When we are small we can all paint and draw, can’t we? Everything we do is fantastic. We know that, because our mums and dads tell us so and we believe them and our creative juices keep flowing. But so many adults that have told me that they can’t paint or draw and I always say “Why can’t you: you used to be able to?” So when does the rot set in? When do we suddenly stop believing in ourselves? For me it was in the sixth form and it was nothing to do with anything that I was doing. It was encountering people who could do things that I couldn’t do. Especially one lad who was a naturally gifted figurative artist, who put beautifully drawn figures into everything he did and was rightly showered with praise by the tutors. I really admired everything that he did and hated him for it at the same time! He was brilliant and by inference anything that I could do was going to be second rate.
All these years later and I still have to fight those same green eyed demons every day. It’s still that mixed emotion as well. Part of me delights in discovering a new artist who, in my eyes, is incredibly talented. It is always someone who is painting paintings that I wish I had painted. It’s never anyone, no matter how good they are, who is painting giant abstracts, or conceptual works. No, it is always someone who paints in a way that I truly admire and for a moment, every time, a little voice inside me says “You’re shit! You might as well just give up!” But the thing is I know that’s not true. I know that because people tell me all the time how much they like my work. I know that because, although there may be similarities in style and subject, I have not found anyone who paints what I paint, exactly as I paint it. I know that because people have given me their hard earned money for my paintings. But still that voice is there again and again eating away at my confidence. “Give up”, it says, “Give up”. But at 56 years old I’m still here and I’m still painting and there’s no way I’m quitting. So how do I silence the voices?
As well as being a painter, I am also a musician and my hero for many years has been BB King, a man universally hailed as one of the greatest guitarists who has ever lived. A few years back BB produced a video called BB King Blues Master, in which he sat in his inimitable relaxed manner and talked about his influences to an interviewer. He described how his heroes played and then he demonstrated on his guitar Lucille, but as he did so he kept saying things like “Bukka White would play this, but I couldn’t do that so I would do this instead” then he would play a lick that was one hundred percent BB King! In his autobiography he describes how, when he was learning, he would go to watch someone play and go home and try to play like them, fail and in the process add something new to his repertoire. He loved the way that his heroes played; he learned from them and was influenced by them, but he was wise enough to realise that the most important thing was to be BB King first and foremost. BB is 88 years old now. He’s a wise old man. We should listen.
So when the demons start nagging at me I think of BB’s words and reflect that what’s good enough for my hero is certainly good enough for me. I remember that it is what I do that matters: what anyone else does is up to them. If I see something in an artist’s work that I admire I may try to incorporate it into my style in some way, but I will inevitably fail because I’m not them, but in the process I just might come up with something that is mine instead and that is how it should be. We all need others to look up to and we must think that they are marvelous, but we must never forget that it is what we do that matters. Always bear in mind that there is a good chance that somewhere there is someone looking up to you, someone who wishes they could do what you can do. Enjoy your painting; try every day to improve and always be as good as you can be. Believe in yourself and remember, as Sam and Dean Winchester would say, “Demons always lie”.