Faith in the Wilderness--How One Oil Painting Artist Stays Committed

11 Jun 2014

Faith in the Wilderness by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 2010.
Faith in the Wilderness by Patricia Watwood, oil on canvas, 2010.
Perhaps sometime over the last couple of years, you looked at your most recent drawing or oil painting and thought “Why am I doing this?” The economic recession has caused all of us to rethink our commitments and has given many artists reason to doubt that “making it” as a professional is a realistic goal. For most of us, sales and money in your pocket make you feel like a “real” artist, and give (maybe false) validation of one’s accomplishments at the easel. 

When you don’t sell anything you start to question everything about your profession. Maybe you, too, have considered throwing in the towel and becoming a hairdresser like I have! Do you know that song lyric, “No one said it would be easy...but I never thought it would be this hard...?” I've definitely had moments when I can relate.  

So, why keep doing it?  Why keep getting up every morning, juggling all those balls, schlepping to the studio and fighting that “Lucha Aeterna”? Well, because I love painting--all the oil painting techniques I know and just the sheer experience of painting. Even when no one pays me to do it.

This painting is called Faith in the Wilderness and in many ways it is an autobiographical allegory about my motives for painting. The graffiti says “We walk by faith, not by sight.” The model is the unattainable beauty of “perfect” painting. The landscape is the urban jungle that is the world that I inhabit every day. Faith is what I need to traverse the distance between the hope and the reality of being an oil painting artist. The wilderness is many faceted—uncertain prospects, an uncharted course, the complex art world, or even just the passage across that expanse of cheek between the nose and ear that always seem almost impossible to paint, no matter how many times I've done it. 

So, I pick up my palette and keep traveling. Leave a comment and tell me how you keep going with your work.


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Kisu wrote
on 16 Mar 2011 8:03 AM

I've actually had harder personal economic conditions in the past, when I was a younger artist and needed my art sales to pay the monthly bills.  We've weathered this recent crisis very well by paying off all our debt load well before the crisis occurred, and I've had enough sales to keep me motivated through it even though I don't have to rely on them to survive economically any more.  I now paint because it's something I really want to do on a daily basis.  

atimeforart wrote
on 16 Mar 2011 11:58 AM

Honestly what keeps me going is the network of artists such as yourself that I have found in the online community.  Being an artist is such a solitary profession, and the ability to read other artists thoughts, views, issues, bloopers, suggestions, hopes and dreams at the click of the mouse keeps me going....keep it up and thanks!

JDWooldridge wrote
on 16 Mar 2011 2:53 PM

I have only fairly recently returned to painting so I never sold work when the economy was good and I know no different than the market as it is now.  Perhaps it's also because I'm still learning so much at a frantic pace but the sheer joy of seeing each new work take life is what keeps me going.  I evaluate my work in increments of about every quarter to every six months and continue to see enormous growth and I like the direction in which my work is headed.  That's plenty to keep my fire fueled and I can tell you, the furnace is white hot!

mark beale wrote
on 16 Mar 2011 4:24 PM

It can be hard to maintain a focus when you are feeling a lack of success, whatever the cause. My spiritual faith helps me tremendously and I keep reminding myself that we artists are adding to the sum total beauty in the world. Mark Beale.

on 17 Mar 2011 10:46 AM

I struggle with taking the time for painting because of other responsibilities but I started teaching art a couple of years ago and now I have students from age 8 to near 80 and I find them to be an inspiration.  It forces me to take the time to study, plan and at least draw or paint samples for the classes.  And their enthusiasm rubs off on me.  Also, I am so awed by creation.  I have over 90,000 "reference" photos, thanks to the economy of digital, and when I need more inspiration, I know where to find them.  

on 21 Mar 2011 8:41 AM

This is a great, and timely subject. Personally, I not only struggle with the rigors of working out of a home studio amid the mayhem of 3 children, and of trying to sell my work in these uncertain economic times, but I also find my choices of medium and style are constantly being questioned by galleries and other artists. Colored pencil is a harder sell for gallery owners, and my level of realism is always underfire! "Switch to oils!" and "Loosen up!" are opinions I frequently have to push against in an attempt to simply do "me". My inner voice has to be louder than the outer critics. Not always an easy feat. I keep fighting the brave fight because, really, I have no choice. I'll tighten my belt to let my soul soar!

Cindra5664 wrote
on 21 Mar 2011 11:09 AM

It's a struggle to "get better" for me too.  I just keep plugging along, trying to learn something from each painting I do.  Thanks for sharing that you are struggling with it too...makes me feel like I am not alone.  :)

jaydee678 wrote
on 28 Mar 2011 3:56 PM

Exactly so - great post.

I work full-time but stubbornly keep up the painting as I have time. My reason is the same as yours - love of painting, faith that there is a reason to create beauty in this world, faithh that God gives talent to be used, even though there may not be the financial payoff hoped for.

on 4 Apr 2011 9:35 AM

It's a pleasure to see everyone's feedback. Thanks for telling me how you've kept going, and for reading my post!