Last night I watched a new show called Tattoo School. I was struck with how much I related to the psychological struggles of these budding artists. The show follows a small group of students who spend two weeks immersed in the tattoo arts. They start off practicing on bananas and ultimately graduate by performing a complicated tattoo on a paying customer.
Four students were featured last night. One was a 22-year-old mother of infant twins (Momma). Another was an African-American art teacher looking to expand his expertise (Teacher). Another was a smart blond homosexual man who hated his job and wanted to make a change (Fab Guy). And the last was a burly man’s man who had quit his job to pursue a career as a tattoo artist (Macho Man). The nicknames are mine, by the way.
Predictably, all four students were scared to do their first tattoo on a real person. However, Momma pushed through her fear and sat down to do her work. She followed the teacher’s instructions and did a wonderful first tattoo. Teacher had more trouble with his technique at first but he, too, adhered to all of the teacher’s corrections. For his final project he pushed himself to do a very complicated portrait which was outside of his comfort zone. He pulled it off and the tattoo teacher said he was the best student she had ever had. The lesson I learned from these two students was that any artistic endeavor involves a certain amount of fear and trepidation. The key is to push yourself past it and kill the negative self-talk.
Conversely I got to see what happens when an artist does not follow this advice. Fab Guy and Macho Man both had issues. Macho Man was confident – too confident. He would not listen to anything the teacher or her staff had to say. He thought he knew best and he had a nasty temper to boot. Fab Guy was even worse. He had a meltdown at the idea of doing his first tattoo and was not able to finish it. He continually beat himself up and stressed over every mistake he made. The lesson here is that instructors are there to help you avoid needless mistakes. At the same time, mistakes are normal and part of the artistic process. To beat oneself up makes the learning process more difficult and removes any fun or joy from the art.
Enjoying the process is essential. This is challenging for those of us who are perfectionists or overly concerned with people’s opinions. I have been working on this negative tendency in myself for the past few years. Whether I am sitting down to do a painting, a sketch, a poem, or a short story, I leave the results up to the universe; my part is to do the work. So far I am loving the process and feel blessed to be living my dreams.
Now, go follow your bliss…