In 2005 I returned to painting, encouraged by my partner. I was veeery veeery rusty. It had been at least 15 years since I had done any consistent painting activity. I had in fact tried to make a living as something entirely different from an artist and I was feeling depressed, but I didn’t know why. So when the opportunity to spend some time painting each week presented itself, I tried to do just that, and it didn’t work. I didn’t paint.
I didn’t know what to do in my studio, how to spend the time. I didn’t know how to focus inward to discover what I wanted to paint, and I was sure I lacked the habits of more industrious painters. My attempts at painting seemed horrible to me and this caused me to stay away. This was after The Artist Way but before Art and Fear. I had read neither. I thought my problems were unique.
But I decided that I would force myself to sit in my studio twice a week, even if I ended up doing nothing. So I sat, and over months built up some tolerance for the painting I was doing. I didn’t know any other painters in that town, so I didn’t show my work to anyone who could give me helpful feedback. At the time this seemed like a tremendous risk to take, since I was so very afraid they might criticize the few pieces I had managed to finish. I felt very vulnerable and so I didn’t seek anyone out.
Until I moved to a different town the next year and resolved I would take a figure drawing class at night, because I was certain my drawing was terrible. I slithered into the classroom petrified anyone would discover just how bad my skills were, but once in front of an easel I had to put my energy on drawing and I forgot my anxiety. The class was a nurturing environment, and I began to talk to other students during the break. My very low-key classmates seemed interested in me as an artist and this made me feel more relaxed about my work.
The excitement of finding a community of artists with whom to discuss art gave me new energy and ideas to try out at home. My new friends recommended books, exhibits to see and names of artists I had never heard of. They pointed out the strengths in my paintings as well as areas for improvement. Some introduced me to artists interested in the same subjects. I became friends with some of them and discovered what they did to keep themselves going.
Soon, with their encouragement, I was participating in my first group show. I survived the opening reception and this gave me a new kind of confidence. I began working in series and this gave me the ability to look forward and back at the same time. It brought a lot of reflection to my practice.
Today, I continue to face challenges as a painter. Some are new and others I don’t think they will every go away. I still feel I am far from gifted in the painting department. Almost every day I ask myself why I paint, what I want to say and why. The days when I look at my work and think I have nothing unique to say are very difficult. But maturity has helped me realize that I won’t let fear or insecurity stop me. I have to continue, because I have finally figured out this is what I was meant to do.
So, if you are reading this because you are thinking of embarking on a creative journey, please know these fears are very common. They are surmountable. The way to support yourself is to surround yourself with a community of artists and learn as much as you can about your craft. Celebrate your accomplishments and stay open to feedback. Be nice to everybody, because they might teach you something you can learn.