“… If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you – and make allowance for their doubting too…” from the poem If by Rudyard Kipling (for the complete poem go HERE)
Self doubt can sabotage one’s concentration. How well I remember standing at the free-throw line and hoping that I would not miss the final shot for a Jr.-high basketball game. Aware of my teammates, of the coach, of offensive/defensive choices if the ball missed the basket, of the next team waiting for the buzzer and warm ups; I also considered the home-town fans and strangers in the packed gym. Would my team win, would we lose, or would we go into overtime? The possibilities provided many distractions for an inexperienced young-teen! * That moment taught me an important life lesson: block out the conflicting variables and focus on the goal.
The same self doubt inflicts the creative process. When I painted the watercolor study of Smooth-billed Anis, I used an ultra-smooth Bristol Board which is very unforgiving. Once applied, the dark pigments required for the Anis could not be lifted without staining(ruining?) the paper.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” Elbert Hubbard
Quite social and affectionate with each other, Anis stay in family clusters. Sometimes while foraging they are scattered but remain in sight of one another; they also huddle – and even cuddle – during periods of rest. The Smooth-billed and the Groove-billed Anis prepared a little slide show introduction:
Painting just one bird would not illustrate the true behavior of the flock.
The painting advanced one bird at a time, and with each bird – self doubt peered over my shoulder and whispered, “Are you sure you want to add another bird? What if you make a mistake? The painting might be ruined.”
The painting was a request, and an unexpected cousin to early-teen self doubt entered the game. I was not only considering the evolution of the painting, I was also thinking about the person who anticipated the finished product. I was painting for that person, not an uninhibited expression of art for myself. Any struggles would be revealed in the freshness (or lack of) of the watercolor. My camera chip malfunctioned during this time, so there are no images to show the progress until bird number four.
Tick, tock, tick, tock – Self doubt shadowed each about-to-be painted bird.
“Are you approaching dangerous waters? You lose all with one mistake…”
Much like bouncing the basketball to focus before a shot, with each new Ani I blocked out conflicting distractions until the painting was finished. Signing the work always signals, “Whew. Completed with a happy heart.”
“Work to please yourself and you develop and strengthen the artistic conscience. Cling to that and it shall be your mentor in times of doubt; you need no other.” from The Note Book of Elbert Hubbard
Self doubt sneaks in when I least expect it; lurking in the shadows it whispers, “Are you sure?”
This happened three times with the Southern House Wren watercolor! Remember that painting? Its debut last month showed Stage One:
The initial wash went so well that I considered stopping there. That’s not really self doubt; that’s being pleased with the freshness of a painting! It would have been OK, but I did not stop. The next session demanded a late-night session when few sounds punctuated the stillness of the night. Selective music works at times, but even quiet piano (like below) distracts when I’m working on meticulous details.
Referring to a folder of wren reference photos, I lifted the ‘too strong’ sienna colors and fine-tuned the color variants. Working tiny amounts of white acrylic into the previously-applied pigments transformed the dull-hued feathers of the upper back. The final task demanded precise attention (and the pause button for piano) while I painted those delicate feather details. I worked until 5 a.m. – then slept until ‘way’ past noon!
Happy with the painting, I critiqued it for several days. I now knew every little detail about that chirpy little bird that flits near the house and lingers at the Palo Santo tree. When I looked at the painting, that bare branch looked too stark. I pondered adding more.
“No. Absolutely not!” said that voice of self doubt. “Don’t risk ruining what you’ve painted!”
The branch, washed with a few strokes of color, needed strength. I wanted to capture the essence of this highly-active little bird, which meant bringing the entire scene to life and making it believable.
Outside I examined the Palo Santo tree, photographed it and clipped a few small branches to take inside. Armed with ample reference material, I mixed the colors to bring the branch to life. The dark pigment, instead of floating across the surface of the paper, soaked straight into the paper like quicksand! Lifting it would make it muddy, so I veered toward a darker/heavier limb.
Several times I pondered the many hours invested in the secondary actor in this script – was this lone branch worth the time? Would I be like the inexperienced ball player who steals the ball, careens down the court for an out-of-control layup – and hurls the ball to the ceiling?
Too late to turn back, I worked and fine tuned washes of color until the limb and the bird achieved a balance.
“Yes!” I assured myself, “Now you’re finished!”
But no; after a few days of neutral critiques, I felt that one more painting session remained.
My higher self ignored that worrisome little voice. A much-stronger and more-positive voice – one of confidence in myself – nudged me forward. Perhaps my guardian angel or a higher power played a role in that nudge kick. Maybe the devil planted a snitty little trap while predicting, “Ha! Her soul will be mine soon! She’s going to ruin the painting and curse the heavens!”
I looked at the painting and felt that a few tiny details were important.
Perhaps from boredom or realizing that nagging was useless, my self doubt remained silent. I returned to the Palo Santo tree and retrieved a few specific leaves. After taking a short break, I added the final touches to the painting.
Indulging a moment of ego, my higher self smirked at the voice of Self Doubt and boasted, “See? Now run along and quit nagging me!”
(If this were a basketball game, I think that both free throws were winning ones! )
With that, it was time for a walk!
*(I don’t remember if we won or lost, but I do remember why I preferred Track and Field more than basketball! Track was about doing one’s personal best, and not about the pressure of missing a final-second shot!)