Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Avoidance 101

So far, I have been really enjoying the "Extreme Composition" class I'm taking on-line with Jane Davies.  The exercises have been challenging, but fun.  I've been eager to work on what I've learned and wishing there were more hours in the day to practice.

Until last week.
Last week it was time to dive into part 2 of lesson 2 and I froze.

Lesson 2 is all about shape.
Part one of the lesson involved finding as many different ways as possible to make shapes, and then to do some simple compositions/explorations using only black, white and grey.
This part was fun - loose, no pressure explorations.


It was all experimentation without judgment - exploring combinations of shapes, their relation to each other and to the page.  It didn't matter whether I liked my results or not.

The assignment for part 2 of the lesson was to create compositions (in color) using two shapes and a line.  I didn't think this was going to be very hard - I expected more of my free-wheeling attitude from part 1.  But days went by without me working on it.  At first I could pretend I didn't have time to work on it, but somehow I managed to find 3 hours to spend on the internet, so I couldn't use that excuse.

Every time I thought of the lesson, I had a little flutter of anxiety - I have no good ideas, I don't know how to approach this, I can't see anything other than what's already been done by my fellow students and I don't want to copy them...

Meanwhile, lesson three had been posted and it was all about color, and it looked like SO MUCH FUN. I was rationalizing that I could just skip this last part of lesson 2 and move on so that I didn't fall behind.  That's when it really hit me that I was avoiding this lesson.  I have a life long habit of avoiding the difficult and uncomfortable.  It's a habit that holds me back, is counter-productive and can sabotage my success.  The work of my 40s has been confronting and trying to break that pattern.
When I saw myself fall into the same old trap, I got pissed off at myself and that anger was enough to make me do the work.








A few of these pieces I like a lot.  Some I downright loathe.  Most are just “meh.”  But that’s not really the point. 

This class has brought me face to face with my fear and I’ve come to some realizations.

When I started making art a few years ago, I was somehow willing to accept that my work wasn’t going to be great out of the gate.  I largely kept the critic at bay, and just practiced, practiced, practiced.  The sheer joy of creation was enough, and I had faith that daily creativity would improve my technical skills.  And it did.  And I hit a stretch of being really pleased with my results and with how far I’d come.

Are you familiar with this great quote from radio host (and total nerd crush) Ira Glass?

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

This was revelatory when I first read it.  It made so much sense and helped so much.

Now all of a sudden, for the last few months, I’ve been mildly dissatisfied with almost everything I’ve made.  I haven’t really been able to put my finger on it, but it’s been frustrating.

This week’s class experience made me realize that my vision (or taste) has outstripped my skills again, and I’m going to have to go through another period of hard work to try and close that gap.  And I will probably have to go through this again and again because as my skills grow, I see my potential and my dreams start to race ahead of me.

Putting it in this context makes it all okay again.  I am tuning in and paying attention to this fear and frustration – it’s showing me that I’m on my way somewhere new.  I will tolerate this discomfort, suspend judgment, and just show up and do the work.

(and with a profound sense of relief I move on to lesson 3!)


  1. I tell myself that it might take me a few more years to get my art to the level I want it to be. Then with each projects I do, I think of it as the next block to stand on to get me where I want to be.
    Love your black and white with open squares. BUT the pink/red background Piece is a show stopper!
    nice post!

  2. Hubby read a book about talent and practice and in the book it said that no matter how talented you are anything we do requires 10,000 of practice to achieve any kind of expertise. They cited Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, The Beatles and countless others who put those 10,000 hours in to begin to get where they wanted to say 3 hours a day that translates to 3333 days....and it makes sense. I think it's really marvelous you are confronting your fears and acting on what you are feeling, that shows in your work and your willingness to get stuck in there and DO IT...for me creation is about spirit and getting lost in the process. When I realize that I haven't noticed the outside world for a while I know I am on the right track...xox

    1. My favorite art instructor taught me that. He made sure that I listened. I heard him, obviously, because it stuck, but it didn't become a part of me until I'd "gotten" it. Somehow I knew that before I went to school, because one summer I drew the same pear over and over until it began to sink in on itself. Today I can draw a pear in my sleep. I also learned that if I walk away from a problem piece for a few days, then go back, things change.

      Y'all are some smart people here. :)

    2. That's so interesting, Corrine. I've never wanted to work so hard on anything in my life. Instead of feeling daunted by 10,000 hours, I feel like "bring it on!"
      I guess I'm on the right track, too :)

    3. Right on, Gals. When I finally sit down long enough to work in my home or the printing studio, I can't rush it. I keep finding that it takes me at least an hour and a half to "warm up," so alot of my "goofs" (I used to call them something else I won't write here :D) happen then (and know they can get used for something else later!). I love it when I look at the time and say, "whoops, it's dinner time/time to go to bed/etc.!"

  3. Your thoughts resonate on so many levels - the reluctance to push through uncertainty or lack of confidence to practice the 'hard' thing, the quote (excellent! and new to me), taste vs skill level.... Thanks so much for sharing your efforts; I really enjoy seeing your projects, your progress and how each one can look SO different using the same techniques and even colors. You continue to be an inspiration to me~!

  4. Yup. Avoidance usually signals fear for me, too. Good for you!!

  5. love how you pushed through, I am in that phase of where I dont like anything I do, its not what I see in my head, that transfers to the paper, and I get upset and decide never to pick up paint or pencil again. Then I see something and I have to pick up that pencil, even if its crap, its just how we are hard wired, creativity never dies

  6. It's all about learning Karen...we all need to do the 'brush mileage'. Every so often we plateau, then leap ahead again. Just trust.

  7. I love that Ira Glass bit! Isn't it funny that we both finally make it through the difficult winter only to find ourselves confronting heavy stuff! Psychological spring-cleaning maybe, and new beginnings and growth and all that. ;-)
    You are an inspiration to so many of us, and not only is your taste killer, your art is too! I aspire to achieve your "meh" !

  8. What a great post Karen! I've read that quote before, but it's been a long time and was really good for me to read it again. I'm so proud of you for working through your discomfort - I really do love some of the pieces you made. And I'm so glad you're in a better place emotionally about your art - it's such a constant battle isn't it?

  9. I agree with what Corrine wrote about the 10,000 hours -- practice, practice, practice -- good for you! It is wonderful to keep learning and doing new things.

  10. Holy Moly, K. Your work is simply GORGEOUS! The depth in the color pieces is truly amazing - really, as if they are 3-D! What I really love is the tremendous transformation that happened between the simple B&W images and the color renditions. I hope you can be really proud of your work, because I think you've already hit on something that you may not have fully recognized. :D Keep up the fabulousness!

  11. What an amazing and insightful post Karen, thank-you sweetie. Lol I love your work and will always be lurking so that I don't miss any of your beautiful creations. I fully get the self-doubt thing, its horrible but I too am determined to plough on through it. With my two tiddlies running round my crafting time is limited but I squeeze it in where I can, my goal is to find some freedom in my art-making, not a lot to ask maybe on some levels but from what I have read of other's experiences this is one of the hardest things to achieve!!?? Keep creating my lovely, have faith in yourself too, there are a lot of us out here in bloggy land that believe in you.
    Huge hugs x x x x

  12. I am trying to avoid instances of my own avoiding this year. Ask why I am doing it and facing the fear, so far it has been enlightening.

    Go you on facing your fear and nailing it. I love that quote, one of my favourites and so true! Really love your line work.

  13. Well. How important to have this reinforced. I like the idea of artists having good taste. I know what it is to strive for the ideal you see, and know you are capable of. I also learned that the nature of a thing does not change. We change. I never stop growing. Imagine being stuck in a blue period for a decade. Then you move on. Enlightenment!

    Thanks for thinking out loud with us.

  14. Thanks for sharing about your doubts...looks to me like you are moving on just fine! I like Ira Glass and sometimes listen his show "This American Life" while I doodle. If I had to pick a favorite piece out of all of these, my pick is the green, black and white one about middle right. They are all great!

    1. Thanks, Mary. It's always interesting to learn which pieces resonate with people. That one isn't one of my favorites, so it's nice to hear you think it works.

  15. I REALLY enjoyed reading this post. As artists, we share common experiences and we walk a lot of similar paths. It's always re-assuring to hear this stuff and understand that we are not alone. Studio work can be very isolating.

    I think part of what you are describing here is your inner child and your outer critic are in conflict. This happens when the critic starts to smother the child. I don't think the outer critic EVER should be aloud to do that...even for the most seasoned artists.

    The Lesson 2 work that you are showing here has an excitement that is captivating. Vibrant! I can see the energy coming threw. This is the work of that inner child... You have all the skills you need, perhaps what you really mean is that you need to explore techniques that you want to employ in your work? Just my thoughts.

    Awesome post. :)

  16. Your quote really touches the point with me. Even after decades of art- making I still get all those feelings and in fact am going through it right now. I shall keep reading that quote to get myself past it. Your words so often provide food for insightful thought. Your artworks have moved in great leaps in the last year, and that is meant as a compliment, and you are so inventive and talented. Your part 2 paintings are all individual works of art, worth framing. All of them. Such a simple idea and yet producing work like that! I am going to set myself a similar challenge, inspired by you.

  17. What a thoughtful post, Karen! You really attacked the challenge with a vengeance when you put your mind to it. I think you came up with some really great results. And, no, I don't think you can expect every single one to be a "winner," but it sounds like you really learned some important things about yourself as an artist...a lot more valuable than a few more completed pieces of art!

  18. Hey! I can see the whole post now, and the comments andyour side bar!! It's a May Miracle!

    I'm off to read the rest of this and also see what MMSA is doing. But man, I'm just cramming my art table with projects. So I may have to forgo anything new.

    I'm going to go read this and I hope I understand it.

  19. I am totally new to all this and that's why I like this post very much, especially the quote. I will keep it in mind.
    The way you describe yourself could be me.
    Your art is fantastic and I am glad that I found your page.
    Thanks for sharing your art and your thoughts!

  20. Your post is incredibly inspiring on many levels! And it's a very important post as well. And for the record, I think what you did is just fabulous! Thanks for sharing! (And that quote is one of my all time faves!)

  21. Your words are so right on and could have come from my mouth. I struggle with this constantly, like the rest of us I suppose. The work you did once you go over your block, here, is simply wonderful!