Thursday, August 28, 2014

IMC 2014 (kinda)

I came back from my third IMC almost two months ago, so I think it's time to admit that this isn't going to be a proper post about it: there's been too much time, and too much distance. What this is a post about, now, is evolution - and how miserable I currently am.

First things first: evolution.

The last thing I finished before the masterclass was a crowning testament to rendering as I approach it, which is to say, fiddly and tediously.

I'm proud of accomplishing what I did, but it was also a breathtaking waste of time and effort. In the nine months (minus some time off here or there) it took me just to paint those mosaic tiles, I could have done so many other paintings. But I went ahead and I did what I did, and I think it was important.

Because what I did at the IMC, fresh from most of a year of toiling over one painting's rendering and tiny detailing, was this:

It's hard to see from that image, but that is a painting of brush strokes. I didn't sit and noodle on one square inch; even the hands were done with care, as opposed to obsessive fiddling.

This was not a conscious change I made in my approach. Something clicked during Greg Manchess' lecture: the first thing I did upon returning to my easel was crop the top off the head in my already-approved final drawing, and it went from there. It honestly sometimes felt like my hand making these marks while I watched, bewildered - and for someone whose technique has always had a lot to do with her control issues, it was terrifying.

My little freakout over new painting method aside ("Jenna, it looks good." "I know, but how am I doing it?"), this is a breakthrough almost on the level of that time I was slapped out of some hardcore internalized self-worth issues from college. This is good and this is important and the paintings I have done since the IMC have been faster and better and more confident than anything I've done before.

Which brings us to the 'being miserable' part, actually.

As most people who'll probably read this know, I work at Starbucks. I was a barista for about two years, and I feel pretty safe in saying that I was a good one. For months, I was turning down a promotion to supervisor: I knew that it would be a huge stress jump, and a huge time commitment, and that it would wrest a lot of my focus from my art. But I wound up taking it shortly before the IMC, because the money was good, I knew I'd be good at it, and I was already doing half of the job anyway... and, again, control issues.

To absolutely no one's surprise, the transition wiped me out. Combined with it being summer - which is not only the three months where I am baseline tired, angry, and generally unwell because of the heat, but also simultaneously Starbucks' busy season and invariably short-staffed - the new responsibility and intensity made it an uphill battle to make art.

I was telling myself comforting things about preferring it to a desk job (true, depending on the day and also which desk job), and how it wouldn't be for too long (hah), and how I was fine, really, everything was going well (no). This worked pretty well, actually, until I went to the IMC.

The thing about that week up in Amherst is that, for me, it strips away everything. There's not really any room for anything but the art. It's hard to describe - it's not like it's a silent monastery of pure art-making, not at all, but even the silliest, booziest night spent hanging out in the dorm common room had an underlying connection to art.

Faced with a week of the life I want distilled into its best parts, all of my little white lies and half-truths about being alright were torn away.

I hate not being an artist in profession as well as in practice. I hate having to choose where to spend what time I'm not at Starbucks - I hate feeling like every time I decide to see a friend or, god forbid, take a day off, I am choosing to not make art. I hate being caught in a grey area between two directions which are not mutually exclusive but cannot both be worked toward at the same time, and I hate feeling like I'm spinning my wheels as a result. I hate how I need every painting to be A Step Forward, and I hate how when I sit back and do a study I feel like I'm wasting time. I hate being too exhausted to make art and then spend the time not making art hating myself.

I hate looking at Starbucks and seeing the looming shadow of a career.

I hate looking at art and feeling the niggling doubt: Maybe it's a mirage. Maybe I've just been fooling myself.

Listen: I'm not looking for reassurances or advice. This is the year that I was accepted into Spectrum, this is the year I sold my first major piece, this is a year of a big technical breakthrough. I know that people like - respond to - my art, and there are those who are just waiting for me to hit it. I know I'm young, that I only just this May hit two years out of school, that I am doing a lot of things right.

I know that there are issues here, and I'm getting help on that front.

I'm also doing what I can to throw myself into art in such a way as to make it impossible for me to withdraw. My SmART School class with Rebecca Guay starts in less than a week, and there's the Society of Illustrators Spectrum exhibit opening and then Art Out Loud the day after, and Illuxcon less than a week later. I have projects for myself lined up, and promotions to do.

I'm not actually drowning - but it sure feels awful all the same.

This fall, I'm going to try to be better about posting here, because writing down what I'm experiencing has been incredibly helpful in the past - and looking back over my journey gives me guideposts to steer by. Even writing this, tonight, helps, and while I still dread tomorrow's 3:30am alarm and eight hours of work and exhaustion, I'm not quite so wrapped up in my anticipatory misery.

And I really am excited to show everyone what I'm doing. That doesn't change, even if the path gets harder.