Time to Pivot: How COVID-19 Blew Up my Year and Forced Me to Grow as an Artist

Red Poppy Study” © Tracey Capone Fine Art 2020

A while back, I posted a blog entry about embracing competition as a means to grow as an artist but not allowing comparison, and ultimately envy, to stunt that growth.

In it, I went a step further about how comparison to one’s self is actually quite necessary and very healthy:

At some point, I started to realize that the only person I should compare myself to, the only healthy comparison, is to previous versions of me because that is the only instance where I have all the information. I embrace competition with other artists, as it allows me recognize both my strengths and weaknesses, and it helps motivate me to become a better artist year after year. I am proud of how much my work has evolved, how it is received and who I am as an artist and business person. I look forward to seeing where I am in another ten years in relation to today.

From “Competition vs. Comparison (and Robbing Yourself of Joy)” by Tracey Capone 2019

Admittedly, this isn’t always easy advice to heed, especially when social media is in your face almost all day every day. This year though, more specifically COVID-19, has completely blown up my, “normal,” and has forced a new direction in my career as well as a change in perspective.

Before I continue, please know, I am grateful that I am in a position to make the changes I need to make when the unexpected happens. I am in touch enough with the world around me to know that, when it comes to what this pandemic has done to people’s livelihoods, I am one of the lucky ones.

This time of year, I would normally be participating in art festivals however the pandemic has forced cancellation of all but a few. Those which remain have such strict guidelines to protect the health and welfare of everyone in attendance that it isn’t monetarily feasible to participate. It’s hard not to feel sad about what, “could have been,” or to watch what has happened in this country, as well as the rest of the world, and not feel angry, or sad or helpless. I mean, is it even possible to find anything positive about a global pandemic? While I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, at the same time, personally, I need to find at least one positive thing in all of this mess and heartbreak.

For me, it is that the change has given me the gift of time and the opportunity to pause and reassess my life as an artist. Yes, it was forced change, I have to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head, but it was change that, frankly, needed to happen. Change that has forced me to look at where I was last year, compared to where I am this year, and try to plan out where I hope to be in coming years.

The change has given me the opportunity to forge new paths. I have begun teaching on Skillshare, as well as taking the time to hone both my photography and illustration skills; things I could never find the time to do because I was always getting ready for festivals.

On a micro level, it has also given me the time and opportunity to stop and take a retrospective look at my work to do a double check as to where my strengths lie, where I have improved and where I still need work from an artistic standpoint. In short, it gave me the opportunity to do exactly what I spoke of in the quote above… to compare myself to previous versions of me and it truly is helping me grow as an artist and, ultimately, as a teacher.

Case in point…when it comes to my illustrations, I have been actively trying to draw something every day. Some days it comes down to just creating a basic floral study but, even with those, I always try to do one thing that improves upon the last study. Yesterday, I created the poppy illustrations above and, while posting it to my social media, I took a quick peek back at my other floral studies from the last few months. I knew I had a “go to” style but I was shocked to see the difference only a few months had made.

Blue Poppies,” © Tracey Capone Fine Art 2020

Blue Poppies,” shown above, is one that I created back in March of this year, at the beginning of all the shelter at home orders. While I do appreciate it for it’s wonky florals and pops of color, when comparing it to my latest poppy illustration, I can list a dozen places I needed improvement. (hello, Tracey, shading is your friend…) That said, we all start somewhere and the more I explore and learn the digital illustration apps I use to create and, more importantly, take the time to explore and understand my own style, the more I will improve. Taking this time to understand the mechanics of both the tools and my abilities will push me further as an artist than simply mimicking what I see on Pinterest, Instagram or Skillshare.

Incidentally, when I started teaching, I wanted to carry this approach in to my classes and give people the ability explore and grow within their own style. I created them to purposely teach the why and not just the how when it comes to illustration. So that, if they looked back on work they created, they could immediately understand where they show great strength, where they have improved, or need improvement, and, above all else, why. In doing that, I feel I am giving people the tools they need to not just mimic what I create but to walk away from the class being able to create something all their own, otherwise, what was the point of them taking it in the first place?

So, if I had to try to find a positive in everything that has happened this year, to try to find a bright light in COVID blowing up my year (along with so many others), it is that I have been given the gift of time. I am grateful to have talents I can lean on, I am grateful to have the ability to shift gears when needed and the opportunity to do so. I am grateful to be healthy and have supportive family who is as well. At the end of it, I am grateful that I have time to slow down, take a pause, assess, retool and push my boundaries. I hope that, this time next year, I can say that I am a better version of myself as an artist, teacher and hopefully human being, than I was today because I found a bright spot in an otherwise bleak year.

I hope this post finds everyone healthy and safe and you continue to be so. If you, like me, are a full time artist who has been greatly impacted by COVID-19, please know, you are not alone. I hope you find ways of your own to pivot and have the support system in place to do so. I am sending many positive thoughts out to my fellow artists around the world. Stay strong and keep putting beauty out in to the world… we need it.

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