Drawing and Painting meets Fear and Self-Loathing

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted anything. I’d love to go on about all of the reasons why, like “I’m just SO busy with my job and traveling, blah blah blah, etc.” and while it’s true, I feel like I’m cheating myself, you, and anyone else who has happened to stumble upon this little portal of learning.

While I was gathering materials for my Drawing & Painting Badge, I dug through the storage areas of our LA apartment to find some supplies. I only had a few places to look. I still had a blank canvas I bought nearly 7 YEARS AGO in New York when I had this wild idea that I wanted to paint something, and I had bought a ton of acrylic paints in great colors with that canvas. Somehow the canvas had survived our move from NY (currently stuck between the cabinet and a wall), but the paints had not. I must’ve given them to someone, unopened. Why? Fear.

Yep. Instead of finding my paints in the deep recesses of our apartment, what I found instead were a myriad of half-written-in journals I’ve kept over the years. I started going through them just to dip my toe into some nostalgia, and what did I find? Nearly ALL of them talked about how afraid I was to actually create something. To put my words or thoughts or images on paper. To compose an original song on the piano or other form of instrument. This fear has been the same for years. I’m talking through the ages. I have no problem excitedly amassing all the supplies needed for a new project, but when it comes down to it, something goes awry or is left for dead. That canvas has gone untouched, because I assume that whatever I put on it will be shit. Now, as more time has passed, the pressure I’ve put on myself has built for whatever is going to happen between the canvas and I. Over the years it gets  more and more daunting. What’s the big deal right? I’ve had greater challenges in life than this…right? When did I start to become afraid of a little creativity?

Here’s a shining example: My freshman year of college I wrote a lot of poetry. I really enjoyed it. I ended up reading one to a fellow classmate one day, and he basically told me it was the most awful thing he’d ever heard. From that day forth, I never wrote a poem again. That one piece of feedback was all it took apparently.

I don’t know where this strive for perfection comes from in these particular formats, since I don’t seem to apply it to most situations in my daily life. But for whatever reason, when it comes to this particular part of CREATING something that is original and yours, be it writing, composing, drawing, painting, I am overcome with 100% pure body-numbing fear, self-loathing and self-doubt. It’s astonishing really.

Therefore, I got to work first on a few of the requirements for D&P that didn’t require me to actually draw or paint something (yet). Art History was my concentration in school, and I have an extreme passion for it – but I know nothing of the technical side, which I hope to learn.

13. Describe the best known pictures and tell something about the life of one of the most outstanding American painters in any of the following fields: landscape, marine, figure, flower, bird, animal, still life, mural, illustrative, decorative, and abstract.

Andrew Wyeth

I decided to check out several books about the American realist painter Andrew Wyeth. The ‘American’ part of this requirement threw a wrench in it a bit for me. I don’t know that much about American painters. European painters I could go on about for days. Who would I choose? Edward Hopper? Ed Ruscha? Jasper Johns? Whistler? John Singer Sargent? Certainly not Jackson Pollock. More than anything, I found Wyeth to be an interesting character, particularly in this photo (right). Something about his eyes and his eccentric coats that he wears well. Something about his face interested me.

I didn’t realize I already knew his most famous painting, ‘Christina’s World,’ [below] from one of my Art Survey classes in college. Once I dug a bit deeper I was truly able to appreciate his work and how much more there was to him.

This painting, for example, was of a disabled girl in a field. That’s all I knew. I thought it was a young girl. I had no idea that it was a 55-yr old neighbor of Wyeth’s in Maine, that he happened to see from an upstairs window crawling across a field in a dress she made for herself.

Since 1939, Wyeth had been sketching and painting his two Maine neighbors, Christina Olson, who was crippled by disease as a child, and her brother, Alvaro. They lived in a weathered old house built by their great-grandfather on a piece of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. For the rest of Christina’s life, she and her home were the focus of Wyeth’s paintings and to him, they were symbols of Maine. With the exception of the last two months of her life, Christina lived her entire life in the house on the hill.

I thought his relationship with Christina and Alvaro was very interesting, as well as his other relationships with many of his African-American neighbors, who served as his models both in and out of the studio. He describes these relationships in his book, “Close Friends,” which is a great collection of his works. You can really feel the emotion in these people and landscapes, and it really sets a mood. I love temperamental New England weather – cold, bleak, blustery. Sometimes it feels as if a piece of clothing or roof on a dilapidated shack could just blow right off the canvas. These sentiments can be disparaging, or instill a sense of sadness or loneliness, but often they’re countered by a warmth, whether it’s through some of his friends he cared greatly about, or others that were just characters in of themselves.

‘Christina’s World’ by Andrew Wyeth

‘Turtleneck’ by Andrew Wyeth – featured in ‘Close Friends’

In 1986, Wyeth did a series of 247 studies of German-born Helga Testorf, commonly referred to as The Helga Pictures. Wyeth painted her over the period 1971–85 without the knowledge of either his wife or Helga’s husband. She was a musician, baker, caregiver, and friend of the Wyeths. TIME Magazine did a big cover story about it when the paintings were discovered. I wonder how Mrs. Wyeth felt.


I could go on, but I think this is a good, familiar place to start. Hoping to be able to kick this fear habit finally. I guess we’ll find out right?

One comment

  1. We find out with every badge that this isn’t just a project about doing new stuff – it’s a lot deeper than that, and with each day, I feel like it becomes more and more of a journey than a “project.” Thanks for writing so openly and honestly about this…and thanks for teaching me about Andrew Wyeth – I want to see more of the Helga paintings!

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