The Push and Pull of Artistic Envy
I try to be as forthright as possible on this blog about my experiences with art. The site didn’t really start with a focused goal in mind, but over time, writing has become as much about sharing the struggles as the victories when it comes to this hobby. I hope it helps someone else to see my learning process along with snags and trip-ups I experience along the way. One that I’ve been wrestling with lately is my complicated relationship with artistic envy.
One of the many purposes that originally drew me to WordPress is simply browsing other artists’ work via the WP Reader. I probably follow way too many sites at this point, but I love seeing the unique styles and varied skill sets found among artistic bloggers. Similarly, exploring new artwork is also what finally brought me to social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest. I can’t emphasize enough how much I’ve learned just from reading about and following other artists. Outside of the learning aspects though, I’ve also gained inspiration from the vast talent on display, planting a small seed of “what if I practice” in my brain.
There is a drawback though, which is similar to the biggest downside of a motivational tool I’ve often used in life. The gist of it is this: Set a goal that’s extremely high, with the understanding that the goal may not be realistic or likely to happen. The upshot for me was if I aimed high, but didn’t quite make it, whatever I achieved along the way would still be very good. A prime example is that after high school, I set this overarching goal as graduating medical school. Although I got a few interviews, ultimately I wasn’t accepted to any medical school programs. The overly-ambitious moonshot wasn’t reached, but along the way I earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees – still overall a success, but not the one I set out for.
This is a decent strategy overall, because it’s helped me accomplish some things in life. The problem is that it can take an emotional toll over time; even if they are somewhat unrealistic, you’re still setting goals and not achieving them. In many ways, watching extremely talented artists create amazing things can take a similar toll. Although usually it’s inspiring, sometimes I instead find envy tugging away at me. Recently, I found this to be true as I was looking at a painter on Instagram named Henrik Uldalen (@henrikaau). At first, I was in awe of the natural talent on display. At some point though, I started feeling that little green monster poking his head around. I had thoughts like, “I will never be this good” and “I just wasn’t born with the talent this dude has.”
Fortunately, funks like that are usually pretty short-lived, and I talked myself right out of those doldrums. After letting the parade of emotions pass by, I typically try to think about things more objectively. First and foremost, I don’t know anything about that painter and I’m not in his head. He may have actually spent a lifetime honing his craft, and chalking it all up to a born gift does a disservice what could have been years of work and practice. And I don’t know how hard he’s focusing, if/how he prepared, or even how long his paintings took. But, even if he is a natural portrait prodigy, I shouldn’t try to measure myself as if there is some linear scale of skill. Art is fluid and subjective – I think it’s more important to consider individual styles people develop through their personal artistic explorations. It sounds cheesy, but I feel like examining those unique styles is where art really gets interesting.
Hopefully that’s not just a bunch of gibberish. And I don’t mean to make browsing art out to be a negative experience at all. Overall it is a great thing, and something I enjoy quite a lot. I just wanted to describe some of the internal push and pull that happens from time-to-time, and how confidence can take a hit within certain mindsets. Anyhow, all that being said, once I got out of that artistic funk, I realized it had been a while since I’d drawn anything. Here’s the portrait I ended up working on, which is another piece inspired by Unsplash photography (I’ve somehow lost the original, I’ll update this with a credit when I find it again):
With this portrait, I decided to keep pushing the shadows/high contrast I’ve been trying to practice. It’s long been an area in need of improvement for me, so I figured this was a natural direction. Overall, I’m happy with the portrait and it came together well I think. This looks like the subject and I don’t see any major proportional issues. I’m used to working on straight vertical head orientation, or only minor tilts, so it felt a little uncomfortable working with this angle. But like I said, I’m not unhappy with how that part turned out.
I do think the finished portrait looks a bit washed out. The digital version doesn’t emphasize that quite as much, but in person it seems I leaned too heavily on my white pencil blending. I have a colorless wax blender, and in hindsight, I really should have utilized it. This is particularly true for the subject’s face, but I think deeper blacks for her hair would have been good too. These are minor complaints though. I think the finished version works pretty well.
I decided to depart from real life a bit on some of the colors. Not that it’s a high-minded statement about smartphones or anything, but I thought this was a good opportunity to make the phone a focal point. I went with a noticeable navy color for the phone, and tried to use more grays and neutrals elsewhere. I didn’t want the eye to go to her shirt or something. When I select colors that vary from the real subject, I usual do it randomly based on feeling rather than some plan. This time though, I actually select specific colors with a goal in mind (“look at this phone!“). So, that’s sort of a new thing!
Here’s the usual progression .gif. I took quite a few photos as I worked on this, so it should be a decent animation this time:
As I said already, I really hope this entire post wasn’t an incoherent jumble. There really was a purpose behind that wall of text – to share some personal challenges that can arise on the path of an amateur artist. As for what’s next, I have no idea! I do still have a few basic outlines that I started and abandoned. But, so far I’m not really feeling those, so I think it will probably be something totally new.