Knowing Our Limitations


I wrote and scheduled this post near the end of March. As you’re probably aware, I write a lot of posts and schedule them in advance. This means that what you’re reading at any given time may or may not reflect the reality of where I am in my art journey. This is especially true when art takes one of its emotional tail-spins for me. By the time you read about it, the plane’s been righted, the crash has been averted, and I’m flying along through the clouds once again enjoying the trip.

Here I’m sharing more of my experience from my “art break-down” and the home-grown “art therapy” sessions I devised to help me through the process. Indeed, over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten more in touch with that inner child, and it’s been quite an experience.

As I mentioned in a recent post about drawing “simple and easy” trees, I was surprised to realize how hurt my “inner art child” has been. That was when I first I realized how very much “artistic pain” I’ve carried with me throughout the years. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that certain things have triggered me, setting off very emotional responses. One such incident was my first acrylic pouring workshop. Anything that inadvertently took me back to those childhood failures in art would set off a storm of emotions that I couldn’t control.

With this realization, I’ve been doing my own sort of “art therapy” recently. Much of my art has centered around primitive, childlike drawing and painting. Along with this I’ve done a lot of “art journaling” — including written statements of my thoughts and feelings. I’ve cried a lot of tears, totally breaking down at times, even slipping away to hide my face one morning so that my husband wouldn’t see that I’d been crying and begin asking what was wrong. This is personal. I wouldn’t expect him to understand. Maybe you won’t understand it, either. Since most readers are also artists, I have a feeling, though, that you might be able to grasp some of what I’m saying. Maybe you’ve gone through times of doubt, times of despair, times of desperation even.

In recent weeks, I’ve brought those painful feelings out. I’ve faced up to them, and — hopefully — have begun to find ways to deal with them. We can’t fight the monsters we don’t see, you know. So I’ve had to bring all of the art monsters out. I’ve had to let the battles rage. Sometimes I’ve come away defeated, but sometimes I’ve come out ahead. I may lose a few battles, but I’ll keep fighting. I intend to win this war.

One approach I’m taking is to assess my activities and know my limitations. It is good, at times, to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, but at other times, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to settle into that comfortable spot, nestle down into it, and allow ourselves to feel good.

So for now, I’m looking for very comfortable ways to do art. Even though I’m still studying mood and atmosphere in oil landscapes and still pushing myself a bit with all I’m learning, I’m also reserving a large part of my art time for purely pleasurable projects. I’m being picky about what I do. If it requires a skill I don’t have, I’ll just skip over it and come back to it another time, or I’ll find a way to do something similar which is within my capabilities.

The focus is on feeling good, liking what I do, and enjoying the process.

With all of that in mind, come along with me to another little “Craftsy” project, the ninth item on the list of “10 Easy Pictures” to draw. What is it? It’s a mandala.

I blinked in surprise when I saw that on the list. Mandalas — to me — are anything but simple. They involve geometric shapes, careful measurements, and lots of patience. Having just been through several emotionally-overwrought days of struggling with art, I nearly panicked at the very thought of making a mandala.

I have compasses for creating circles. I have circle stencils, too. I’m not good with these tools. Were I to try making a mandala, I would only be setting myself up for failure. So I chose not to do this. Instead, I created a somewhat similar project of my own, one that would allow me to succeed, and which might even help me improve my skills in certain areas.

Along with “circle” stencils, I have others that I’ve tried to use for journaling and in my alcohol ink projects. Stencils have given me trouble in the past, but recently I learned a little trick: spray adhesive. I had purchased a can of this through Amazon, and I was eager to try it out.

I found a lovely stencil, one I especially like. It’s the same one I once tried to use with alcohol ink. I took out a sheet of watercolor paper, sprayed the back of my stencil, and pressed it onto the page. Oops… one little problem. Some of the old ink came off the stencil and smudged onto the paper a bit. Oh, well. I decided I could live with that, made a note to be more careful about cleaning my art materials in the future, and I continued on with the project.

With the stencil securely attached to the paper, I was able to draw the designs, outlining each opening. I took my time. I worked carefully. I let that “inner child” do the drawing, assuring her all the while that her finished project would be lovely.

The stencil removed easily when I was finished. I simply had to lift it away — and clean it. My pencilled design was laid out now, ready and waiting for watercolor.

Slowly, my little “inner child artist” colored in the design. I used my favorite blue from my gansai set, and even though some pieces are darker than others, I really liked watching this emerge.

Any time I started to have doubts, any time I started to feel a bit weary, any time I became distracted, I stopped, set my paper aside, and moved on to something else, coming back to my “Blue Watercolor” later.

It took a while to complete. When I reached this stage, I thought about doing the rest of it in a different color. Maybe that would have been all right. Most likely it would have been fine. I chose not to.

One of the most important aspects of my personal “art therapy” program is recognizing how — and why– I tend to “sabotage” my own art. A lot of it goes back, of course, to my unhappy art experiences as a child.

  • I deliberately ruin art projects so that they have to be thrown away. No one can judge or criticize what no longer exists.
  • I sabotage art projects by rushing through them. This allows me to believe that I could have done better if I’d taken more time, thereby saving me the embarrassment of truly taking my time, doing my best, and still turning in a bad drawing or painting.
  • I sabotage art projects by trying to do more than I can. I’ve always had creative visions — big ideas — but not the skill required to complete them.
  • I sabotage art projects by not following directions. This is a tricky one. Following directions is important when we’re learning, but experimentation is important, too. I’ve learned a lot by working with our grandchildren, especially Madox. Like me, he’s not good at following directions but wants to “do his own thing.” Our policy now during art time is “First, you listen to Grandma and follow the directions,” and then, “The second time you can do it however you want.” I have to try that approach with myself.
  • I sabotage art projects by taking short cuts. This is related to not following directions. Need a 1″ flat brush? Well, this 2″ brush is handy, so I’ll just use it instead. Oh, I’m supposed to mix yellow ochre and burnt umber? Well, I don’t want to dig those tubes out, so I’ll just look at what’s on my palette and see what’s close.
  • I ruin otherwise good art projects because I don’t know when to stop. I sometimes think “I can make this even better…” and end up destroying all that was good.
  • I ruin art projects because I think I can “fix” something I don’t like. As with not knowing when to stop, the result is usually disaster, or at least disappointment.

With my “Blue Watercolor”, the temptation was strong to make a change mid-way. Maybe it would have been just fine, but for me — and for my inner child — it was more important to complete the project as planned instead of trying to “get creative” or “do something more.”

So, in the end, this is what I created. It’s simple. It’s imperfect. But it was a positive experience for me. I chose to accept my limitations and complete a project that would be much easier for me than drawing a “simple” mandala. I got to work with my favorite color, I learned a good method for securing a stencil, and I know I improved my watercolor skills by patiently filling in all of these design elements with a #9 round brush.

Sometimes we need to take it easy on ourselves, snuggle down into our comforting security blankets, and hold on to our favorite stuffed toy. That’s what my “inner art child” needs most right now, not nudges forward or friendly pushes to do something harder. Just comfort. Plain and simple.



  1. It’s looking like you enjoyed making it – your joy comes thru. So pretty! Mandalas seem way too complicated to me, too. But your creative way to bring this to life was wonderful.
    Isn’t it amazing how many ways there are to self-sabotage? I admire your work with this and how you’re being kind to yourself in the process. Inspiring! 👏👏♥️👏👏

    Liked by 5 people

    1. My thoughts exactly on each count! Yes, mandalas are complicated! Yes, we can find so many ways to sabotage ourselves! Yes, sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves. Doing “easy art” has been a very comforting security blanket for me, and it’s helped me work through so many negative feelings. Just learning about how I sabotage myself has been well worth the price of therapy LOL… of course, it’s all been free “home-made” therapy, but I have learned so much from it.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. The variations in color were unintentional, but I like them, too. It was very calming for me. I was going through such a difficult emotional time when I did this little piece, that I really needed a chance to sit quietly and RELAX with art. It was very soothing, and I’m happy that you like it.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Rushing is a really bad habit of mine, and I see it now as a defense mechanism. If I don’t like the results I shrug and think, “Well, of course it’s not good… I hurried through it.” On the other hand, somethings doing art quickly has advantages. I’ve occasionally done very quick sketches, thought they were horrible, then looked again and realized I’d captured the important elements of the scene. So, speed can work for us or against us!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t understand self sabotage. From here it looks like you’re doing fine. Let sabotage up to the resentful people. As an artist you can rise above it. Do whatever you want to do with your art. Follow a teacher’s steps or not, go fast or slow, skip steps if you want to. The good thing about online classes is that if you don’t do what the teacher does, the teacher won’t know and get mad at you. Art is a long game. Little failures don’t count as bad because in the end you win. When I was young I was called defensive, I guess because of sabotage in my family. Now this is my attitude since I’m older, I’m free and I want other artists to enjoy their freedom too. If you want to deliberately wreck a project that isn’t working out then wreck it and have fun.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Good advice. My “sabotage” has been harmful in the past, so this is what I’m learning to avoid now. I’m finding ways to make art as fun and friendly for myself as I possibly can. Along with that I’ve learned a lot about skipping things or doing things differently. Those lessons have been important, too.

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