FAILING & FLAILING WITH FLYING COLORS
Here's the worst part about being an artist: You've spent ages carefully working on something, knowing that you're working in the right direction, that you are in the process of creating your next great masterpiece. Then, one day you look at it and see that it's all wrong. Crumple up the piece of paper, break the sculpture, paint over the canvas. All of that work isn't a total loss because, eventually, it makes you a better artist, but damn, it's frustrating.
In 2009 I got a subscription to Craft magazine (the now defunct sister magazine of Make). Craft gave me a lot of great ideas for new projects, but it also gave me one major idea that I couldn't shake: I wanted to move to Portland, Oregon and be where the art was happening. My partner and I both agreed, it would be a great move for us, and after one week-long visit, it was decided. We were moving to Portland, Oregon.
My first visit to Laurelhurst Park.
Five years later, after many hitches, we were finally ready to move. While my partner finished up school, I worked double-time to get into the graduate program of my dreams at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA). Creating a grad school portfolio for your Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) is a lot of work, and taking tests and applying for school is a whole ordeal in and of itself, but I did it. I got in! We packed up our stuff and moved across the country in pursuit of my dream of becoming a big city artist.
My dog in the moving truck.
Then a major hitch happened. After getting accepted to PNCA with the promise of some funding and after having landed an internship with the Portland Art Museum, my world fell apart. One day after having lunch with the MFA director, I was sitting in on a MFA critique when it hit me hard - I had already been here before. Grad school was not my next step towards becoming a bonafide, qualified artist. This wasn't my path. On the bus ride home I could barely hold back the tears. Once I stepped through my apartment door, I collapsed in a heap.
One of the pieces in my grad school portfolio.
Knowing what's coming. Oil on canvas. 24" x 24". 2013
A few months was enough for my partner and I to realize that although we love Portland and always will, it's not our home. Things worked out so that after only nine months of our new adventure, we were headed back to where we started in Northwest Arkansas. I like to joke that I had a secret baby in Portland. In addition to dealing with the culture shock that comes from returning home after living somewhere new, I felt like the biggest failure ever, period.
Coming back home through the Pig Trail.
Hwy 71. Watercolor and ink on paper, 15" x 12". 2016
Starting over is kind of the worst, but it's also kind of the best. The hardest and most useful art lesson I ever received was, "Paint over it." Nearly three years since moving back home, the ache of starting over still hurts, but after some time has passed, painting something new over the old stuff doesn't feel like failure. Some things work, and some things don't. That's okay, and actually, it takes a lot of the pressure off. It means that I can focus on what I'm presently working on without being blocked by my past, and really, that's not so bad.
A comic from my zine, Brushwork: Artist's Block. Buy your copy of it here.