It’s Okay to Not Be “Doing”

lifeupdateI have a hard time, sometimes, accepting that it’s okay for me not to have a traditionally productive day.  Even when there are things that need to be done.

I’m wrapping up a lot of things that have been stressing me out; or, not even stressing me out, but just, I don’t know, taking up mental and emotional resources?  I met up with the old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, I got a chance to catch up with another friend I hadn’t seen since her engagement in April (and got asked to be maid of honor!), GISH week wrapped up, and I finished my second-to-last week of ESY.  Three more days of work this week, and I have two-and-a-half weeks off.

That’s plenty of time to be productive.  I had a productive two weeks at the start of summer; there is nothing keeping me from doing the same at the tail end.  I even managed to get the worst of the overwhelming housework done this weekend (including cleaning up my art work space and folding about five weeks of laundry), so with a little but of planning and follow-through, my house could be spotless by Friday.

So why do I feel such an intense, aimless restlessness right now?  Why do I feel like I should be on my hands and knees with a scouring pad, or hunched over a pallete mixing paints, or plugging away in front of a screen (oh… I guess I’m kind of doing that, huh)?

It is so hard sometimes to remember that my focus this year is on perseverance and patience, and that — sort of by necessity — means I won’t always be doing.  Sometimes I’ll be planning, or organizing, or prioritizing.

Hell, sometimes I’ll just be resting, because goddamnit, there are some task for which you really, really need to rally all your mental reserves before you embark on them.

I am making lists of the chores and projects I want to complete during my vacation.  I am taking inventory of all my cabinets and making lists of the organizer bins and baskets I need to buy.  I am taking literal notes on the areas in my house that I need to plaster and repaint.  I am pricing out floor tiles and stocking up on cleaning supplies.

I am keeping a journal of art ideas.  I am reading articles about watercolor technique and the best brushes to achieve a particular effects.  I’m sketching thumbnails of hopefully soon-to-be in-the-works projects.

I signed up for a “virtual writer’s retreat” that starts today.  I installed Libby and started listening to a book, because it’s harder for me to resist the call of my phone than I’d like to admit, and I know this will make it easier to ensure I “read” more, which will hopefully help me write more.  I’ve tossed my notebook back in my bag so I have it on me at all times.  I’m pinning flash fiction and poetry prompts to Pinterest.

None of that feels real; none of that feels like “doing,” but it’s all part of the process, and when your energy runs low, doing literally any of those things is so, so much better than stalling out and wallowing in procrastinatory self-loathing.  It is so, so hard for me to believe this, even the hundredth time through.  Even after the waiting and planning and gathering of the wits have resulted in the work and efforts I remain the most proud of.

I am not doing nothing.  I am laying the foundations.

Hopefully tomorrow comes with renewed energy, and a chance to start building upon it.

Choosing Self-Improvement Over Self-Loathing

adventures of the everydayI am not an artist.

I mean, please; I don’t want people messaging me or commenting and being like, “if you create art, you’re an artist!”  I support that whole-heartedly.  But there are people who create art on a whim, for fun and personal enjoyment, and then there are people who have studied art for years and understand it on a technical level.

These people may both, validly, identify as artists, but they come at art from wholly different backgrounds and perspectives.  One of them applies to me; the other does not.

I’ve discovered — or rediscovered, rather — in the last few years that I really like painting.  On the one hand, it can be fun and relaxing, and on the other it can be challenging and surprising.  I like that versatility; it ensures that it’s never boring.

It also ensures that as my ambition grows, so, potentially can my frustration.

This week, I decided to paint portraits using a photo reference with the intention of being photo-faithful (I won’t say photo-realistic (that’s aiming way too high), but I want the colors and values to hold true).  This means instead of the fantastic skin colors most of my paintings have (of my last four portraits, three have had blue or green skin), I’m attempting to paint relatively true to life (Caucasian) skin.

I hadn’t anticipated how challenging form shadows on skin would be.

My instinct when faced with a challenge is, unfortunately, to quit.  To pack it all in, say “fuck it, guess I suck,” and abandon the project, but not before having a small mental meltdown — usually a messy crying jag followed by lethargy and self-loathing.

No, this isn’t healthy, and no, I’m not proud of it (but it’s all part of being neurodivergent).  So I’m working hard to change my reactions.

It’s slow going.

Today, for instance, I am in a bad place, mentally — anxiety is riding high, I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed with my house work, the tentative nature of my work assignment in September, GISH on Saturday, and the struggles I’ve been having with my painting.  I wish I was one of those people who could compartmentalize their entire life, so that the emotions and anxiety afflicting them in one area doesn’t bleed over to the others, and I’ve more or less got that mastered when it comes to work — my work necessitates I absolutely throw myself into it, so I rarely have time or breathing room to perseverate on my personal problems, but once I’m at home and able to kind of unmask, I just lose it.  Absolutely everything bubbles to the surface and the worries and anxieties from every aspect of life just leech into and infect one another.

Usually, I sink into a shame spiral.  And honestly, I can’t promise I won’t, because I feel it pulling at me.  I really, really just want to curl up and cry and not touch a paintbrush (or a vacuum, or a mop, or another person) again, ever, for all of eternity.  But I’m fighting that urge, this time.

As I was saying, I am working on a painting that I am excited about, that is both something I’m hyped about because of the subject matter, because it’s my first time fully working off a photo-reference, because it’s the first time I’m painting something with a ready-made audience.  I’m already putting a lot of pressure on myself with this project.  And then, like I said,  I had to do something I’ve not really done — paint form shadow on truish-to-life Caucasian skin.

And holy hell, was it hard.  I repainted literally at least fourteen time, until it was a caked on, crusty mess.  I went in with a wet wash, went in with thick strokes, went in with blocks of color, went in feathering colors as I went.  I couldn’t make it work.  The more desperately I tried to make it work, the more impatient I became, and the sloppier my efforts were.

Finally I had to stop and step back.

Instead of throwing my canvas in the trash, I washed it (I know, weird?  But I’ve done it before; it got all the caked on acrylic off and still left the outline and a surprising amount of the initial wet wash, so I don’t have to start totally from scratch), and put it aside to dry.

And then I went online and Googled how to create form shadows with acryllic.

What??? Crazy, right?  I problem-solved.  Instead of just blasting ahead or giving up entirely, I admitted I didn’t know something, and took productive steps toward remedying that problem.  Holy shit, guys, did you know that you’re supposed to use a color complementary to your base to create a natural form shadow?  Like, if you’re painting with yellows, your shadows should be, like, purples?  What?  Why did no one tell me??  I don’t remember that in studio class when I was still taking art in school, just a bunch of eighteen-year-olds, still creating shadows with grays and blacks.  Why was this not taught to me?

That’s really the question, though, isn’t it?

I need to be gentler with myself.  I need to be less scornful of myself when I realize I can’t/don’t know how to do something, and instead of being self-loathing and beating myself up for not knowing, I should remember, well, I was never told.  Or to put at least some of the onus on my shoulders, I never asked.  But I was never expected to just “know.”  I am insanely lucky to live in a time when, now that I know there is a gap in my knowledge or skill, I have nearly unlimited resources to draw from and fill that gap.

The canvas is drying in the living room as I type this.  I don’t know that I’ll be prepared to tackle it in the morning (too much else still weighing on my mind), but there’s still more research to be done, anyway.  I also need to remember, learning and planning in still doing; it still counts.  It’s still work.