Don't Be a Dick to Yourself

Don't Be a Dick to Yourself

Close up of a painting

*** Update: this feeling never goes away completely. See my January 2021 post "When Painting is No Longer Fun" to see what I mean.

I am the biggest dick to myself, often for no reason and always when I'm making art. I just had to share this story with you today because a) it's a great example of this common phenomenon and b) the self awareness I've gleaned by noticing it may mean it won't happen (as) often in the future.

Today started out as most of my recent days have – essentially unstructured unless I impose a schedule on myself. After catching up with a friend this morning and running errands, it was time for the slot on my calendar known as "Creative Time." I packed up some paint, my sketchbook and a picnic blanket and headed to Winnemac Park. It's a crisp fall day here in Chicago and as a native, I know this precious time won't last much longer. Plus, painting outside offers a change of scenery and gets me out of my apartment. Win win!

Winnemac Park is a beautiful place. It's huge – full of small nooks, groves of trees and areas where native prairie grass grows. Most of the park attendees at 1:30 pm on a weekday are moms with trendy workout strollers or millennials with dogs. And the occasional jogger. I picked a patch of grass in between several trees in hopes that I'd immerse myself enough to feel like I was not in the city. Spot selected, I set up and began to paint.

Close up of paintbrushes on a sketchbook

About halfway through the painting, things started to go sour. The painting was not turning out as I expected. Aware of my frustration, I talked myself down from The Perfectionist Ledge™ and continued painting anyway...but my frustration continued to mount. By the time the painting was "done," I was really mad at myself. It looked like shit. Too much paint. Too murky. The subject matter distracted from the layers of pattern I had created. The yellow paint was nearly transparent over the pink and not showing up like I had wanted. In a desperate attempt to save it, I had thrown in black detailing as a last resort and it just wasn't working. My emotions reached their limit and then –

I ferociously ripped the page out of the sketchbook.

I know, so fucking dramatic right? I wish I was lying about this but it happened. As luck would have it, or maybe to teach me a lesson, the intensity of The Rip also took part of yesterday's painting, leaving it halfway adhered to the sketchbook's spine. Great. My destructive behavior had ruined something I actually liked while simultaneously shitting on the act of creativity, play and exploration.

Artist's hand holding a small painting

Close up of a sketchbook

Close up of the artist's face, she looks unhappy

Whyyyyyy do I feel the need to control everything and be perfect all the time? I mean, for God's sake, it's a painting. It's for no one's pleasure but mine, yet I felt immense pressure to make it perfect. Perfect for who? Instagram? Actually, yes, that was part of my rationale...this new creation wouldn't fit well with the other paintings on my feed. Like, REALLY? It's almost as if I was actively searching for a way to ruin a good moment that I had intentionally carved out for myself.

Here's where my head was minutes before the poor painting got ripped from my sketchbook:

• This painting doesn't "fit" with the other two I've already made

• This painting is too muddy and it looks amateur. I cannot share this on Instagram for fear of what others will think

• I shouldn't have introduced dark cadmium red, it's too much

• The citrus fruits look stupid

• I should've quit while I was ahead

I spent some time thinking about this after it happened and realized my attitude sucked and needed to be adjusted. Something like this would serve me better in the future:

• How can this painting not "fit" with my style? I fucking made it! Furthermore, I just started painting last week, how the fuck do I know what my style is? How will I find out my style if I don't explore new techniques?

• Who cares what people think? This art if for me and me alone, to learn and grow from, to appreciate. Why do I let the possibility of judgement by others or the appearance of a perfectly curated Instagram feed get in the way?

• Life is not perfect. Be real with your Instagram feed. Show people what you're really up to.

• Enjoy the act of painting! Would 3 year old Adrianne have judged her painting so quickly? Likely not. Little A probably would have turned to a new page and started a new painting. Like, whatever.

• Also, let's get real about the moment you're ruining – you're painting OUTSIDE in a beautiful park during one of Chicago's most beautiful seasons! You are not trapped behind a desk doing your product manager's bitch work. Be grateful, girl.

How did the rest of my time at the park go? Well, I created another painting just because I can, and I like it much better. I felt pretty bad about what I did to the first one, so I taped it back into my sketchbook. I need it in there to remind me not to be such a fucking dick to myself.

Close up of a painting in a sketchbook

We are our own worst enemies sometimes and it's truly detrimental to creativity. I aim to practice being my biggest fan instead of my biggest critic. If we don't have our own backs, then who will?

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