Almost five years ago, when I was happily discovering watercolors for the first time, a family member silently looked over my shoulder, glanced at what I was painting and asked a question I feel like anyone who have spent significant time on any hobby gets asked often:
I’ve been MIA this March, partly because it’s my birth month (ya gal is an older 20-something now!) but mostly because I’ve not really felt the urge to write anything. I do have some blog post ideas on my notes app but none that compel me enough to have a sit down and write my thoughts.
I have been more active over on Instagram (@keetnoodles). I just finished my second month-long art project on March which I might talk about more on here in the future.
In the meantime, here’s a watercolor process video I posted months ago. I joined in an art challenge hosted by an art friend I met over on insta. Enjoy!
Hello! The past few weeks, I’ve been working more on my art so expect this space to be a bit quieter for a while. I’m still thinking about scheduling posts on here and the type of stuff I want to discuss often. I have some ideas that I hopefully will be able to work on, now that I’ve quit my job.
A couple weeks ago, Art Twitter* went ablaze in dignified collective anger when artists shared screenshots of random people sliding in their DMs telling them that they were “not yet ready to commission art.” (Hm.)
I have this philosophy I apply with my art process.
The idea goes like this: The simple cure of an art block can either be a thorough cleaning of all your palettes and brushes, or staying away from the drawing board for a while.
What I’ve been trying to learn the past several months – the past couple years even – is knowing when to clean and when to step away. When to listen to my body and when to be stubborn.
Because sometimes when your body says “I’m tired. I don’t want to draw,” you listen to it. And other times, you don’t. Because maybe your body is tired and needs to rest, or maybe it just needs a little push.
Several days ago, I spent an entire evening cleaning my old palettes and water brushes. I probably spent more than an hour by our kitchen sink squeezing out the red watercolor stain out of one water brush. But that’s fine – time feels slow and forgiving when you’ve got nowhere to go like these past month.
I stood there silently. It’s already dry season now, where I’m from, and the nights are sweltering. I could feel a drop of sweat sliding down from my chin to my neck, the fan ventilating my brother by the dining table barely reached me.
Remembering that particular scene several days ago, that particular moment, I could liken it to cleansing your life or your head space. How much work it is. How heavy and uncomfortable you could feel while doing it. How it takes a while before the stain comes off completely (if they even do) and you return to a squeaky clean start.
Sometimes, cleaning up the messes around you is all you need to do to keep your sanity intact.
And sometimes, you are too overwhelmed to even clean them up. So much so, that all you can do is step away from them. Remove them from your view – if only for a moment.
I’ve been through both times. Heck, I’ve even been through both times at the same time.
When it comes to both my art and life and my mental well-being, I still don’t know the telltales of when to persist and when to quit.
All I could do right now is to listen, and to try.
It has been a heck of a long time since I published a short pondering type of post. It’s weird to not care about readability or the SEO. I’m trying my best to ignore it hnggg.
I honestly don’t know when I would write another one of these – maybe immediately after this one or maybe four years after.
That said, I hope I too made you ponder, even for a while. And I hope you are safe and well wherever you may be.
We know this. I know this. You know this. That old man sitting at a nearby park probably doesn’t care about art improvement but, still, even he knows this.
It is the one of The Most Frustrating Thing Ever. Why couldn’t I just be good at the things I like to do in an instant? Like, why do learning curves even have to exist?? Why can’t I just become the next Einstein or the next Picasso or the next Marie Curie tomorrow???
You’re probably not as dramatically ambitious as yours truly, but I bet you’ve been frustrated and impatient before, right?
The Case of Improvement for Artists (hint: iz torture)
I love progress. And if you’re a self-improvement junkie like myself, obviously, one of your biggest goals in life is to consistently be a better version of yourself. But progress is slow and tedious and it kills me. (Well, not really literally. But you know what I mean.) Creative progress, especially, is a specific kind of torture for me.
See, I’ve always been an impatient person. But I’m more so an impatient creator. When it comes to my art and my writing, I want to hurry, hurry, hurry.
Hurry up and improve on your anatomy, Kate.
Hurry up and draw good noses, Kate.
Hurry up and write engaging stories, Kate.
Hurry up and create awesome content, Kate.
Hurry up, Kate.
I keep on pushing myself to hurry hurry hurry. That I need to keep moving forward. That I need to get better. And the thing is, in art, you don’t really see you’re improving. So I become even more greedy. I become more and more frustrated, and more and more impatient of myself.
Sometimes, to a point where I’m mentally scolding myself for not seemingly getting better.
We are our harshest critic already. But with myself and to myself, I am unforgiving. I never tolerated even an ounce of imperfection. It’s sad. Because we are also our most frequent company.
Can you imagine being in the company of someone so critical of you?
That drive for art improvement became toxic. I made it toxic, and it backfired. And so, in an attempt to gently remind myself that um Kate? You HAVE improved tho, I did the #DrawThisAgain art meme. It’s where you try to draw an old art and see the differences and changes.
I chose a really old work, one I did in 2016. Back when I still a complete watercolor noob and just starting out. I loved it — I still do. But recreating it with all the creative arsenal I picked up for three years, it was amazing.
And once I was done and took a step back, I thought to myself, “If 2016 watercolor noob Kate could only see me now…” I mean, I know she would never see the me now. That’s just how it is.
Who you are, right this second, will never get to see how much you’ll improve in the future.
But who you are, right this second, is also the only one who can look back to where you’ve come from and see how far you’ve come.
I now take comfort in having this truth. I’m probably going to tuck myself into it forever. Because, man, it’s far far better than the rusty old thoughts of “Not Being Enough.”
In business and management, looking at historical data is a sensible way of self-evaluation. But looking back is also a gift. A gentle reminder to your all-too-focused self, a small shift in perspective. That you are doing just fine.
So here I am, doing exactly that.
I first published this post on my Patreon page but I added a few words and wrote additional thoughts. You may see the original post, in its infancy, here.
And it is an Amazing Idea™. It’s so brilliant, the old masters will roll over their grave with envy if they learn about this. You have to do something about this awesome idea stat.
And so you did. You started working on it. Days and nights passed by your window. Your work desk is getting more and more cluttered. An upbeat and incredibly motivating music is playing in the background while you are in a montage of maximum motivation.
But then– the needle scratches.
The music stops and you realize… what you’ve been working on this whole time? It isn’t like anything you’ve had in mind. It is not the Amazing Idea. It is, in fact, nowhere near amazing.
You plunge into that deep, dark hole of despair. Repeatedly beating yourself over and thinking, “Maybe I’m not good enough to do this.”
Does this sound familiar?
I like to think of perfectionism as a creative’s very own Kryptonite. See, we somehow follow this unsaid memo that whatever work we’re doing at the moment must be perfect.
That first draft of a novel? Must be perfectly outlined.
That sketch you’ll later post on Instagram? Must be perfectly messy.
That blog post you’re currently writing? Must have no typos.
(Seriously, I’d like to go back in time to find out just who the heck among our early ancestors passed that perfectionist tendencies into our DNA.)
And what happens when this unsaid memo doesn’t get accomplished? You frazzle. You start to panic. You become so caught up in making things 100% perfect that you have 0% energy left to actually finish the work.
You end up repeatedly editing that one line that does not make any sense. Or rereading your unfinished draft to look for typos. Or desperately using water to wash out that part of your drawing that you painted with the wrong color.
At the end of the day, you’re completely exhausted and you realize two things:
1) You’re not perfect.
2) You did not finish anything.
Have you ever felt that way? That you don’t feel happy or satisfied with what creative work you’re making? And you either do a complete overhaul of it or want to throw it to Davy Jones’s locker where you can never ever see it again ever?
Yo I’ve been there too.
Perfectionism was as constant in my adolescent life as acne is. And it was very prevalent in my relationship with my art.
I hated all my drawings. And in the off chance that I do love them, I’d see a mess in the colors or a tiny scratch a second later. And I’d immediately have this urge to do it all over again. Or burn it. For a long time, my perfectionist tendencies made me hate any creative work I made. Be it an essay or a school project collage or a blog post.
Well then, I want you to ask yourself one simple question. The one question I ask myself now whenever I’m bombarded with the need for absolute perfection:
“Will anyone, other than me, notice this flaw?”
Will anyone else take notice of this tiny flaw and think it ruined the entire piece the way you do?
And I learned this is true most of the time. Most people probably won’t see anything. I know this because whenever I point out a small imperfection that has been bugging me for the entire creative process, you know what people usually say?
I don’t see it.
Or, Oh yeah, there is. But that’s so tiny!
Or, It’s not relevant, Kate. What are you talking about?
And this goes both ways. A friend of mine showed me her work and said she wanted to burn it. And I was totally confused because her work was awesome! We sometimes overlook the fact that we spent the most time looking over our work. (That was a mouthful so yes, you can read that again.) It comes to a point where we’re basically seeing everything in a magnifying glass, focusing on the tiniest specks rather than seeing the bigger picture.
Look, of course I’m not saying it’s okay to half-ass around and overlook the little mistakes you make.
You can’t really fully ignore them. You can’t erase the existence of the form/from typo you’ve written, or that stray stroke of watercolor that doesn’t go anywhere. They’re all there. They exist.
But here’s the thing:
Try taking a step back. Hold your paper at arms’ length. Zoom out that Word document to 10%, until all you could see are the pages you’ve written so far. Look at what you’ve made, the work-in-progress in front of you. It’s a messy work-in-progress, sure. It’ll need a tweak or twelve. But sometimes you need to remind yourself that you created something out of anidea.
Bask yourself in that. Because YOU made that.
And all those tiny flaws you see when you’re hunched down, laser-focused on one certain area? They are just that: tiny. Single specks in the huge amazing canvas you’ve created.
Own that amazingness.
That’s all you.
How do you move past the tiny flaws you find in the creative process? Let us know in the comments below so we’ll learn from your wisdom! 🙂
Here’s a fact about me regarding my watercolor paintings and drawings in general: I don’t usually have backgrounds. If you skim through all my artsy creations here in my blog, you’ll notice that I usually just draw a character and forego any specific background.
Lineart has always been my favorite part of making an artwork so I always have full concentration on that. Then I would breeze through the coloring or shading. I end up having a not-so detailed work and back then, I find that good enough.
Now skimming through different artists on Instagram and Youtube, I see how much work they put into the background and the little details in the piece.
It amazed me.
The result was this piece of work that’s more…complete, I guess. The characters aren’t just characters in white background. They have a story and a personality. There’s a certain mood that you won’t only see in the character’s expression but also backed up by the background and props.
And I decided, “I want that in my work.”
But deciding to change the way you create things is far easier than the act itself.
It was hard, extremely hard to add more into my “drawing routine.” And so I did it little by little this month.
Remember when I had thatPoker-faced Girls Series of watercolor art? Well, I made another series but this time it’s four girls embodying the four natural elements—fire, earth, water, and air. It’s called Elemental Girls with Closed Eyes Series.
This is where I decided to put in a little more effort in tiny details. Each girl took up around a day to finish but that’s because I didn’t work with the next girl straightaway.
Water (I didn’t have time to think of their names, sorry) has this wavy-ish hair and the hem of her dress looks like sea foam. I had fun doing the seaweeds but omg, those bubbles feel so awkward. Or is it just me?
Having Fire’s hair look like, well, fire was extremely fun, especially doing that gradient-like feel. Her seemingly burnt dress was an accident I made but a happy accident nonetheless.
Air has no defining feature, honestly. You won’t be able to tell she’s Air without those clouds. But I like how dreamy she looks like, snuggled up in the clouds. Gosh, I want to be her.
Earth was the last elemental girl I drew and I loved her a lot. I honestly don’t know how I successfully made those cracks in the ground but they look so legit and I’m happy with it. 🙂
My friend gave me this purple gel fountain pen-ish (I honestly don’t know what it’s called but the label has fountain pen so //shrugs) and I tried it out. I noted how the ink bleeds incredibly fast so I have to line a certain area real fast if I don’t want it to bleed.
I recently bought my first ever gouache tube set and I’m in love with how vivid the colors are! <3 I immediately tested it out along with my brush pen because I haven’t used that in a while. I learned that the brush pen bleeds with the gouache more easily than with watercolors as you can see with the Blue-haired girl. That was my first attempt.
Don’t ask me what she’s looking at, even I don’t know.
This was my second attempt and I like how the gouache could be light and also used for details like the shadows of the hair.
This was my third attempt and I screwed up with the skin color but now when I look at her, it looks pretty with the light purple hair.
This was my fourth attempt. At this point, I used watercolor for her skin and put in gouache with the rest and then lined it with the brush pen after. Meaning, I completely changed my drawing process. And it looked neater.
And that’s it! These are what I created this month. Do you have any favorites? 😉 Would you recommend something I would draw? Shoot me an email or comment it below!