I had a panic attack when I signed my paintings, or why it’s so hard to finish.
Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
My paintings are hanging on the walls in Proximity Cafe, in Pottstown Pennsylvania. I had promised to paint them, promised to deliver them. I wanted to finish them. Layer upon layer of color.
And then I couldn’t finish them.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-20)
Delaying finishing. Just waiting for the signature on each painting. Waiting weeks, days.
And then it was time. It was two days before I promised to deliver the paintings.
They almost didn’t get hung. Because I had a panic attack the day I was going to sign them.
Starting a painting is easier than finishing.
Because when you finish a painting. You are saying, “Here I am. This is what I made.”
The day of the signing. The day I decided to say, “These paintings are finished.” I couldn’t sit still. Up and down the stairs. I cleaned the kitchen. Moved boxes from one side of the basement to the other side of the basement. My brain felt like a gerbil on a treadmill. No focus. Fear.
I send an email to a friend, the subject line was: Feeling terrified today. “My exhibition of cat paintings opens next month. I am supposed to hang them next week. I have to finish the paintings today and tomorrow, and I am terrified. There is a dragon on the staircase to the basement where my painting studio is. It is time to go and slay him.”
My friend encouraged me. I went in the basement, and finished the paintings. It took me forty eight hours to sign eight paintings.
No, it took me thirty-one years to sign eight paintings. Thirty-one years of starting and not finishing. Thirty-one years of drawing ideas.
Now to be completely honest. I did finish a few paintings, nine to be exact, in thirty-one years. Two of them I slashed. One of them I threw away, and the rest I gave my children and my husband. Oh, and one small little bird I gave away. But there were no paintings for sale. No paintings that had a price tag on them. No paintings that had the opportunity to get a red dot on the description. No paintings that hung on the wall to be smiled at or laughed at.
Tomorrow you promise yourself will be different, yet tomorrow is too often a repetition of today.
― James T. McCay
Signing the paintings was harder for me than giving birth to my three children. More painful than a c-section. It was finally time to stop saying, “Tomorrow,” and start saying, “Today.”
Why is it hard to finish?
Why is it hard to sign your name to a painting?
What if someone says, “Yuck.” What if someone laughs? What if someone thinks it looks silly? And the art on the wall becomes you. It is as though you are hanging on the wall. And you are in grade seven again wearing flood pants. Or it is the first day of sixth grade and you get pushed by an eight grade student accidently, and scape your chin and chip your front tooth. And when you go home it is Monday, wash day, and all of your clothes are wet, except for the pair of paisley pants your mom’s friend made on a sewing machine with an elastic waist, and you have to walk back to school and study Canadian History in paisley pants and you think everyone is laughing at you.
And the truth? Paisley pants are in style now.
Be yourself. And say, “This is me.”
How about you? Will you risk signing your name? Please tell in the comments. I would love to encourage you.
You are enough.
Just as you are. Create something and sign it.
P.S. Come check out the paintings at Proximity Cafe, 1450 East High Street, Pottstown, Pennsylvania. They will be up most of the summer. And I will let you know when we will have an artist reception on a Friday in August.
About Pamela Hodges
My name is Pamela Hodges. I am a writer and an artist. I write to encourage and to bring laughter. I paint cats, draw cartoons and write books for children and grown ups.