The Darkness Before the Dawn


At an Archetypes course I attended many years ago, it was revealed that in the house of my highest potential lives the Artist. I didn’t believe it because I felt so far removed from my essence at that time and because I wasn’t ready to own that aspect of myself yet. So, I paid little attention to it for the longest time and continued to play roles that seemed easier, safer, less solitary, more acceptable, attainable and in my mind were more valued by society at large.  

Recognizing that I do have some natural artistic capability, along the way, I began dabbling in art and over the years through play, experimentation and practicing various forms of artistic expression, I achieved a certain level of competence. At some point however, I hit a plateau and knew that I needed an influx of new energy and information to inspire my creative expression and take my journey as an artist to the next level and inspire my creative expression. So, at the beginning of this year, I signed up for weekly art classes with the intention to learn new skills and evolve myself as an artist. At the same time, I also really wanted to enjoy the process of learning and applying new skills.

This week, I spent three mornings, back-to-back in class. These three days have brought me anything but joy, and rather tons of frustration every which way I turn. From my colour mixes leading to a muddy-swampy-green mess rather than the pretty turquoise blue I desired and having to start over from scratch, not knowing how to use the correct palette knife strokes to attain the effect I want, to being stumped by working with the different paints to get a graded blend of shades and hues that are coherent, integrated and pleasing to the eye.  

The frustration is real my friends. It’s tangible, visceral, visible and painful. It is quite literally in my face and all over my face. I feel it intensely in the occipital bone at the base of my skull, at the point where my spinal column connects to the cranial bones, attaching my head to the rest of my body.  

It spreads and creeps downwards, like black ink leaching into my shoulder blades, until it rests there as a compacted, suppressed, tightened scrunch. It creeps upwards into my lower jaw, just beneath my cheeks, as an aggravated tension, where it sinks and seeps deeply into the bones where my teeth meet my gums, embedding them into their sockets. I feel it in the ache and throb and burn in my throat and all I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs. To let it out, to discharge this desperately uncomfortable feeling.  Have you ever felt it? Do you know what I am talking about? I feel it in all of the tightly, curled up fingers of my fists, yearning to punch something, to smash something that needs shattering. Something old, something hidden, something that is out of sight. Something that feels like an invisible elastic band attached to the back of my heart, that has been holding me back, holding me in place for the longest time, seemingly making real forward momentum impossible. 

For the longest time, I guess I haven’t wanted to face it. But, I know that I can’t run away from it anymore, no more avoiding it, no more skirting around it, no more hiding from these feelings of frustration. Until I come face to face with it, look it squarely in the eye and dance the healing dance of acceptance with it, I will never breakthrough. 

So, I sit with these uncomfortable feelings to process them and as I do this, the deeper underlying thoughts that have been circling over and over again in the back of my mind surface – “I really don’t know what I am doing! I feel incapable, incompetent, inadequate”. Now, this is a painful ego blow to someone who has been painting for over 10 years now and somehow there still seem to be big gaps in my knowledge and skills. At this moment, I feel like a novice, a newbie, an absolute beginner. What’s even worse is that I am going to have to unlearn some of bad self-taught habits, while learning completely new ways of doing things.

Then, I remind myself that I signed up for this learning process precisely so that I could step out of my comfort zone and embody a completely new identity as an artist. The field of art is so vast and broad, that there are as many different techniques and methods as there are mediums, types of paintbrushes, canvas sizes and brushstrokes, and artists and that one could spend an entire lifetime learning. I remind myself that learning something new or getting to the next level will always take one into the space of unconscious competence, discomfort, frustration, as what you do not know and what you still have to learn arises to the surface, to be worked through and resolved. This is a natural part of any learning process. 

I realize that rather than staying with these feelings of frustration and dwelling on my inadequacy, what would serve me better in this moment is to spring into practical action. To keep building on things I have already begun, not abandoning them when it gets difficult, to keep taking on new challenges and projects that allow me to practice and master micro – skills I still need to learn and to give myself compassionate permission to get it wrong and make a mess, as I learn and grow. I remember that it is always darkest before the dawn and that by showing up consistently, committedly, unwaveringly to my craft, with an attitude of curiosity and playfulness, whilst maintaining a sense of hope and optimism, my on-going efforts will ultimately lead to mastery and me fully embodying my new identity as an artist.

  • What new identity aspect would you like to step into?
  • What new skills do you need to learn?
  • What do you need to remember as you try new things?
  • What practical actions can you take to support your learning?

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