When I write about my progresses with my mental health I always feel like a mix between a B series self-improvement website, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, a desperate housewife and a new age freak (which is like Goop, but less Santa Monica-yoga-chic). Believe me it’s not fun*.
But on the other hand, I like to write about it because it helps me to fix the milestones I am achieving. They might be small steps and I can tell you I am not completely sane (who is, anyway), but compared to the state of darkness and doom I was in just a bit more than a year ago right now I feel like I’m the Master of Enlightenment.
So one of these small improvements that I achieved lately is *drumrolls*: I decided I don’t give a f**k anymore about social media likes and followers and I am just going to paint what I like and what makes me feel good.
No wait, DO NOT UNFOLLOW ME, of course I still care about Instagram numbers. It’s just that I decided that I’m not going to let them dictate what I paint and my drawing style anymore. And it’s not easy, I tell you, because the need for social media confirmation is so deeply ingrained inside me that it’s very hard to let it go (stop with those judging looks, I know it’s the same for all of you. Ok not ALL of you, 99.9% of you).
There are two things that my psychologist used to tell me:
- Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend
- Why don’t you try to paint your feelings?
I’ve been thinking about these two things a lot lately. I realized that there is no point in painting if I am not expressing who I am and that illustrating only what other people want (being it potential Instagram followers, media or possible clients) was not an act of kindness to myself. On the contrary, it was an act of violence.
Last year I worked a lot with luxury brands for their events. Singapore is not a very artistic country, every client tends to ask for the same style, the one they already know and feel comfortable with. So I ended up doing what they wanted because I didn’t want to give up working with them. And in the process, my illustration style changed: it became more detailed, more commercial and in the end I lost myself.
Painting suddenly became a source of anxiety, a prison. Which is so wrong if you consider that painting was the exact opposite for me before: the outlet of my feelings and of my love for fashion and beauty, a safe place. When I was a child, drawing was my main way to express myself and a source of peaceful happiness.
Somewhere in Autumn last year, I suddenly realised that I lost that, I lost my safe place. Where did my love for painting go?
So I started a slow process of looking for my artistic self again. I did a lot of thinking, I spent time observing my old works, I opened my eyes and started to look for inspiration around me again. I didn’t draw for a few months because I was processing too many things in my brain. I was cooking something inside, but I didn’t quite grasp it fully yet. Until yesterday.
Yesterday my whole Instagram feed was talking about the Dior couture show. Everyone was posting the same stories, the same illustrations, the same posts: Dior, Dior, Dior. And I thought damn, I should draw one Dior too while the hype is going. Gotta get those Instagram likes. But again, it felt like an obligation. I wasn’t planning to draw Dior because I wanted to, but because I had to**.
Then I saw the Spring 2018 Couture collection of Iris Van Herpen and it suddenly struck me.
I was so deeply moved by this collection, and immediately I felt so inspired. That perfect combination of art, technology and elegance completely overwhelmed me. Iris Van Herpen’s work is so actual and sublime, I just couldn’t stop watching it. And nobody was talking about it on Instagram.
And there I decided: this is what I am going to draw. I took my inks and watercolors and I went with the flow.
The result is the illustration above. It’s a messy painting. It’s ethereal, slightly abstract, it’s a bit unfinished. Many people won’t like it. I won’t get the Instagram likes. But I don’t care, because in that painting I can see myself. I can see the joy I was feeling as a kid while drawing in my childhood bedroom, a consumed copy of Vogue Italia opened on my lap, filling paper sheets at warp speed. With this painting, I found myself again.
And if you artists out there are reading this, and you’re finding yourself stuck in the merciless Instagram machine, I hope you will find back that joy too, and find a way to break free. And learn to be kind to yourself and your art, whether that will bring you Instagram followers or not.
* For a moment I thought I should post a “CAREFUL! Corny post ahead!” alert before starting to write this, but you guys are grown-ups so I left it up to you to decide if you wanted to continue reading this or not :p
** That doesn’t mean I’ll never illustrate that Dior collection because frankly, it was quite amazing. But I will just postpone to the day I really feel like I need to draw it 😉