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  • Writer's pictureMartha Iserman

Command Z

Ever been coasting along with an art project, about 20 to 30 hours in, thinking all is well, and then a little voice says...

...Hey...what if I completely screw this up?


I had a bit of a breakdown the other day. I was working on the second of my 'Giant Bug' series. This is a series I started with the Purple Winged grasshopper. It was probably the most fun I'd had painting since moving to Australia.

So what's next!?! Repeat!!! Might as well start another! I got my other specimen on hand, the Red Locust I've been using as a reference for months, so nothing could go wrong... right!?! Everything was going well for the first 20 hours or so...

Just lines and color and shapes and patterns....

So far so good! Finished some of the more difficult sections of the thorax, laid down the basic design for the top left-wing and got ready to add some of the darker shadows for contrast, maybe just a bit of Payne's grey along the edges, some darker browns along the yellow sections....

Instead of the patient linework I'd been pulling off for the past few days, I ended up with a muddied mess. The more I tried to clean it up, the more muddied it got.

The horror... THE HORROR!!!!

I had a full COMMAND Z moment. Everyone who transitions from digital to traditional projects knows the feeling of panic when they realize they can't hit a keyboard shortcut to remove mistakes in a painting.

That same day, my last source of income hit the pause button on our project due to financial strain during the pandemic. Hopefully, it will pick up again in a few weeks, but as we all know, the world is kinda in a weird place right now.

Barely hangin in there...

The first week of Shelter In Place I was optimistic, the second I was motivated, the third determined... but these past few days... they've been hard.

It's not just that I screwed up a section of a painting I had been working on for days ( I will be able to fix it and move forward). It's not just that I temporarily lost my freelance project (it was somewhat expected with everything). The feelings of restlessness and anxiety from the global situation had affected my focus, mood and creative process in general. I had an outline to write for my solo show in Melbourne next year and it wasn't coming as easily as it usually would. I had plenty of ideas, but when I tried to form them into something coherent I was at a bit of a loss. It's difficult to optimistically plan ahead when things are so uncertain.

I also felt guilty for feeling bad at all! I'm in Australia where things are relatively stable. I'm healthy and safe and luckily my partner still has job security. Why do I get to feel bad?

It's hard for everyone, those on the front lines the most (health care workers, grocery store employees, police etc) and many who were struggling before this happened are in dire straights. I kept looking at my situation and thinking about all the people who are sick, or putting themselves in danger to hold the world together.

Brene Brown calls it Comparative Suffering in her podcast Unlocking Us and she squashes the myth that there are limits to empathy in the world. There's plenty to go around! Basically, I can be gentle to myself while also being supportive and empathetic to all the others who are hurting right now. We shouldn't hoard compassion just like we shouldn't hoard toilet paper, but that means we can allow some for ourselves as well.

There have been a lot of memes and articles popping up recently about surviving as a creative professional during the pandemic. Russ White wrote a great post about how we've been scrappy survivalists long before a virus locked us all in our homes. Artists tend to be resilient and creative and generous, and many artistic communities online have shared a wealth of information on how to stay sane, healthy and connected during what will be known as The Great Cluster F of 2020. Reach out to and support your local artists. We don't bite.


So yeah, I've had a couple of bad days, and that's ok! I decided I needed to take charge to fight off the feelings of helplessness, and the tool that is effective for me to combat that feeling is organization.

I love me some notebooks and binders....

First off, I cleaned the house. The state of our kitchen was having an effect on the state of my mind. Then I redid my SMART goals for the next 3 months. If you don't know SMART goals are

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).

  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).

  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).

  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).

  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

I had my goals written out through June, but looking back many of them included things like 'leaving the house' and 'meeting other humans'. So I had to re-evaluate. Now I have things broken down and listed for the next few months with realistic action items and due dates.

Then I made my new quarantine schedule. Though I don't have a job right now, I will have a lot of work to complete if this solo show is going to happen next year. I also have other projects I'd like to start during this pandemic since I do have an abundance of ...

I'm including exercise and relationship time in the schedule since even though both are more accessible in theory with us stuck at home, it's easy to put them behind work projects when you're focused.

Writing out my goals helped me focus on what I wanted to accomplish with the show, and that helped me set up a project management plan for how I can complete the artwork needed by next December.

So that's been my week. We'll see how this new schedule and these new goals work out. Everything is a work in progress, but I can say that I already feel better. I needed a few days to feel sad, and then some concrete actions that helped me take back control. There's nothing like a good bullet list to help with anxiety (at least for me).

NOTE: All of the extra images on my post today were from the Don't Hug Me I'm Scared Youtube series of videos. If you haven't seen them already, and want to go down one of the weirder rabbit holes on the internet, here's a great way to spend a pandemic afternoon.

Until next time.... see you on the web!

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