up with will be authentically yours and it will be awesome!!

  7. I have two tricks for dealing with fear.

    1) "It's not about me, it's about the work." That's what I use for critiques and rejection letters. It gives me the distance I need to accept and process critiques, because a work can always be revised.

    2) As I'm working on a project, I try to have my goal be to do my best by that project, which encourages me to let go of my fears oand feelings of inadequacy and focus, because again, it's about the project. I figure that the project will give me what I need to bring it into the world--I wouldn't have thought of it if I couldn't do it. If that makes sense.

  8. Marlo,
    Fear and self-loathing are my almost constant companions, so I understand your issues. I haven't conquered either of these foes, but I've learned to make some peace with them.
    Two books that have helped me are "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield and "The Creative License" by Danny Gregory. Another book that I've heard about but never read, "Art and Fear" by David Bayles sounds promising.
    There are so many ways to succumb to fear and inertia. Basically the common strategy seems to be "Just do it" or as you say, "Feel the fear and do it anyway." After all, it's better to have produced 100 bad or mediocre pieces of art (a subjective judgement, I know) than to have never done anything. In the end it's the process that benefits you and no one knows that journey better than you!
    Good luck and cheers!

  9. And a big part of ignoring or letting go fear is remembering that this is supposed to be fun. This IS fun! And hey, I'm having fun right now!