Why I Erased My Mother’s Face and What I Learned

A response to Joe Bunting’s Fail Faster (So You Can Become a Better Writer).

“Writers are terrible judges of their own work,” Joe said.

The words resonated deep in the recesses of my soul. All my life, I was the student in the front row, needing that big red “A” to tell me I was doing it right. Otherwise how would I know?

When I picked up writing and art again, after a long hiatus of mommying and homeschooling, it was scary. I didn’t know what I was doing. I kept looking for something, someone, to tell me I was doing it right.

But all I had was the encouragement of my risk taking husband who just believed in me, and bloggers like Emily and Nester, telling me I didn’t have to be perfect. And God. I was Abram leaving what I knew, for a place that God would show me.

I started this blog and bought my first canvas. I started listening to the voice inside, however tentatively.

Now Joe was bringing me back to my senses. Who did I think I was, anyway?

But then Joe said, “You need people to tell you you’re wrong, that your story isn’t interesting, that the information you think is so important actually isn’t.”

And suddenly, the voice inside said rather loudly, “No, no, no. That’s not how it is at all.” It went against everything I had learned just the week before.

I had taken a small, calculated risk, setting out to recapture Gustav Klimt’s Mother and Child with acrylic paint. True, I had never painted people before. But Klimt had already risked public opinion, and he had gotten it right. All I needed to do was follow.

The thing I hate about risk is, no matter how calculated, it’s still unpredictable. The figures were easy to copy, but this was no paint by number kit. I needed to find the right mix of color for skin, lips, hair, and shadows. As I experimented, my Mother and Child turned shades of grey, blue, brown, and pink.

But in the process I became bolder. I changed hairstyles, rearranged flowers. Still Klimt, but with my own subtle variations.

I was putting on the finishing touches when I realized I wanted a different Mother. I hadn’t questioned it before. I had been too busy trying to copy Klimt. I still admire Klimt’s Mother and Child, but the slightly crooked face, prim little mouth, and hefty jaw wasn’t right for my Mother.

Gustav Klimt - Mother and Child

Gustav Klimt – Mother and Child

I painted over my Mother’s face and sketched the face I wanted — the face I knew belonged there. (Hopefully I’ll be posting the finished painting soon!).

Other points of view are important — if only for comparison, food for thought. I can always learn something. At the very least, I can know better what I don’t think.

My opinion should be informed. But in the end, my opinion is my own.

Whether painting or writing, I have a story I was created to tell. I need to tell it, whether or not anyone else thinks it’s good. I need to say it, even if no one is listening. And just maybe I’ll be surprised.

words on a pagePhoto Credit: Annelise Grace

Joe started his post by saying,
About a year ago, I wrote a guest post that completely failed. It was for a large writing blog, and over the following few days it got about 20 comments from people who all disagreed with me.

Now I’ve written an entire post disagreeing with what he wrote — by his definition, telling him that he failed. But I see it differently.

Joe inspired me to think hard about my writing, about my art. I discovered connections I didn’t know were there. He inspired me to write. And even though I disagreed with his point of view, he taught me something.

Thank you, Joe, for saying what you needed to say. I’m going to take your advice and write the story I’m afraid to write. Even if it’s one that I don’t think I’m good enough to write.

I agree with you on this point:
“The biggest failures in life are those too afraid to try.”

You can visit Joe Bunting at The Write Practice where he blogs about writing. Check out his writing prompts.

In what way do you allow others to influence your work?

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Your thoughts?