Overthinking

I possess an uncanny ability to take simple, easy situations and make them much harder than they should be. I do a lot of my work in colored pencil, a tedious process that gobbles up hours and hours of my life, especially when I’m filling in a large background. I can easily spend a whole week coloring a blue sky or a brown desert landscape. Because colored pencil drawings demand so much time, I don’t want to get halfway into a picture, make a mistake, and ruin the whole thing. So I like to draw countless sketches and write notes to myself before I begin the final product. Sometimes, I spend a whole month working on one colored pencil drawing.

Many times, when I’m finished, people glance at those colored pencil drawings and show no interest whatsoever.

But if I sit down with a graphite pencil and knock out a little doodle in five minutes, people go bananas over it.

The less effort I put into a project, the better it seems to be.

Since I was a teenager, art teachers and other artists have told me I need to “loosen up” and stop drawing in such a “tight” style. They insist that my manner is too rigid, too forced. And they’re right. I know my work looks better when I relax and stop trying so hard, when I enjoy what I’m doing and have fun with it. I drew the Jack White picture in less than a week, much faster than my usual colored pencil drawings. And people seemed to like it more than the others.

You have to listen to your brain and your heart. If you never think ahead, your life will be brutally short. You will be struck and killed by a bus while you’re walking across the street. But if you think too much, you’ll never cross the street at all. You’ll spend your entire life standing on the sidewalk, biting your fingernails.

For years, I’ve wondered why I make my life so complicated. It’s still a mystery to me, but I’ve discovered two possible reasons.

First, I like to feel like I’ve accomplished something. In the same way an Olympic athlete trains vigorously for years and years in the gym, working tirelessly to claim a gold medal in a particular sport, I like to work vigorously to finish a piece of art. Sometimes, when my priorities get muddled and my common sense slips away, I become more focused on the sense of accomplishment rather than the piece of art itself. In the back of my mind, I want it to be hard. I want it to be challenging. This way, I can revel in the feelings of victory and accomplishment when a project is finally complete.

Secondly, a work of art is a living organism. It grows and develops on its own, often in ways I don’t expect. I tend to plan out every detail in advance to give myself the comforting illusion of control. I use the word “illusion” because I’m not really in control at all. The harder I pull on the reins, the more I strangle it to death.

You’ve been reading an excerpt from How to Make an Artist Miserable, available on Amazon. The paperback is $5 plus shipping and handling. The Kindle edition is $2.99. You can click here to order.

Copyright 2015, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.