13 July 2015

Overcoming Fear

Free Spirit - 8x10" - Charcoal on paper


I spent my childhood drawing mostly horses and dogs. Those have been the two subjects that I have avoided as an adult. There have been horses in some of my paintings, but never as the main subject, and always pretty stylized or abstracted. I've even avoided sketching them. I've been afraid to try.

Why? What lies behind that fear? Because it was a subject I'd done so much as a child by the time I reached my teens I'd become pretty good at it, but then I quit. I had scarcely picked up a pencil in 20 years, yet alone draw a horse. So part of my fear was knowing I wouldn't be as good as I was when I quit drawing, yet somehow expecting that I should be even better than I was before.

The other aspect of my fear is that we have many horse paintings and I know so many accomplished equine and western artists. I know my work couldn't stand up to the quality of their work, but my work would never be the same as their work, nor would I really want it to be. So that was just a dumb expectation to begin with.

There is the pressure to produce a cohesive body of work in both subject and style telling me I'm wasting my time going off on a tangent to draw or paint animals. Probably there were other factors involved that were holding me back as well. But my spirit wants to sing. Horses are, and always have been, a big part of my spirit and despite all the reasons not to try, I knew I had to.

As with my fear of trees, the only way to overcome it is to just jump in and do it, giving yourself permission to fail. Who cares if it's bad? We all know that you can't be an instant master at anything without a lot of practice first. If you are putting that pressure on yourself that everything you produce has to be a masterpiece you are really limiting what you will even try to do, besides the same thing you know you are already good at. You are confining yourself to a box of tried and true.

How do you grow as an artist without challenging yourself and taking risks? I want to grow. I want to improve. I want to keep learning, experimenting, and challenging myself to try new things. I want to tell my story.  To do that I have to take risks. I have to fail. Without failure there is no learning.

"Imperfections are your guides - valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgemental guides - to matters you need to reconsider or develop further."
- David Bayles

I want my work to be expressive and that means moving beyond creating works with a photo realistic likeness of the subject, into trying to infuse the painting or drawing with the spirit I've attached to the subject. It means learning to interpret the subject and the only way to do that is through playing and trying different techniques and approaches.

Last week on holidays I tried to draw a horse. It was okay but it was too static and stiff. It lacked any spirit or emotion, and I wasn't happy. I considered it a failure. I had to fail before I could succeed. It took me almost the entire day to get to the studio. Procrastination was my friend. I was afraid I would fail again. I was going to paint (or sketch) something else, but in my heart I knew I had to "get back on the horse" and try again. So I did, and I was much more successful than the last sketch. I was able to take my time and focus on capturing the spirit of the horse instead of worrying about accuracy or likeness, or what anyone would think of it.

Worrying about what anyone will think is the most banal waste of energy ever. As artists we work alone. Unless you share your studio with other artists nobody ever need see your failures unless you want them to. You are in control and can destroy failed works, or file them for your own reference away from public eyes. So a fear of failure is really no excuse not to try at all.

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow. Let your spirit soar in your art.