When I sit down with a pencil and a picture of a kitty and/or corgi in my mind, all is well. Pencil goes to page, like so. And then pencil makes a picture. Easy, right?
Well, it’s not exactly easy (especially for my dear, battered erasers), but it certainly has a note of simplicity to it.
Also: Fun! Lightness! Joy!
Now let’s take paint, squeeze it from its tube, and fling it toward the drawing just to see what happens.
Oh! Whoops. I went and got paint everywhere. SO cool.
And that is just the way paint should be. Playful and light. Filled with discovery. Simple. As fun as a pencil, only goopier. And colorfullier, too.
But something has changed.
A few months ago, when I started writing about my animal art on my blog, I felt explosions of joy, the fireworks of enthusiasm igniting inside me. I was fairly bursting to show you my cartoon kitties, corgis, and assorted animal goofiness.
Now, a few months have passed, and this week I have noticed myself stiffening as I approach a canvas.
I find myself criticizing my color choices, criticizing my cartoon animals, and steeping in seriousness over something that ought to be play.
I’m holding back on sharing the things I’ve created — delightful things (if I do say so myself), gorgeous mousie stories and doggie photos and kitty paintings that, a few months ago, would have filled me with bubbles of happiness.
Now they’re just languishing alone on my art table or my hard drive. The physical ones are occasionally getting sat upon by Shnoodle.
This experience — my self-criticism, my withholding of my treasures, as well as the Shnoodle-sitting — is interesting to notice.
In fact, I’m not sure I would have noticed, under normal conditions.
Lately, though, conditions have not been normal.
My body has needed some very focused attention in the past few weeks — rest, good food, dear friends, and laughter — to help me over a little rough patch.
After my long illness, I pay close attention to rough patches, tending to them before they grow out of control.
In this, I’ve returned to some mindbody skills I learned from Abigail Steidley of Anamsong, and am paying deep attention to my feelings.
“What am I feeling?” I ask myself again and again throughout the day. The answers, all arising from within, have sometimes surprised me.
- Sadness and grief
(when it seems like there is nothing to grieve)
Bubbling excitement and joy
(when I am lying in bed and trying to sleep)
- Pettiness and Pissed-off-ness (I insist that that is a word)
(when I know there is no one to blame)
So, picture it:
Harmony Harrison, wild-haired, armored in a thick wool sweater, stalks toward her art table.
There, upon the table, lies a canvas. Not just any canvas, but a pimply college freshman canvas sweating out its midterms.
Meaning, it is a canvas upon which Harmony has painted, and with which she has not been satisfied.
Meaning, alternately, that Harmony thinks it is ugly enough to stop a heart at fifty paces, but she has staked her claim upon it, and dang it, she will finish it.
She grasps for foam brushes and clutches tubes of paint, girding herself for the battle.
Whoa-oa. Cut. Stop the presses. Rewind a little. Replay.
(In first person this time.)
I approach my art table. There, before me, lies a canvas.
I am having a response to the canvas. It is an uncomfortable response. It needs attention.
I feel a clutching sensation at my upper gut, so I breathe to it. Good. The clutching loosens.
I feel my eyes tighten. This is fine. Give it some breath. Let the tightness move. Good.
Now: How am I feeling?
Honestly, I’m feeling scared. I know I’ve shared my fears with readers in blog posts in the past, but this feels different.
Because I know this painting, and all of its awkwardness, is gonna be shared now. Because I know it’s not just me who sees this canvas, but the whole wide world.
(The approximately 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000005% of the world who read this blog, that is.)
So what do you need?
Permission to play. Permission to do a really, really bad job. Permission to be a dork and dorkify my whole dang world.
Okay. Permission granted.
Cometh the Smoosh and the Spray
After this, I moved forward, feeling a little looser, a little lighter.
I knew that the canvas felt jangled, so I did what felt right: I smooshed cobalt teal paint over it with a cosmetic sponge, nearly, though not quite, obliterating the kitty.
The play was on.
One stencil, a few spray bottles, several hundred squirts, and much rubbing of rubbing alcohol later, I have something new:
I have a bit of cohesion.
In finding cohesion on the canvas, though, some of the joy of the image has been lost. The kitty’s face was wiped away with a wet cloth, but will return later. The difference in brightness between the two works-in-progress? Alas, it just reveals my non-skills in photographing art. (The second one is scanned.)
Is it done? No, not at all. There is so much more to be done — chiefly, paying attention to my inner self and following through until I feel satisfied.
Am I satisfied with this painting yet? (Ha ha ha! *snort*)
No, I’m not. But I am satisfied that it is a work-in-progress. And that is okay. I can let it breathe. I can love its tiny work-in-progress heart.
I can be satisfied that I am a work-in-progress, too.
…Or maybe I can’t.
The moment I typed that sentence about being a work-in-progress, I got caught in a jagged coughing fit that made me double over and caused tears to prickle in my eyes.
So maybe I’m not so satisfied. Maybe I do want to be perfect. Yeah, yeah. So I’m human.
Though I often wish I were a kitty. Because then I really would be perfect. Meow.
The Moral of this Story? It Never, Ever Ends.
I’ve been creating stuff — mostly wordy stuff, like stories and poems — for well over two decades.
So I know, from experience, that this cycle of creativity, criticism, self-coaching, and further creativity does not end. It only matures and deepens, if we help it along.
I’m grateful to have developed resilience with my writing for so many years. I can bring that resilience now to my new journey of drawing and painting animals.
That’s what I’m doing this week, and what I invite you to do along with me.
WWSS? (What Would Shnoodle Say?)
Shnoodle, one of my cats and my closest co-worker in my studio, always has a little something to say.
As I wrote this post, she reminded me, through animal wisdom:
You know what you’re doing.
That goes for all of us creatives. We really do know what we’re doing. We do.
Gird though we might with attitude, grit though we may our teeth, this is actually a journey of softness and self-care.
Listen to the Shnoo. She knows.