Monday, June 27, 2011

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

There are few things that make me feel anxious enough to want to cry. All mother jokes aside, this kind of anxiety doesn't happen often to me, mostly because I am good at staying within my comfort zone. But as we know, if we stay within our comfort zones, we aren't really pushing ourselves to (insert old Army commercial jingle here) "be all that we can be". Having that sense of uneasiness that comes with learning something new and/ or experiencing something unfamiliar is a good thing, if we can get past the knee jerk reaction to run, that is. It is during these times that we know we are really experiencing life and challenging ourselves.

As a self-taught artist, I haven't had many experiences with art that cause that gut-wrenching feeling. I haven't really had to push myself to try something new. My work has been pretty good so far. But, now as I am getting older, and more established, I find that I am craving a more formal education on what I do. I want to push my work farther and see where it will take me and there is only so much a person can teach themselves before they hit a plateau. I feel like I am plateauing and need to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new. It was time to take some classes and workshops.

The first time I took a class with Jeff Schaller, it was an encaustic workshop on painting realistically. Most of us had decided to paint portraits, and I was no different. I felt pretty confident walking into his workshop since I had always been good at art, regardless of the medium. I wasn't counting on the anxiety that ensued after a few hours of failed attempts to paint my self-portrait. I was completely out of my comfort zone and I didn't like it. Had I not carpooled with a friend, I would have left early. I was on the verge of tears and was beating myself up verbally for not being able to master this medium. I was FRUSTRATED.

Fortunately for me, Jeff saw my distress and had me drink a glass of wine to calm down. Then he had me drink another, talked me off the ledge, and sent me back to paint. Once I was able to relax and I realized that I didn't need to paint a masterpiece because this was a learning experience, I was okay. I had never felt this uneasiness with painting because I had never pushed myself to try something new or go beyond what I knew I could do with ease. I didn't know that this anxiety was normal and and probably good for me as an artist. I didn't know that it was all going to be okay, and it was. My painting came out pretty well by the end of the workshop and I was happy that I stuck it out.

My final drawing from this weekend. It's not great,
but I think it's pretty good. 
Another time I felt uneasy and anxious about art was this past weekend. I signed up for a four day anatomical drawing class with Noah Buchanan at the Bay Area Classical Artists Atelier. I figured since I was painting the human form, I should know what it was that I was painting. I thought that this class would help me become a more accurate painter.

The first day of class I was inundated with vocabulary words I had never heard of. Words for the muscles, bones, ligaments, and every bump/crease/ dent were named. My head was swimming with vocabulary as I tried to keep up with the lecture. My anxiety levels were rising and my "fight or flight" instincts were kicking in. Should I run? Should I cry? Should I give up? I am happy to say that I did not do any of these things. I took a deep breath and told myself that I am just out of my comfort zone and it was okay because it meant I was learning something new. I told myself to just absorb what I could and learn as much as possible. The anxiety didn't go away the whole weekend as we delved into more vocabulary and rules for drawing the human form, but it did lessen, and at least I knew this time that this was part of the learning process.

Not surprisingly, I survived the four day class, I learned a lot, and I even had a good time. I know now that not all anxiety is bad. Some anxiety is good for us if it means we are challenging ourselves. I am now anxious to take more classes and continue pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I know this will make me a more informed and better artist. I know I will be better for it. Bring on the next challenge!

Update on my latest painting. 

Detail: After this weekend's class, I now know what I need to adjust in
order to get the legs to look more anatomically correct. Tomorrow I will make the necessary adjustments.

Girl number two needs some more tweaking.
Girl number three is still in underpainting form.


  1. Good for you, Jhina! We all need to push or we get stale.

  2. Exactly! Nobody likes a stale artist. :-)
    Thanks Nancy!

  3. Good post, interesting to hear what you're doing. Always good to push!