I’m celebrating another momentous event on my journey toward becoming an artist. I’ve submitted my first work to a contest. No, I don’t expect to win any awards. I know I’m not ready to compete with other artists, even in the beginner categories. I’m entering my work not for any prize — or recognition — but as a way of challenging myself. I want to be part of the online community, too. I want to be in touch with other beginner artists.
The contest is Colored Pencil Magazine’s Monthly Challenge, sponsored by Jerry’s Artarama. Each month a new reference photo is posted, and artists — in beginner category or advanced category — submit a work drawn from the photo. It doesn’t have to be an exact reproduction, so long as it’s apparent that the artist worked from and was inspired by the photo.
Winners are chosen in each category, and there’s also one random winner chosen each month, so I actually do have a chance to be a winner. In addition, any artist who completes all twelve challenges for 2016 wins a digital subscription to the magazine. I missed out on the January and February challenges, so I won’t be able to win a free subscription this year. Next year, though, I hope to achieve that goal.
The photo reference for this month is an ornamental cabbage. I took one look at it and nearly gave up. I don’t have the skill to make an accurate drawing, nor have I mastered enough colored pencil techniques to handle the coloring. What was the point in even trying?
The point was this was a challenge I’d set for myself. Nobody said it would be easy. For me, doing the challenge was intended to be a fun experience. Doing the challenge was to be a reward in itself. I wanted the right to say, “I did it.”
Now, with this entry to the March contest, I can proclaim another little artistic victory for myself. I overcame my reluctance, pushed myself over the fear of posting one of my works to a group, and had a chance to create a piece that was truly my own. I looked at the reference photo, decided how I could best use it for inspiration, and I came up with this somewhat stylized version:
What’s most important in this, perhaps, is what I didn’t do as I prepared for the challenge.
- I didn’t put pressure on myself
- I didn’t entertain any illusions about my chances of winning
- I didn’t strive to excel
- I didn’t attempt an elaborate drawing
- I didn’t worry, fret, and tear my hair out over an approaching deadline.
Now, some of the items on that list might strike folks as a bit odd. For a challenge — a contest — shouldn’t an artist set out from the start with the intention of doing his or her very best work? Shouldn’t a challenge be a time to display the full range of our talents? Shouldn’t we be “showing off” what we’re capable of doing?
Maybe so…if I were a real artist. At this point, I’m not. I have no natural talents, and I’m not really capable of much more than what I’ve done. Yes, I could have tried harder. I could have worried about every pencil stroke I made, fretting about not being good enough, and I could probably have made myself feel so awful over the whole thing that I’d never dare to submit it to the challenge group. I could have set my standards so high that failure would have been the only possible outcome.
I didn’t want to fail, so as absurd as it sounds, I lowered my expectations. I allowed myself to do what I could without feeling pressured. I made sure to begin the project as early as possible, and I submitted it as soon as it was complete. It’s only the second entry. The deadline isn’t until April 10, so I could have worked on the drawing a lot longer. I chose not to.
For me, the real challenge was simply to complete and submit a drawing. That’s all. That was enough for me this time. Lowering my standards to this minimum level of accomplishment guaranteed success. That’s why I’m celebrating this moment. Please, celebrate with me and wish me luck. Who knows! I could be the random winner for the month. Wouldn’t that be fun?