Monday, December 23, 2013

Shifting gears

I haven't really posted much here in a while, though I've finished two paintings and made huge strides on a third. There's a reason: for the last six or seven months, I've been, very quietly, absolutely panicking about my art.

It was a background noise for a long time, something I didn't even really notice except occasionally, in small ways: in my slow withdrawing from the community, in the the mixed way I reacted to inspiring illustrations, in my flat inability to even make a move in promoting myself, in my difficulty articulating anything about my last two paintings. My art was getting better and better, and garnering reactions that left me speechless, but there was a growing anxiety sitting in the pit of my stomach that made making art hard.

The problem was that I wasn't a fantasy illustrator, and I couldn't reconcile that.

For a while now, a part of me has known that my art wasn't actually the kind of fantasy that would interest the markets I thought I wanted to work in; more recently, that part also figured out that I wasn't even really making the kind of paintings that fit in an illustration portfolio. There's a grey area in where illustration ends and gallery work begins, and many, many artists work on both sides of that blurry line - but every time I read an advice post saying things like 'look at the book covers in your local book store!', or flipped through Spectrum, my anxiety spiked through the roof because my art didn't look like that.

It should be understood that I 'knew' I was a fantasy illustrator since mid-college, and I put a lot of effort into educating myself about and making myself a part of the fantasy illustration community. There's a lot of comfort to be had in an identity - and the unknown is terrifying.

It was hard being rational about shifting gears toward gallery work when I didn't even know where to start, and froze every time I thought about researching.

Through this, I kept painting. It wasn't the mechanical, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of painting that I did when I crashed last spring - this was me closing my eyes on the panic and just... trusting my art. Something had clicked inside when I finished The Long Path, and letting myself sink into Devotional was an experience worthy of the painting's title. Even as I despaired over the endless mosaic tiles of my current painting, it felt right, and the panic fell away.

It wasn't any sort of a long-term solution. But it did allow me to move forward where in all else I was freezing to a halt - and it did mean that I was posting progress.

Travis Louie, who I'd met this summer at the IMC, noticed those posts; he's the one who's given me something other than a blank page to start on. Whereas I was previously working with nothing but the thought, 'galleries????!?', he has given me advice and people and places to look at, and a goal for my portfolio rebuild, and I'm more grateful than I can say.

So that's where I am right now: still painting, but now with a goal. And, you know, that trust in my art hasn't gone away. My life is currently a balancing act, with work and maintaining any sort of a social life weighed against making art - but my art is always there, waiting, and I have faith in that. Transitions are so, so difficult, but between Travis giving me something to go on and that faith I've found, I no longer feel frozen every time I'm not concentrating specifically on painting.

And we'll see how things work out.