When trouble cascades

It’s inevitable. How you pull yourself out of it is another matter.
Waiting to play, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard.
I opened my pochade box to do a tiny touch-up on my nocturne of Tuesday night. A slip of the hand and Cora and Ben were face down in the paint. Wincing, I picked the board up and looked. There were bright hillocks of color everywhere.
Because I’d used a lot of quick-dry medium, the paint was easy enough to scrape off without lifting the bottom layers, and it was simple (albeit time-consuming) to recoat the dark parts. Cora’s face, however, was another matter. How could I repaint it sans model, fire and s’mores?
Saranac River, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
“My resolution is to not let myself get anxious at these events,” Lisa BurgerLentz told me. That’s a good goal, because agitation undermines your ability to perform. Even the most experienced, successful painters feel it at times. There are fifty of us here, and we’re in direct competition for sales and prizes. It can be a very fraught experience if we allow it.
I don’t generally succumb to that, but when things go wrong at a plein air event, they tend to cascade. In re-reading the rules, it seemed to me that one of my best paintings was disqualified by when it was painted. These events being on the honor system, it was up to me to report the infraction myself. Ouch. Then, I started digging in my car for the nocturne’s frame and couldn’t find it. Somewhere in my house or garage is a lonely frame calling for its mate.
Beaver Dam on Quebec Brook, by Carol L. Douglas
I was pretty frazzled. I can’t get out of that state of mind on my own, so I rely on prayer. I called on a few Christian sisters to pray with me.
I am often asked to pray for others, and do so happily. But I also doubt that it’s theologically necessary to ask the community of believers to pray with us. God loves us all, and doesn’t hand out his blessings grudgingly.
The cycle of life, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
But it’s very difficult to pray sometimes. Perhaps that’s where the community of saints comes in: to carry the burden when you find yourself unable to do so yourself. My problems yesterday were minor compared to the troubles people find themselves in, but it was a good reminder.
Many painters tell me that they don’t do plein airevents precisely because of this pressure. It could be crippling if one didn’t have a way to deal with the anxiety that failure inevitably produces. You need to pack that strategy along with your brushes and paints.
S’mores (Ben and Cora Pahucki), by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
In the end, I remembered that I’d taken a photo of my nocturne. I copied Cora’s face from it. It’s not as fresh as the original, but it’s there. I confessed my infraction to the organizer, who told me not to worry about it. And Lisa BurgerLentz kindly sold me a frame she was carrying for her own work.
All’s well that ends well, but I’d rather not do that again anytime soon.

Performance anxiety

Tinfoil Hat, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas
In three months, God willing, I will finish a career of 21 years as the parent of a schoolchild. Hearing a child wail, “I’m going to fail my test” is a sadly regular occurrence. Mercifully, hearing him or her wail, “I failed my test” is usually pretty rare.
We all tend to anticipate disaster, of course. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” the Bible tells us. It’s good advice. Whether it’s the results of a biopsy, an exam, a financial challenge, or in a personal relationship, worry is superfluous. When things go really wrong, worry never makes it better.
I had a painting teacher who once announced to us, “You’re all terrified!” I was intrepid enough to come to New York for her classes, I told her, and I wasn’t afraid of no stinking brush. But the truth is, I am sometimes beset by nerves when starting a new painting. We all are. It’s a dive into the unknown.
A drink in the afternoon, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas
What helps? Painting every day at the same time is the best answer. It tells the brain, “we are working now; knock off your nonsense,” and the brain behaves. Regular work habits allow you to get right into the creative mode and minimize distractions.
Of course, it’s early March and I can’t do that. It’s time to do taxes. That requires all my concentration (and can shatter my nerves). But this too shall pass, and the snowpack is melting. Spring really is right around the corner.
Plastic wrap #2, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas. Also known as Portrait of the Artist as a Bookkeeper.
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