Category Archives: artist anxiety

You Are Here

“You Are Here” Neocolor and Luminance, 25.5 x 20 cm. March 2021

Sometimes you see large helpful maps on streets, especially in touristy areas. There is usually an arrow on the map pointing to the spot corresponding to where you are standing. The arrow is accompanied by the words YOU ARE HERE.

I have recently come to the conclusion that I AM HERE. I am at home in Fremantle, Western Australia. The international borders are shut so here I stay. Over the past two years I have worked on 24 Italian drawings for the exhibition “An Italian Dream” – on next month.

I felt a sense of grief when I finished the Italian drawings. I loved mentally hanging out in Europe for months after I physically returned home. And I’ve been fearful that nothing will inspire me locally. It is easy to romanticize about somewhere else; not so easy to get excited about my own neighbourhood.

However I have taken the tentative first step; it is the small drawing “You Are Here“. I drew it last week using a photo I took eight years ago.

Here is the original 2013 drawing.

“Just Landed” drawn in 2013.

I wanted to draw it again to ease myself back into local colours and subjects. The resulting “You Are Here” is different from the 2013 “Just Landed” as technique continuously evolves.

I enjoyed working on “You Are Here” but when I finished it I had another crisis of self-confidence. What if there was nothing in Fremantle I wanted to draw NOW? I’d be lost in a void in my own neighbourhood. But let’s not get carried away with groundless fears.

Yesterday I found a brand new 2021 composition while outside with my camera. So I will begin. I will take things one drawing at a time. I hereby anchor myself in the here-and-now, observing this small port town with steadfast attention. Grounded in Fremantle.


And if YOU ARE HERE, I hope you’ll come to the exhibition…

An Autumn Feast

“An Autumn Feast” A drawing in Neocolor II pastels and Luminance pencils. 25.5 x 28 cm. November 2020

In November 2018 I visit Florence. Because I have spent the last few days in Venice (which is rather claustrophobic) I now need to find nature – wide grassy slopes and trees. I head for Giardino di Boboli. There I find spectacular views of Florence and the surrounding hills. Hardly any other people are about so it is perfect. The light is constantly changing with the passage of clouds. Eventually those marching clouds bring steady rain, trapping a cold me for a time under my umbrella.

Later I wander over to the adjacent Giardino Bardini. Wherever I am, Filippo Brunelleschi’s enormous dome dominates the view. There is no ignoring Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the last word in vast architectural statements!

Later that same day a fatigued me laments in my journal, “I simply can’t experience everything. It’s all too much – like an enormous banquet of food is laid out before me but I’m only one person so cannot possibly eat it all. I will try a little here and a little there but when I’m done, so much food will be left untouched. Such is life”.

Seeing this journal entry reminds me of my overwhelmed state of mind – anxious over so much abundance. (Note to self: one must be thankful for the spiritual food one tastes rather than fretting over what is yet to be sampled.)

The undercoat stage in Neocolor II.

Space Oddity

“Big Sky” oil painting, 1990  (Paraparaumu)

It occurs to me that each one of us has a universe inside.  There are light and energy sources – suns and stars.  Also plenty of space.  And black holes – awful negative nothingness which is another name for the bottomless-pit-of-need where you can never get enough validation or self-esteem.  Inner planets too?  Why not.

Positive energy (the sun) shines forth as one loves, receives inspiration, gives back, and puts ideas into action.

But it is hard not to be afraid of the black hole and of being drawn into it.  It is such a hopeless void.

Sometimes I blaze through my universe with rocket-fired determination – gladly constructing and carrying out ideas, projects and schemes.  At other times I languish, lost in space.

These are elements within my inner universe, and perhaps they are elements inside yours.   The universe isn’t only out there, but also in here.

I lay in bed early this morning thinking these thoughts before turning over and going back to sleep.

“Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”  David Bowie

The Artist’s Way

“The Artist’s Way”    Coloured pencils    October 2018

The artist’s way is a journey where sometimes one feels certain about the path ahead only to become thoroughly lost at the next turn.

When I visited rue Quincampoix that night in October 2016 I was in familiar territory and was delighted to see it illuminated so vibrantly.  I took photos and walked in a happy daze.  Continuing home (so I thought) I turned up one street, thinking it was another, and led myself into an unfamiliar area.  Alone.  At night.  Lost in Paris.  After some hasty and intimate time spent with my map, I righted my wrong and got home.

Similarly I went into my most recent exhibition full of certainty.  But over the two weeks in the public gaze I lost my bearings.  Certainty dissolved into a state of trepidation as I experienced the full spectrum of reactions; from praise, through indifference to actual hostility.  (Only one person was truly hostile.)

To be lost, found, and lost again in an endless cycle throughout a life, questioning one’s art and one’s very existence, is the artist’s way.

In the end the thing that you feel is your undoing is also your way back to sanity – art.

Another drawing from the same photo-shoot is “Guiding Lights”, drawn in 2016.

The drawing below shows the way I drew this street back in 2012.

“Conversations at Dusk” 2012






Post-exhibition post

  • Here I am
  • I exist.  For now
  • What am I going to do with the rest of my existence?
  • What is my relationship with the world?
  • How can I be relevant?
  • How can I fit?
  • How do I fill in time?
  • Void

At the end of every art exhibition I walk off the edge into nothingness…

“Once Upon a Wall” (detail) coloured pencils/oil pastels 2017

Disintegration, then reformation (hopefully) – maybe.  Exposure equals vulnerability.  This always happens.

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way/ And the stars look very different today/….Planet Earth is blue/ And there’s nothing I can do…    (David Bowie)

A normal part of the artistic process.  Nothing special.

“Café des Arts” (detail) coloured pencils 2018.

PS I recovered from my post-exhibition blues.  It took exactly two weeks for me to return to my normal self.


Guiding Lights

"Guiding Lights" Coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle. November 2016. 20 x 26 cm.

“Guiding Lights”
Coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle. November 2016. 20 x 26 cm.

Electricity powers lights which, in turn, empower people to walk around (usually safely) after dark.  Rue Quincampoix, a medieval street in the Temple area of Paris, never looked like this in any time other than our own.  This long narrow street is radiant at night.  Lamps and neon flood surrounding stone with pools of coloured light.

This drawing was difficult and I struggled.  Yesterday I wrote in my art journal, “The thing has happened where I can – one minute – see it as a success and the next minute, see it as a failure.  I cannot tell what’s going on.  Maybe I’m nearly there, or there already, or buggered.”

How timely to read last night a quote from “The Private Lives of the Impressionists” by Sue Roe.  (page 54).  “Cornélie [Berthe Morisot’s mother] observed that Manet was behaving like a madman, one minute convinced the painting was a masterpiece, the next, plunged into despair“.    (I call this state of mind Art Hell.)

This is the second time I have drawn rue Quincampoix.  If you compare it to the first drawing, below, you can see I’m revisiting Paris with a different mindset now, an impressionistic one.

Conversations at Dusk 2012

Conversations at Dusk

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Winter Light

Winter Light Coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle paper. December 2015

Winter Light
Coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle paper.
December 2015

Anxiety went into this drawing.  As I have written in past posts, some drawings just glide to the finish line with ease.  Not this one.  It was a real struggle. Colours were pushed and pulled, added to, subtracted, and modified ad infinitum in the quest for balance and desired temperature.  I wanted muted winter colours but I didn’t want any mute to turn into either murk or muck.

Yesterday it became kill-or-cure time; the final push.   The result is that while I like “Winter Light”, I’m still a little wary of it.  I need to put it away in a folder for a while before seeing it again with totally fresh eyes.

The setting is Hanamikoji-dori (Flower-viewing Street) in Gion.  It was a dull and drizzling February day.  I had just arrived from Australia and the source photo for this was the very first photo taken after two planes, a train and a taxi deposited me in Gion.  Such a subtle scene was calming after several months of Western Australian summer glare.  (Sunglasses could remain in hotel room.)

I saw on social media the other day that art is a good replacement for meditation. Is that so?  Perhaps, thought I, rather cynically.  When one is struggling with a piece and using all one’s powers of problem-solving and analysis to pull it together (not necessarily with success), it is blooming hard work and anything but meditative.

After much reflection, I am bound to admit that this drawing did not work out.  It has some good points but compositionally, it is flawed.  I think the main problem is the area dividing the main lantern with the second lantern.  The picture has this great divide which results in two separate halves as opposed to one cohesive whole.

POSTSCRIPT:  Written on Christmas Day 2015.  Yesterday I figured out what I hadn’t liked about the drawing and I managed to fix it.  I had misread information on the source photo so of course I wasn’t able to draw it in correctly.  Once I realised my mistake I corrected it on the drawing.  I now believe the drawing works perfectly.

Lost and Found

"Spirit of the Street" a drawing which didn't work out the way I wanted it to.

“Spirit of the Street” a drawing which didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.

Notes from my art journal:

1st October 2015:  “Today I am lost in limbo.  I have all this new material [from a recent trip to Japan] but in my current state it seems old and ‘done’.  I’m tired and grumpy and spent hours this morning looking at my photos trying to think of an angle for a blog post but I gave up and did some gardening instead.”

6th October 2015:  “I’ve found my way back into drawing today.  It is with an urban-scape of Pontocho lights which I photographed around 3 a.m. on 29th June 2014.  At 260 x 260 mm it is quite small; perfect for getting back into drawing.  Yesterday I found a large composition to do but I realised I’m not in the right mental state to go straight into something big.  I need to warm up small first.”

12th October 2015:  “Alone in Kyoto” is done.  It was no fun to do and yet it has worked beautifully – just like drawings on Rives paper tend to do.  I have been feeling absolutely dreadful as if my energy level has plunged.  But this drawing is reassuring and gives me a sense of optimism.  All is not lost.  The beautiful result of my miserable labours has revitalised me.”

13th October 2015:  “Just now I changed the name of my new drawing to “Spirit of the Street”.  I had an interesting dream:  I was on a beach, on the sand, with a group of “believing” women.   They were very serene.  The sea was above us – suspended in the sky.  From below we could see fish and other marine creatures in the waves.  How could this be?  Why didn’t gravity pull the sea down and engulf us?  The answer was because of the pure belief of the women that all was as it should be.  The sea was hanging up there while we, underneath it, were dry.  But I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to, but my thoughts could not believe the sea should be up there.  So doubt crept in.  And my doubt infected the women.  One of them said the ground felt “soft” and we started to run.  But the sea came down and we were engulfed in dark water and we all drowned.”

14th October 2015:  “Still in pretty bad shape mentally.  I can’t come to any decision about what to draw.  I need to reach into my head and RECLAIM the reason I draw.”

15th October 2015:  “That drawing really wasn’t good.  I chucked it out just now. Oblivion.  I’ve been pretty much IN an art nervous breakdown these last few days and this morning I was questioning my sanity.  I couldn’t move.  I was mentally gridlocked. Whatever I thought to draw, I’d change my mind – racked by indecision.  Finally I chose a fabulous pose of Katsutomo which I will draw on Arches Aquarelle.  This will be a whole new experience.”

23rd October 2015:   “The Katsutomo drawing on the Aquarelle is going along so well.  I have managed to get rid of my anxiety and I feel quite normal again.  I’m completely enjoying art once more.  Found!”

Current state of the drawing I am working on. Still much work to do at this stage.

Current state of the drawing I am working on. Still much work to do at this stage…as I begin to build up colours on the kimono.

Postscript: Well, wouldn’t you know it?  Now when I look at that drawing, I quite like it. I’m back in balance again, so I don’t mind about its loss.  Plus, its demise led me to the wonderful new paper, Arches Aquarelle 300 gsm, hot press.

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Spot the Difference

A first for me - drawing the same picture on two different papers; Pescia and Velin BFK Rives.

A first for me – drawing the same picture on two different papers; Pescia (left) and Velin BFK Rives (right).  Here they are at undercoat stage.

I have not used my new paper, Velin BFK Rives, very much yet.  After two drawings which succeeded, I fell off my horse (so to speak) with the one below.

Joy small size

Though I may have sounded gung ho in my post about chucking out the drawing “Joy” two weeks ago* the fact is I was winded by my fall and my confidence was bruised.  You know what any riding instructor will say when her student falls off?   “Get back onto your horse at once!”

I couldn’t do it straight away.  I didn’t want to ride my new horse, Velin BFK Rives, any more.  I wanted to go back to my dependable old horse, Pescia.  I was curled up on the ground in misery.  I have two pieces of my old Pescia paper left so decided to just go back and do a drawing on one of the pieces.  I had had enough of messing with new papers.  So I began. It felt so good, smooth and silky.  Ahhh – that’s what I was used to. But using the Pescia didn’t make me happy: quite the reverse.  I was drawing on my old Pescia and grieving at the same time – for this paper which I only had two pieces of.  Gosh I was depressed.  I was IN the comfort zone but it wasn’t going to get me anywhere, was it?!

Then I had the idea.  I still needed to go forward.  The BFK Rives was probably not at fault in my failed drawing “Joy”.  It was a compositional problem.  So rather than blaming the paper (the new horse), why not do this current drawing on Rives as well as Pescia?  I will clearly see how both perform with the identical subject and I will surely learn something.

So this is what I am doing.  After mapping in the under-colours on the two papers, I will complete the Rives drawing before working with the Pescia.  Here is the way the Rives drawing looks so far…(still with most of the geisha to layer).

Work in progress on Velin BFK Rives

Work in progress on Velin BFK Rives (detail)

I am enjoying working on the Rives and I feel confident that I CAN work this paper.  It will be fascinating to see the two completed drawings side by side.  Will one be more intense than the other?  Will I be able to get the depth of colour with one that I can achieve in the other?  I will find out – and so will you.

I went right back to a very old photo as source material.  I photographed the image in February 2005 on my old film camera.   I drew it in the same year.  The drawing has not been in my possession for at least six or seven years.  I am not going to look at the photo of my 2005 drawing until I am finished this pair as I don’t want to be influenced by what I did back then.  Finally, when I do check it out, I look forward to seeing if and how my pencil work has changed in a decade.

From feeling hopeless, I am now happy again, sitting astride my new horse and moving forward with her.   “Trot on.”

* The Only Thing I Ever Got From You Was Sorrow is my post a fortnight ago about the failed drawing “Joy”.

Afterword:  September 2015

The finished "Amethyst" on Velin BFK Rives. July 2015.

The finished “Amethyst” on Velin BFK Rives. July 2015.

Version 2 of "Amethyst" on Magnani Pescia. September 2015.

Version 2 of “Amethyst” on Magnani Pescia. September 2015.

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The Only Thing I Ever Got From You Was Sorrow

"Joy" My latest drawing - for the scrap heap

My latest drawing – for the scrap heap

It is ironic that the title for the above drawing was to be “Joy” for, to quote David Bowie, “The only thing I ever got from you was sorrow”.   I have done more to the colours since I took this photo; pushed and pulled, added and subtracted, all the time eroding the integrity of the pencil work.  Some areas by now look like a much-used dishcloth!

Two other drawings have succumbed to the wrecking ball this week.  One was drawn late last year and the other a couple of months ago.  The first, “Greetings” committed the sin of being boring.  Other than that there was nothing particularly wrong with it – except the hand was rather weak.

Greetings Too insipid for my taste

Too insipid for my taste

“Materializing” was a drawing whose problems I thought I had solved until I looked at it more recently.  Viewed alongside three strong drawings from this year, it showed itself to be a poor relation.

Materializing Now dematerialised

Now dematerialised

It was easy to say goodbye to those two drawings.  It wasn’t done on the spur of the moment plus I was already mentally removed from them.  However for “Joy” it was much harder to let go.  I’m not going to put it away for later because I know it is fatally flawed and I’ve spent enough time trying to make it work.  To (nearly) quote our ex-Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’, because nothing will save this drawing”.

Of course I’m sad but – in the end – it’s only art.