Wednesday, March 23, 2011

That First Step

I want to take a moment and go back to Christopher Burdett's questionnaire that I talked about and linked to on Monday.   I want to point out one person's answers to the questions in particular.  Brom's answers.

In response to question number 2 (What do you like LEAST about being an artist?), Brom replied, "Having to get up and paint."

In response to question number 3 (What do you like MOST about being an artist?), Brom replied, "Getting to get up and paint."

These answers are something I think a lot of illustrators completely understand.  After all, on some level, painting is work.  And work is hard.  For many of us, I suspect, it is getting started that is most difficult.  At least it is for me.

A car requires more horsepower to accelerate to speed than it requires to stay at speed.  So, too, does it take more motivation for me to get started on a day of painting.  Once painting, I'm pretty much good to go, lest someone should come along and distract me with a particularly elaborate shiny object — which, thankfully, doesn't happen very often.  But actually gathering up the will to sit down in my chair and begin painting in the first place...well, that's a completely different story.  More motivation is needed, and there is a fair bit of resistance to overcome.

I still have performance anxiety when it comes to painting.  Sure, I've been painting since I was in the fourth grade, and I have many hundreds of paintings under my belt (some more successful than others).  While the most successful pieces I've ever painted are certainly great inspiration, the copious numbers of lesser pieces keep a constant fear lurking in the back of my head. 

What if I just screw everything up today?  What if I end up creating even more work for myself later on?  What if I end up effectively getting nothing done at all?

Yes, these nagging doubts and many more like them flit through the static background of my head every time I begin to think about sitting down and beginning a day of painting.  Don't get me wrong, they're not crippling, by any means.  I finish my work and turn it in on time for the most part.  I make a living doing this, after all.  I'm not sure if the doubts are leftovers from childhood or adolescence, nor am I sure of how healthy their presence really is.  Nevertheless, there they are, hanging out like so many greaser hoodlums from some bad `50s biker movie.

At best, these ne'er-do-wells can only manage to delay the beginning of my day.  In fact, they are merely postponing the inevitable — and even then only slightly.  The thing that gets me to finally saddle up and take on a day or painting is something that I suspect is somewhat akin to drug addiction.  I am, in a sense, chasing the dragon.

At worst, painting can be a drudgery.  Like all work, it can be a loathsome task, indeed.  More often than not, however, it's more akin to running errands to me.  There's a checklist of things that need doing, and I slowly cross out each item over the course of the day, eventually finishing the list with some sense of satisfaction.  Sometimes this is a grind, other times less so.  At the very least, it is always interesting.

But, on the best days painting is so much more.  It is not a task.  It is not a means to an end.  It is something more closely related to play.  It is action and reaction.  It is give and take.  It is push and pull.  It is pure joy.

I have a difficult time getting into such a state.  I have a difficult time remembering the sequence of events that lead me there and the dance of the brush that took place while in the state itself.  I walk away each time simply knowing that it was wonderful and fascinating, and somewhat frustrated in knowing how unlikely it will be that I will find that place again tomorrow.

Yesterday, I found myself in that zone.  The first time in a long while.  And, for the first time, I recognized it as it happened.  I took note of how my demeanor changed.  I watched the brush move effortlessly across the surface.  I saw myself having fun.  I cannot say that it necessarily made for better quality work, but I can say that it made for an awesome day. 

That feeling.  That state.  That is the dragon I chase.

And so today, I will try and recreate the circumstances that led me down that path yesterday.  I will pursue that feeling.  I will attempt, like I do every day, to have fun while painting.  That is where the motivation comes from.  That is what gets me to take the first step each day.  I am searching, ever searching, for the fun that hides amidst the work.


  1. Well said, indeed. I know the feeling(s).

  2. Thank you, Steve, for sharing your struggle with a problem I too face. I'm sure many others do as well, so it's good to hear that a working illustrator still sometimes experiences performance anxiety the way prospective illustrators do.

  3. Scott,

    No problem. I'm sure there are folks out there who don't have such anxieties, but they're certainly not me. It does get easier, however. It, like most things, is all about keeping at things.



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