I wish I could relax a little.
Do you know the feeling and pressure of starting a new painting and the voice in your head say: ”This HAS to be the best one you ever did or your whole career is dead”? Well not only your whole career,but also your whole life and your self-image and identity. Actually you’re finished in life…and only this next painting can safe you from the void. If you know that feeling, you and I are kind of the same. I build, mind you not intentionally, my whole self image up around being an artist. I got art published already when I was 13 and later as a teen started to make money on my drawings. I think that is where it started. I know at least that is where the dream started that I might one day be a professional fantasy artist and I decided that I wanted to be Dungeon and Dragons artist like my idols. It is always great to be on the journey rather than at the end of it. While I pursued my dream, I could easily make excuses when I messed up a painting. This was if nothing else, a stepping stone till the other side of the river.
But now that I have reached the goal I feel no use of excuses. Every single painting is balancing on the edge of success or utter failure as a human being.
I talked to a friend of mine, Esben, he said” Jesper I am not like you. I want a life beside of art. I try not to think about it all the time”. I wish I could. Some times I can repress the feeling, push it down and tell myself that it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter that much. ”Jesper, it is just another goblin painting, you can do this! You have done it before”. But soon after I start sketching comes the voice of Dark Ejsing, saying: ”Yeah you have done this before. You are stalling out. This is it. Your last painting was the peak; from here it is down hill. This goblin is nothing new, not unique…you have no right to be here, if you cannot do anything spectacular”. I admit this is unnecessary thoughts and should be avoided at all cost. But I cannot. My logic side of the mind is telling myself to let go and relax, but my body is twisting from pressure and I cannot sleep or relax when I am in the middle of a painting. (It is usually 3 days of endless self-loathing.)
When I talk to my very intelligent wife about this she say that I should not be so hard on myself and that I should try and remember that it is also these thoughts that has pushed me on for all these years. They are the reason why I have been successful in reaching my goals. She is right, I know that.
But I keep on imagining that I will somehow reach a level of artistic freedom. A time where I can relax in knowing what I can do and I have the skills as a bag I can reach into when I need it and grab a handful of convincing goblin composition along with a bright palette of colours. I always thought that there was a level like that. A more self secure level where I would just be cool about everything: ”Yeah you will get there, very soon. It is when you peak and you start the endless decline. It is when you cannot see how to improve. It is when you have reach your potential”, says the evil voice.
As you can see, there is no way to win this argument with my self. It is all down to the fact that I have been seeing myself only as The Fantasy artist, for so very very long that I cannot escape that image. It is the painting on the edge.
The reason why I am having these thoughts right now is that at my studio is a half finished painting waiting for me to finish it. I have reached that critical point where I want to throw it all away and start over. (My wife says I reach that point in every painting) I know I just have to go through and finish it, and I will. And I will try to enjoy it.
I have been working for half a year on another project at a game studio. It is a part of a team and I noticed that I have none of these thoughts when I am painting as a team member. I completely relax and create tons of art with almost no self-loathing at all. And it feels great to not measuring my personality up against a successful painting of a dragon. But when I am back at the studio to paint my own art, a magic card artwork, I feel, once again that life is on the line.
And I have been thinking that this is the way out of the ugly thoughts. I could just be a team artist forever. Stop doing my own stuff. But then I remember that one goblin painting 2 paintings ago that came out just right. That one painting where everything succeeded and I felt like the king of the world, like nothing could touch me and I was capable of doing anything, as an artist as, as a human being. I was in complete control of everything and had carved out my destiny with a size 12-brush. And that is worth enduring all the loathing and all the misery for. Now; wish me luck tonight. I am defending a tiny spot of freedom tonight with that 12-brush.
That was such a good read, very relatable and endearing. May the 12-brush give you confidence and good luck!
Man, I could have written this article verbatim.
I love this very personal story. It’s good to know that even successful professional artists have these thoughts. Best of fortune (I don’t believe in luck) to you on your current project.
I feel this way too. It is a weird double-edged blade. If the stakes aren’t high, I don’t feel like it’s worth the effort. But sometimes I wish I could live with just an “ok” painting without losing sleep over it.
I think maybe we all go through these feelings of inadequacy as Artists, it’s what helps us get better. But for some reason as we get older, and our jobs and financial security are on the line, we start becoming far more fearful of it. We were likely just as bad in our youth, but simple weren’t afraid of it. It’s tough. I know it’s stupid and unhealthy, but as a professional artist it’s really hard not to place your sense of self-worth on your artistic successes.
He hoists his trusty #12, and boldy marches forward. Thanks for sharing Jesper.