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  • Writer's pictureMartha Iserman

The Only Post On the Internet to Reflect On the End of 2020

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

I don't know about you, but this feels like a breakup. Not the tragic, 'call your friends at 2am crying into a pint of ice cream' type of breakup or even the 'join a gym and join a cult' kind. This is the breakup of a relationship that was fundamentally toxic, and though leaving is difficult and the future looks bleak it is clear the separation is essential and healthy.

That is to say, part of me is going to miss 2020 and all of it's bullshit, but I am ready to get out there and meet a new year.

I recognize that my premature nostalgia for The Worst Year Ever comes from a place of privilege. I am healthy and safe, and am not on the brink of immediate financial ruin (just the usual run of the mill slow-burning financial ruin that is the staple of my generation).

I'm not bitching because due to the combination of losing steady work and the privilege listed above I was able to actually focus on my 2020 goals and in the process I learned a lot.

I love goals. Setting goals, revising goals, and hitting goals. Also missing goals, forgetting goals and most importantly, listing them in a crisp Moleskine journal with a brand new set of Sigura Micron Pens.

That's the stuff....

Some I met in 2020, others I whiffed. Here's a few things I learned along the way.


Challenges Don't Have to Be Challenging

Seems obvious, but it didn't start out that way. My best work of 2020 started when my partner Chase suggested I paint big. I was about to start another insect illustration at a standard 2-3 times the size of the specimen.

Same old same old....

So I took the unprecedented step (for me at least) of using a WHOLE sheet of watercolor paper for an insect illustration. Gasp.

The idea to paint it with a 20in wingspan wasn't revolutionary, but it was something new and I found I liked painting at this scale. So I tried it again with a Red Locust.

Totally different

After 2 big bugs I thought I'd it with a new subject, but I couldn't think of a challenge that inspired me. So I did what everyone does and looked to Instagram for inspiration. I saw that I follow a bunch of really talented and inspiring botanical artists that I was constantly 'liking' and commenting on. I had real art crushes on some these people. So I decided to try my hand at really working at a botanical watercolor, and since I was on a roll from the bugs I went big again.

'Peonies' became one of my most popular pieces ever. It was also one of the most challenging but I loved every minute of it. So I kept going...

By September, I ended up with a bonafide series of large scale botanical paintings that I will be showing in April at a gallery in Melbourne.

And it all started with Chase saying, "Why don't you paint it big?" and me wanting to emulate some of my favorite artists online. There was no big inspiration or tortured soul searching to find what to work on next, not that those are bad. Just a simple idea and running with it. Sometimes you just have to get the pebble rolling, and it will take off down that hill and destroy the village below while you watch from above.... (that's the metaphor right?....)

Always put yourself first

Sounds bad I know, and it's not what you think. NOT put yourself before others, or the general good. It's a personal growth thing.

ME vs ME

You... stop it...

My problem when I was making all of those juicy lists of goals and projects is I was setting myself on strict timelines that required me to hit deadlines and goalposts that were unrealistic. I wanted to be successful, and I wanted that success quickly so I decided to be ambitious with my schedule.

At first, it worked pretty well, I was painting all those big bugs and flowers after all. But it started to take a toll, and my personal wellbeing was taking a backseat. Then the pandemic hit and instead of taking it as a sign that health is important, I continued plowing forward.


Nothing super bad happened, but my mental health and to a certain extent physical condition took a bit of a hit, things that were completely avoidable if I had just given myself some time to relax. All of my goals were made by me after all, so why was I torturing myself?

And here's the thing, I'm certain I would have completed all of those paintings even if I had taken more breaks because each time I hit a wall I was forced to quit for a few days anyway. My body forced me to.

So in the end, pushing myself too hard didn't help me make any more sales, or gain any more followers, or improve my work. It probably hurt my growth. And as much as I put pressure on myself to be as stressed as possible to feel like I'm accomplishing something, it doesn't change the reality of the situation.

This also means spending more time with my loved ones, even if they're 10,000 miles away and it's 3 am their time and it's not appropriate to call this late what could you possibly want to talk about that is so urgent at this hour I really need my sleep call back tomorrow.

So 2021 is all about ME first, and I'm certain my career will follow.

Or as Chase puts it "A watched career never boils..." which, makes sense... I guess?...

So those are my preachy bits of advice for 2021. Maybe you're in a similar space for the following year, or you have your own tips for how to be a healthy creative moving forward, and I'd love to hear it! Comment below if you've got the key to fixing the world!

On that note, Imma go take a walk, eat an apple, and read a book.

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