When Painting Is No Longer Fun

When Painting Is No Longer Fun

In progress painting with tubes of paint and markers strewn about on a desktop.

Normally on the first of the year, I'd write about my plans for the new year. What I plan to do differently. This year is no exception but I have a specific experience to share instead. Getting comfortable with what's uncomfortable.

I spent the better part of the day working on my new Shopify website. I felt pretty productive emotionally as I moved product after product over to the new system. Zoned out. Checked off to-do items.

The bigger issue as of late is my creative block. I can't seem to make anything good. Because I don't do much exploring or creating for pleasure, the simple act of making something (good or bad) doesn't do much for me yet. I'm hyper focused on creating perfect work that I can sell. This attitude doesn't allow for growth, exploration or play and I'm aware of that – but changing that behavior is painful so I often just avoid it.

I'm the rare breed of artist who doesn't keep a sketchbook. I don't sketch much anymore like I did as a kid/teen. I pride myself on taking brush to canvas and creating a sellable piece that's good enough to be reproduced as a print 80% of the time. Highly productive over here. Almost like a factory. No fun, no play. Not lately, at least.

Sketching or noodling with my paints doesn't feel fun because I put so much pressure on myself. Perfectionism is crippling. 

Tonight, I took the first step to change that. I grabbed my "good paper" that is only reserved for my tarot deck paintings (or paintings that I intend to sell) and I started painting with no plan. It didn't take me long to hate what I'd created and rip it straight off the pad. Onto the floor it went. I kept looking at it, staring up at me. Tangible evidence of my own failure. The discomfort felt unbearable.

I decided to try something outlandish and I created two quick paintings on tracing paper. I hated both, crumpled them up and tossed them into the trash. I've heard it feels satisfying to throw out what isn't working. It didn't satisfy me, though. I just felt sad.

At this point, I'm ready to call it quits for the night. But I push myself to try one more time. I reach for a tiny pad of watercolor paper. The small stuff is never "sellable" in my head so I figured a small piece would be my last ditch effort to make something I like this evening.

I started slowly, adding blobs of color with no real rhyme or reason. This painting looks like nothing I've ever created before and I'm starting to freak out. What if this new look doesn't sell and I lose fans/followers in the process? 

Close up of the painting

Simultaneously, I'm enjoying the color palette that's coming together on this little pad of paper. I start to mix a few colors myself since I don't see anything I like in the many tubes of gouache I own. Mixing the colors is fun and gives me a new rush of happiness. I'm suddenly enjoying this.

It's a step in the right direction, I suppose. I have to keep practicing the act of making art so that I can loosen my own standards. I want my paintings to be expressions of the real me, my soul self. Sometimes the lure of profit or notoriety causes me to lose my way. Self doubt, disguised as perfectionism, rushes in. It's a nasty cycle. One I hope to overcome in 2021. Baby steps.


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