I joke with my husband that I have an existential crisis at least once a month. And it’s true, I really do! I am always getting stuck in the muck of “why am I doing this?” and “who am I as an artist?” and “What on Earth do I have to offer this blue ball in the sky?”
My latest existential crisis was triggered by my experimenting with oil paints, which led to experimenting with acrylic and gouache. I freaked myself out a little. Am I leaving watercolor? Why would I do such a thing? I had so much potential with my watercolor pieces and even had four on display at a local gallery! Why change my medium just when I was starting to get the hang of another?
But was I a watercolor artist? Couldn’t I just be an artist of multiple mediums? Oh no, most artists I see online are all using the same medium. I have to decide on a favorite and I have to do it before it’s too late. Because apparently I’m running out of time or something.
I wrote about the crisis in my art journal, wrote the pros and cons of watercolor, gouache, acrylic, and oil. I even began listing things I like to draw and tried matching them to the right medium. When that didn’t work, I gave myself a list of ten questions to ask before each project to decide on the right medium:
- Do I want bold or light/airy colors?
- Do I want patterns & details?
- Do I want transparent or opaque?
- Do I need to be able to make mistakes?
- Will the piece be realistic or imaginative?
- How much time do I have to complete this piece?
- How will I achieve my values?
- Is light an important part of this piece?
- How much paint will I need?
- Solid layers or textured layers?
But all this did was confuse me even more. Art became a complex binary system that lay several thousand light years away. How could I get anything done if I didn’t know what kind of medium was my niche? Perhaps this was me leaving art again, getting bored of it and moving on to the next passion. Perhaps I could buy a loom. I’d always wanted to try that.
The next day I had to get started on a commission (crisis or not, the world does keep turning). I sat at the table with my hot press paper, sketched out my guidelines, then drew a cupcake. I thought, wow, it feels so good to draw. It was so fulfilling and fun, I filled a few more pages with drawings. And then it all made sense. My niche isn’t watercolor. My niche isn’t even painting.
My niche is drawing.
No wonder I’d been feeling so funky! I hadn’t drawn in days, and whenever I did draw it was with a paintbrush. Watercolor wasn’t my favorite medium, just the medium that splashed best over pen lines.
Immediately I got to work, “borrowing” my husband’s good pencils and ordering some sepia pens online. I drank chai tea and breathed a sigh without clenching my jaw. The existential crisis came to a close.
Does this mean I’m not going to paint anymore?
Hell no! I love painting. I plan on painting for the rest of my life, maybe even sell a few paintings here and there, add a few to gallery shows. In fact, I currently have a watercolor painting at the State Fair! But I believe a lot of my artistic identity lies in drawing, in zentangles, in patterns and shapes and cute animals with long lashes.
So even on the painterly days I plan to set aside some time to draw, even if it’s just filling a page full of doodles as I watch Anne with an “E.”
Hopefully this will keep me calm before the next existential crisis arrives.