Story, Work

What I would draw if I wasn’t worrying about market and social approval

When I first thought about writing this post I had another title in mind: “What I would draw if I didn’t have to worry about market and social approval”. Have to. I had written it down not to forget it and it stayed there on the notebook for days on until something sounded suddenly wrong. Have to. Has anyone ever obliged me to worry so much about external approval? Nope. Why do I feel obliged then? It’s because of me, only me.

The idea for the post comes after a disappointment. In the past months, I’ve been working non-stop on my portfolio and on a couple of illustration contests which I had put a lot of hope in. I felt ready to give a boost to my job and I worked hard to achieve the goal: finishing personal projects, creating a book project, updating my website to show it to potential clients. I focused on what, according to my thinkings, could bring me more (and better) work. Sometimes even pushing my style a bit to get a more “marketable” version of my illustrations. Everything was ready by the beginning of February. I sent my emails, published the best things on my Instagram account, and then I waited.

 

 

By mid-February, I was still waiting to see the results of my strategy. Neither via email or social network things were moving as I had expected. By the end of February I had received a couple of feedbacks, none of which followed by a commission. I kept waiting – “waiting for Godot” my boyfriend told me one morning – and, in the meanwhile, I tried to do new things. But the less feedback I had the less I felt like drawing for a new project. I desperately needed an external approval and this was not coming. I waited and then I got completely stuck.

 

 

 

It’s impressing how external approval has the power to change the opinion we have of the things we do – and to give or take away the energy and passion. To even change the opinion we have of ourselves. I wasn’t getting any positive feedback and this made me think that nothing of what I was doing was worth the time and the effort. Even worse, I – the mind and the hand behind these creations – wasn’t worth anything. Day by day the passion I had put into my works drained and the energy left to continue, to improve and make new things almost exhausted. It’s at this point that I took the notebook to write and, after some days, I realized I was the one obliging myself to please others with my work. I was the cause of my own frustration.

I don’t know if caring about external approval is wrong. What I know is that it’s not good. And it doesn’t make any good to us. When I started drawing again without thinking about anyone to please but me, joy and ideas slowly came back. I drew whales and lines, and things that don’t make sense but that helped me get back on track. Now I’m still in the process of recovering but what’s important is that I’m back in my priorities. Here in the post, you see some of the things I actually drew the moment I stopped thinking about market and likes on social media. They appeared on the paper sheet and I felt light and free to do as I pleased.

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Inspiration

Doing, undoing, redoing (an illuminating quote on creative process by Louise Bourgeois)

“I do is an active state. It is a positive affirmation. I am in control, and I move forward, toward a goal or wish or desire. There is no fear. In terms of a relationship, everything is fine, all is calm. I am the good mother. I am generous and attentive – I am the one who gives, I am the one who provides. It is “I love you”, whatever happens.

The undo is the unraveling. The torment that things are not right and the anxiety of not knowing what to do. There can be total destruction in the attempt to find an answer or terrible violence degrading in depression. Facing the fear rising, you stays still. It is the sight from the bottom of the well. In terms of a relationship with others, there’s total denial and destruction. […] I am the bad mother. It the disappearance of the loved object. Guilt pushes towards deep desperation and passivity. You pull back in your own den to elaborate a strategy, to recover, to reorganize.

The redo means that a solution is found to the problem. It may not be the final answer, but there is an attempt to go forward. You get clearer in your thinking. You are active again. You have confidence again. In the relationship with the others, restoration and reconciliation have been achieved. Things are back to normal. There is hope and love again.”

(From L. Bourgeois, Destruction of the Father Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997)

 

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style, Work

Does creative process always have to be painful?

Every time I start working on a new project I hope my creative process will work differently than it did for the previous one. I hope ideas will come smoothly and in abundance. I hope I will follow all working phases consciously and without panic. I hope I will get to the final goal with elegance and self-confidence like an expert climber gets to the top of a mountain without any trace of strain nor sweat. I wish all these things all the times and each time I am disappointed.

My creative process is painful. And by this I mean it’s a workflow where phases of great enthusiasm (there are, of course) alternate with phases of despair and panic. Sketches are abruptly torn, thrown into the bin and dig up the day after. I spend hours – sometimes days – begging for a good idea, I panic when I don’t see it, I watch my previous works wondering where on earth I found the skills to make them – and where are those skills right now? I cry, not always, but sometimes I do. And the reason isn’t that I’m creating something deeply emotional, but because I’m frightened I will never make it.

 

 

 

 

It happens all the times. Then each time, right after the biggest crisis, something happens and I make it. It’s usually a matter of cleaning the table where I work and going through all the sketches I’ve made. With renewed rationality, what looked like a chaotic set of doodles just a minute before, suddenly becomes a good idea. THE idea. The time to finish the work is then ridiculous compared to the time spent to get there. I complete the project. I am relieved.

 

 

 

 

Since, as I said, this process repeats every time I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my creative process. Even the images you’re seeing in this post (a little series for the Italian clothes brand Salomè) went through these phases. From a rational point of view, I know there’s nothing weird in the way I process ideas. Afterall I start with a brainstorming, I put my ideas on paper, first quite freely, then in a more selective way. It takes time, of course, and some thinking. Rationally I have nothing to object to my creative process. But emotionally there’s so much I wish I was able to control in a different way.

 

 

 

 

And here I come to the question I’m asking in the title: is creative process always painful? Is it a matter of personality, experience, confidence? Does it improve with time or do I have to accept the fact that there will always be some struggle?

 


 

I don’t have any answers but I do have some good reads on creative process I’d like to share with you. My favorites:

  • this recent post by Valentina Solfrini on her blog Hortus (love the part where she explains crisis)
  • this post by LJ (yo!) from Superlatively Rude – I’m going to repeat “Your story is not ready for you to worry about yet” as a mantra
  • the comic by Giulia Sagramola published on Illustratore Italiano last issue, such a true story
  • I love reading artist’s biographies, my favorite so far is Picasso by Gertrude Stein (here in English, here the edition I have at home in Italian) – it was relieving reading about Picasso’s research for his own voice.
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