This piece kept staring at me. You know how it goes; you're moving along in the studio working on other things and from the corner of your right eye you see something niggle... At first I ignored it and kept on, and then one day I walked up to it in long strides and said "you're right."
It needed more work.
After all these years of painting (39 to be exact) I so rarely do this. I often paint over and start again, but re-working? Nah. I prefer to keep things as is so I can see my progression over time. Even though I ALWAYS want to 'fix' any past work I encounter hanging on walls. We are never happy, right artists? Yeah.
Once I stripped the varnish off (really easy with GamVar, just use solvent) I was left with " but what if I mess it up?!" Then, that thought led to...how I felt the first time I used a non-painting tool as a painting tool. The fear was palpable and sweat inducing. Seriously.
Now mind you, I am no stranger to this sensation. I have it nearly every morning on my yoga mat, and especially if I take practice in yoga studios in front of teachers. My vulnerable point in life is body confidence. I have no faith in what it can do and so rarely will I cross the line to even try. And when I do, and happen to fall over in the opposite direction, flat on my face, or inexplicably collapse onto my neighbor..well, that makes doing that posture all the more difficult next time. Let's just say I am a work in progress on my mat.
But I do get it. I recognize it in my students when I say "just pick up that brayer and roll over the face." The stricken OHMGAWD silently etched in their eyes. The ole Nike commercial has beaten the solution to a pulp. I have just realized today that Just Do It does not work long term. You may Just Do It, but will you Keep Doing It? I have found it requires almost a muscle memory of sorts. Did we do "it" before, like EVER? Unless we have, the actual action will just feel wrong. And the feeling is key to making it a success to YOU.
So the way around it, is to rely on small bits of what you know already. For example, your drawing skills, or revisiting the reference you have. In the redo of Leila and the Wren, I went back to slowly creating her flesh tones. Very methodically, and with total concentration. Once I was in the space, I could relax into what I already understand, and feel the changes that need to come next. But I check in and see what it needs periodically. A new texture, a broad swipe...who knows. Step by step linear direction mean nothing if I can't relate to it. The big burst of new energy, new undiscovered pathways in art (or yoga) come from ease, and gradually working into discomfort.
The discomfort is a given. This is key. You practice doing that uncomfortable thing until your hand isn't tired from holding the new tool, your eyes stop crossing, your mind opens and most of all: your thoughts stop shouting that "This is so wrong." and the dreaded "I Can't Paint"
My mind plays tricks on me all the time. It does not shut up. I am still learning to actually live with that thing and see it as white noise. One small step at time. Frequent steps. Build the muscle memory slowly and oh so often.
I have a bit more to go on the Leila redo, and can already feel the settling nature of that. I have found when I spend time in the uncomfortable zone long enough, I can feel the shift of a new place when it happens. And then, I dive in with full go confidence.
Until the next time I start a painting..
Don't give up. Your art is more than your mind will tell you it is.