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Friday, February 22, 2013

Navigating the 5 Phases of Rejection

"West 57th" - oil on linen - 9x12"
purchase info

I received notification today that my submission was declined from this year's Oil Painters of America National Show. (not the above painting)

I thought it might be useful to write a post about rejection right now, in the thick of the sting of it, before I have processed it and landed in a more empowering perspective.

Putting Yourself Out There

First of all - SO bummed! I was certain that this time, this painting (view entry) was getting in.  I was feeling super confident that it was strong and worthy of being in the show. That there was no way they'd say no to this one. Yep, I thought after 7 consecutive unsuccessful attempts to get in the OPA National - this was my year.

Having gone a significant number of rounds with this particular demon, I believe there are 5 key phases that lead into and eventually out of the experience that is rejection. The time spent in the middle phases varies depending on a few factors such as:
  • emotional investment in your painting
  • caliber of show entered
  • what you feel is riding on your acceptance
  • who else is in the club
  • how many times you've been in the ring
Over time I have come to cycle through the stages pretty quickly, but I have never escaped riding the wave for a few moments at least.

Phase 1: Dear John...

Today the news came in via posts popping up on FB from some really great artists, "Hey, so thrilled that my painting was just accepted into the OPA National!"

Uh-oh, know what that means...logged on to check the status of my entry, scrolled past one accepted entry (Yay! Melissa got in!) after another (Yay! Sarah got in!) - all the way down to the "W's" to confirm my name glaringly missing from the list.

There is always a brief moment here when I think, 'Well that can't be right, they must've made an error. Forgot to put my name on. For sure, cuz I know my painting belongs in this show."

Ha ha, I wonder if they ever actually contact an artist and say, "Whoops, our bad, your are so in the show, we just screwed up on the acceptance list."

Phase 2: Owning It

For the most part, I have come to the place where it barely phases me anymore as I am confident in my work and I know that I am doing the best I can, but this time it knocked me around a bit more than usual as I really, really love the painting I entered.

So I walked around feeling heavy and down for a while and then I decided to be really present with whatever was rising up in response to the news, starting with getting curious about the overall sense of disappointment and negativity wanting to creep in and run my day.

Phase 3: Spinning It

Here's what I noticed my particular story is around this one:

There's this exclusive club of the best painters in North America. Every now and then they let me come to their meetings (I have been juried into a few regional shows), but they are never going to let me be a full fledged member of the club. Nope, no national shows for me. (Did I mention my friends - who are fabulous painters - are getting in?)

Phase 4: (Mis) Concluding

Therefore, I must not be very good. And if I'm not any good, then where's the fun in painting? And what's the point in painting? More importantly, I reaaaallly want to be in the club....but they keep saying, "NO". What's wrong with me? Oh wait, right, I'm not very good....

Rinse and repeat.

Phase 5: Shifting Gears

Of course none of this has anything to do with fact, but as long as I tell myself it's fact, it is a big dark cloud circling around me and pulling me in. If I choose to let it, it will feel like the truth and interfere with my peace.

The solution lies in the freedom to choose. I kinda need the pity party for a while so I can process the natural feelings that rejection triggers. For me this starts with a huge wave of 'so not happy', wallowing in that for a time, and at some point deciding I really would prefer not to feel this way. From there I start to get clear what the negative messages are, give them space to have their say, and mindfully reflect on their validity.

Then I ask, "What else is true?" This is the way out from under, back to center, back to what's important. "What do I intend as an artist? What compels me to paint? How far have I come since my very first painting?"

These questions inevitably lead to a deep satisfaction in what I have accomplished so far, and a sense of joy at how much room there still is to grow. These two things, and the fact that they will never cease to be a part of the experience,  are precisely what make painting such a rich and rewarding pursuit.

The rest of the game: sales, shows, awards, credentials - the many forms of external validation - while worthwhile, are secondary to my primary passion to see what cool things I can do with paint.

And next year I'm getting in dammit! :-D

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taking Charge of Procrastination

"Door #3"
Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

Do you find the hardest part of painting is getting started?

I can get to the studio and masterfully kill a good 2-3 hours before I ever pick up a paint brush. A lot of it "looks" like work, sorting through reference, cleaning brushes, checking frame inventory, etc...but it is definitely about avoiding diving in.

Pomodoro into the Deep End  

I just discovered a very cool procrastination buster. Some of you may have heard of it as it was developed in the '80's. (Ok I'm a little out of the loop).

It's called the Pomodoro Technique. Follow the link if you'd like more info, I won't get into all the details here, but I gave it a test drive tonight and found it to be surprisingly effective.

Here's the dealio: A "pomodoro" is a block of 25 minutes of focused, uninterrupted work (you must be vigilant with this) followed by a 5 minute rest. You decide in advance how many pomodoros a task will take, or in the case of painting, how many pomodoros you want to commit to stringing together.

For example, with the above painting I decided I wanted to commit to 4 hours of focused work, so 8 pomodoros. I downloaded an app that has an interval timer, set it to run for 8 cycles of 25 and 5, and dove in.

Here's What Happened

First of all, and most surprising, I came out of the gate instantly focused and engaged. Something about the commitment to the time chunks put me in the mindset that I had to get after it.

I noticed that it was challenging to break when the timer went if I was "in the middle" of something, but I honored the system and stopped for 5 minutes each time. After 3 cycles I realized the break was beneficial even if it interrupted the flow as it gave me time for valuable contemplation and a brief check out from intense focus in a more structured way.

At 6 pomodoros (3 hours) I began to ignore the break and paint on through. In the end I wound up painting a total of 6 and a half hours with only a couple of breaks in the last two hours. The good news about that is it was because I was on a roll and totally engaged - so the technique got my momentum going, yay!

I am going to play with this some more as well as read the book because I think there might be a key value in honoring the technique exactly as it was developed, and I'm curious what the creator believes about that.

I'll report back in on my progress. Would love to hear how it goes for you guys if you decide to give it a try.

About "Door #3"

When we were in NYC we rented the top floor of a brownstone instead of staying in a hotel. This room was halfway down the stairs and I loved passing by it each day. I found the warm tones created by the little table lamp, the old brass door hardware, and the radiating shadows all super captivating and just a little mysterious.

"Door #3" - detail