Pressure Under Fire

Group Painting Photo
Photo (detail) © 2018 Kerby Smith

Working alone in your studio and among others are very different experiences from one another. When working in a group, it’s natural to experience increased tension or stress. You might think you’re the only one susceptible to this condition, but I’ve been painting most of my life, often  before others in group situations or when giving a demo and I’ll admit, it’s just not the same as painting alone in my studio. I may not feel the increased level of stress, while I’m painting in public, but when the activity is over and I return to my studio, I’m exhausted. I can paint 8 or 12 hours in my studio and never feel as tired as I do when a paint alongside others or give a demo for 2 or 3 hours. The level of stress deceases with experience, but I don’t believe it ever goes away.

This stress is there, I believe, because we all want to perform well before our peers. We want to appear accomplished. There’s that illogical nightmare running deep within us all…the fear of looking foolish…of finding ourselves in a public place in our underwear.

No matter what your level of accomplishment, you want to continue learning, pushing forward, always striving to become a better creator. There’s always more to know. Painting with others is a wonderful opportunity to learn, to pick up tips from others, to see how SHE does it, but there’s a significant pitfall of which to always remain watchful.

Because there’s pressure to perform well, it’s very easy to slip into a comfort zone, to rely on solutions with which you’re very comfortable, that have come through for you time and again. When you do this, you stop “seeing” what is before you and instead deliver your subject through a pre-conceived, pre-resolved approach that’s been successful for you in the past. You substitute a previous solution for an eye, for example, that you’ve been pleased with many times before, instead of communicating the eyes of the subject before you.

Don’t do it!

We always want to view our subject as if we’ve never seen anything of its kind before. Great art is less about skill with brush or chisel and more about “seeing” clearly what is before us.

If we can learn not to succumb to ego and remain focused on subject, painting with others can be a highly rewarding, educational experience.

2 thoughts on “Pressure Under Fire”

  1. Enjoyed reading your article. I think that it is really true for most artists if not all. For me it’s “just paint more.”

    1. Thanks, Sharon. Painting more definitely builds your confidence, but I’ve been painting for a very long time and I’m always exhausted after I’ve painted with others. I attribute that to stress. I don’t actually feel it while I’m painting, but being so tired afterward tells me it’s there.

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