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Famous Failures: J.K. Rowling, Her Struggles and Her Triumphs (Part 2)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Depression

This week, I am diving into part two of the series I started on April 21, 2018, entitled, “famous failures”, a term coined by Sid Sivara, who wrote an article with that title. The personality I want to highlight this week is the author of the celebrated Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. As I researched her life, I discovered that she has some striking similarities to the personality which I described a few weeks ago. For example, both she and Lincoln struggled with depression and poverty.

Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), was the sixteenth president of the United States and he grew up on a farmstead in Kentucky. (Source: James M. McPherson, “Lincoln, Abraham, (1809-1865), Sixteenth president of the United States”, American National Biography, http://www.anb.org, retrieved on 05/08/2018.)  During his childhood, he carved out a life which was marked by hard physical labor and a lack of consistent education in a one-room schoolhouse. (Source: ibid) He also suffered from melancholy and depressive episodes for much of his life, as well as “brooding” which his friends termed, “the hypo,” short for hypochondria. (Source: ibid, and Shenk, Joshua, “Lincoln’s Great Depression”, The Atlantic). “Hypo,” was the term medical practitioners used in the 19th century to describe what we now recognize as clinical depression. (Source: McPherson)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Professional Failures

Lincoln also tried and failed at much life professional pursuits, including “store clerk, mill hand, a partner in a general store that failed, postmaster, and surveyor.”  (Source: ibid). He also experienced failure in his political career from time to time, and in 1832, when he ran for the legislature, he was defeated. (Source: ibid, and Sid Sivara, “Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, AbrahamJK Rowling portrait_edited-1Abraham Lincoln portrait_edited-1 Lincoln and J.K. Rowling”, https://sidsavara.com/famous-failures-michael-jordan-abraham-lincoln-and-jk-rowling, retrieved on 03/29/18) However, when he re-entered the political race for the legislature in the New Salem district of Illinois, he made a decisive victory in 1834. (Source: McPherson). Despite many setbacks, Lincoln developed a new direction and ambition during his years living in the town of New Salem, Illinois. (Source: ibid) In fact, he started making decisive moves towards self-improvement by joining a debating society, received mentoring from the local teacher in New Salem, Illinois, Mentor Graham, in both mathematics and literature, and he developed a strong interest in politics. (Source: ibid)   In addition, he developed a lifelong interest and appreciation for William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. (Source: ibid)

Likewise, J.K. Rowling also faced extremely challenging life challenges such as poverty and depression. For example, she faced countless rejection letters for her Harry Potter books, initially at least. (Source: Elle Kaplan, “How J.K. Rowling Turned Failure into Massive Success, (And You Can Too),” https:// medium.com, accessed April 17, 2018).    Also, like Lincoln, she seems to be a deep thinker and one who had a specific dream and ambition. (Source: ibid) Rowling’s dream was to provide a good life for her daughter, and she did not give up, no matter how many times she failed. (Source: ibid)   Like Lincoln, she was successful, though it was far from easy. (Source: ibid).

J.K. Rowling’s Unlikely Success: What Motivated Her

While many of you may recognize J.K. Rowling as a bestselling author of the Harry Potter book series, did you know that she was once jobless, living on welfare and raising a daughter all by herself as a single mother? (Source: ibid) In her own words, she states: “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.” (Source: ibid).  In addition, she states that her failures helped to shed light on many aspects of her life, including her relationships with others, and that it gave her tenacity to “face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.” (Source: ibid.)

One aspect of her experience that gave her the will to succeed and rise above her struggles was her wish to give her daughter a better life. (Source: ibid) During this pursuit, she held onto this truth she knew about herself and that was that she believed she knew how to tell a story. (Source: ibid) Understanding her “why” for wanting to succeed in life was crucial to her achievements. (Source: ibid) Learning about J.K. Rowling’s life before she was famous, makes her seem more human and relatable, and it gives us hope that if she can be successful against significant life struggles, so can we. But how do we do this? To investigate this question further, I referred back to the Kaplan article to see what suggestions the author made about being successful.

 

What to Do When Failure Occurs: A Few Suggestions

The author, Kaplan, provides some insights into what we can do to mitigate the sting of failure. For example, she states, when a failure occurs and it inevitably will, rather than letting it defeat you, get some perspective and ask yourself some questions, such as: Do I try again, or do I give up? What do I hope to achieve and why? Is there another way to reach my goal or a strategy I haven’t tried yet? (Source: ibid)

Another strategy you can use to rise above failure is to envision that you are actually being successful in your endeavors and to detach yourself from feelings of failure so that it doesn’t define you. (Source: ibid) According to Kaplan, “Visualization is a powerful tool for building confidence and changing your mindset toward success.” In fact, Kaplan states that: “A recent study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that parts of the brain activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were also activated when they only imagined lifting.”  In conclusion, I don’t suppose that I will ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling or Abe Lincoln, and I am OK with that. In fact, I’m not sure that I would want the kind of pressure that they experienced, such as the ever-present imperative to achieve because of their phenomenal successes and contributions to society. I just want to stop letting past failures stop getting the better of me. If I focus too much on these types of things, it can be paralyzing and keep me from moving on toward my next goal. What about you? Do you have a dream that just won’t die, no matter how many times you fail in the pursuit of its fruition? What is your reason for living? I’d love to hear all about your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Send me a note in the comments section of this blog.

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Celebrities who Failed and Lived to Tell the Tale: Part 1

Why I haven’t been Blogging

Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t been blogging much recently and have wondered whether I had fallen off the planet, or have given up on blogging entirely or making art for that matter. It has been a month of life-altering changes since my husband and I bought our first home this past March. I have struggled to make time for art, much less write about it with all the additional responsibilities which have been added to my plate that come with being a homeowner. For example, the house is a fixer-upper, and my apartment needs to get ready for the move as well. I am sorry to say that despite my daily efforts, I still don’t feel prepared, even though the move is only one week away. My husband and I both work, and we’re spending nights and weekends trying to get our home move in ready. It’s been a lot of physical work too, and it’s been draining, exhausting work. Somehow, blogging has fallen through the cracks. In the middle of all this, I have been trying to complete a custom art portrait before the move, and to get to my sketchbook to draw and paint at least 1x a week. Furthermore, I want to present you with quality material and writing doesn’t come naturally to me. So, that’s why I have taken a break from blogging until I found a subject which really resonates with me. This brings me to my next point.

Failure: A topic with which many can relate

I’ve been thinking in depth about blog topics for a while now and trying to figure out what to write about. During this time, I have wondered, what kinds of topics would appeal to both artists and non-artists alike? After considering several topics, I decided that I wanted to write about “famous failures” which were written about by Sid Savara, in his article, “(Sivara, Sid. Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln, and J.K. Rowling. https://sidsavara.com/famous-failures-michael-jordan-abrahma-lincoln-andjk-rowling/.Accessed 29 March 2018.  In my personal life, this topic feels increasingly relevant.  I have been dealing with several challenges in my art career, such as struggling to find consistent income from art sales. In truth, there have been a lot of ups and downs with my art sales over the years and I’m not sure what I can do to tweak my approach toward selling my artwork. At times, I honestly just feel like just giving up on the business aspect of art, and pursuing it as a hobby instead. There are so many aspects involved with being an artist-entrepreneur and I do not know if I have the drive, intelligence and patience to run that type of marathon, or the ability to learn skills so outside of my skill set, like marketing. It is a constant juggling act between the business side of being an artist and actually making time to make art.

My Personal Failure: Why Isn’t My Art Selling?

One of the setbacks I have been dealing with is inconsistent art sales. I’m asking myself, why isn’t my artwork selling? Could it be that I am not using the right marketing strategies or that I don’t post often enough on Facebook, and Instagram? Do I need to work more on my presentation of my artwork through my photography on my website, and commerce sites by purchasing a new and more professional camera and learning new photography techniques? Or, is there some other reason I haven’t figured out yet? Is it my medium, price point, style, or subject matter? Do I need more of a range of prices to attract more customers to my Etsy shop, Red Bubble shop or art shows? In the meantime, while I consider these questions, I am drawing inspiration from “famous failures” to learn how other people have successfully dealt with personal setbacks.

 

Abraham Lincoln: Famous Failure example 1

One of my favorite famous failures is Abraham Lincoln. To begin my discussion of this topic, I would like to start with a quote from Michael Jordan who stated: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is how I succeed.” ( Sivara, Sid. Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln, and J.K. Rowling. This quotation originates from a Nike Commercial by Michael Jordan, entitled, “Failure”.)

In a similar way, to Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln also faced many failures and setbacks on his journey to becoming the 16th President of the United States and one of the best we’ve ever had in my opinion. According to Savara, some of Lincoln’s failure’s included: being unemployed in 1832, being beaten for the legislature in 1832, failing in business in 1833, and rejected for Speaker in 1838. It was not until 1860, that he reached his greatest achievement when he was elected President of the United States. (ibid)

How did Lincoln going despite his countless challenging life circumstances and personal tragedies and probably clinical depression? I’m not sure what the answer to that is at the moment, but from one of his quotes, I would deduce that he was not content with failure and would not let it define him. In the words of Lincoln: “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” To look at this question in more depth, I have done additional research about his strengths as a leader and some of his personal coping strategies, such as writing letters to people he was angry with and not sending them, which he called, “hot letters,” telling jokes to ease his melancholy, having good self-awareness  about  his weak points. Some other strengths he possessed include:  constantly learning and adding to his knowledge base, such as his intense study of military strategy, so he could play an active role as commander-in-chief, during the Civil war and talk directly to military leaders about their military strategies, and finally, listening to the opinions of others, whose opinions differed from his own, (Sources: Shenk, Joshua Wolf. Lincoln’s Great Depression. The Atlantic Monthly, October 2005 Issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/ Accessed 19 April 2018, Coutu, Diane. Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln. The Harvard Business Review, April 2009, https://hbr.org/2009/04/leadership-lessons-from-abraham-lincoln. Accessed 19 April 2018, Moreton, Catherine L.10 Qualities that Made Abraham Lincoln a Great Leader, June 25, 2008, https://hr.blr.com/whitepapers/staffing-training/leadership/10-qualities-that-made-abraham-lincoln-a-great-lea. Accessed 19 April 2018.

 

To conclude, I am going to divide this topic of Famous Failures, into sections so that the articles will be short and more readable. Each article will focus on a specific person

 

Abraham Lincoln Portrait with green, edit
Abraham Lincoln in Blue, Oil on Canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2009, Jodie Schmidt.

 

Abraham Lincoln After portrait
Abe Lincoln, Oil on Canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt.
Abraham Lincoln in Pop Art Style
Pop Art Style Lincoln, Oil on Canvas, 11 x 14 inches, 2007, Jodie Schmidt.

with specific details about their stories. So next week, I will be writing about the life story of the author, J.K. Rowling. I hope that you enjoyed this post and that it brings light and encouragement to your day. Failure is inevitable but how we respond to it, is our choice.

 

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The Lost Art of Drawing

About a century ago (well I exaggerate a little); I was a college student studying art at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. I had a brilliant and successful art teacher who was able to make the practice of art making and the hatching of new ideas come alive like no other teacher I had before.  He taught me many useful things, such as how to keep an art sketchbook pasted with photos of art work by artists I admired, and how to write about my art in a way that expressed the message I wanted to share with it. Above all of the tips and advice, he gave I remember him telling me that I should draw every day. At the time, that task seemed quite difficult. I was always an impatient artist as a student and I often rushed through the drawing stage to hurry up and get to the painting, especially oil painting, because I enjoyed working with the buttery texture of the oil paint and I loved working in color. Now that many years have passed since my graduation from McDaniel and I am a professional artist seeking out new avenues to showcase my art and making custom pet portraits, I can truly see the value in his advice.

With hindsight, I can see that he was so right about drawing every day. I no longer rush art work projects and I have learned to love drawing, whether it becomes a painting or not. A few years ago, I took a drawing class at Frederick Community College, with instructor Cynthia Bausch, who taught me how to use charcoal, pastel, and pencil to create compelling drawings with a high degree of finish. This experience started my love for drawing, even though getting the drawings right was extremely difficult. Frequently, I would do the sketch over and over again until I was pleased with the result. For instance, the self-portrait in charcoal, pictured in this post, was drawn a total of three times before I  handed in the final piece to the art teacher. Since then, I have embraced my former art teacher’s advice, Steve Pearson, from McDaniel College,  to draw every day. at present, I am working on a drawing challenge I like to call 100 faces in 100 days. In this challenge, I draw a pre-selected photo from the Internet or a coffee table book, Icons, of a celebrity using only pencil and paper. I do not add in a lot of detail or shading and I limit myself to 45 minutes a day. This time frame for drawing sessions tends to be more like 5 days a week for me since I often work on weekends and feel pretty fried when I come home. The drawings are strictly for practice and not intended for sale at this time.

To see what others in the art world had to say about the importance of drawing, I did a web search, with the query term, Why Artists Should Draw More.  Artist and blogger, Lori McNee, states that drawing can give the artists a multitude of benefits to help them improve their craft as an artist, not the least of which is learning to observe a subject, which is a skill that is important both to the practices of painting and drawing. Source: http://www.finearttips.com/2012/10/10-reasons-why-artists-should-draw-more/.  Drawing more can also help you plan out your compositions better and give you a road map to follow for your design before you get to the painting stage when it is more difficult to make changes.

McNee, (2012), also states that many children enjoy coloring with crayons. For example, I have observed this tendency in the day care setting, (McNee, 2012),  when I was working as an Assistant Teacher at La Petite Academy when I was a high school student. However, over time many children stop drawing or making crafts and self-consciousness drifts in, stealing the spontaneous joy of creating something new. I observed this tendency when I volunteered as an assistant in a middle school art class back in the early 200s. A lot of the kids in this art class would say, “I can’t draw this,” or “You do it,” to me when I walked around to work one on one with the students.Picasso-quotes-every-child-is-an-artist  In fact, even artists (such as Mc Nee) who have been trained to draw, often let this essential art practice slide over time, (McNee, 2012) and may come to rely on tracing, especially if they need to get a project done quickly for a client. I admit, I am guilty of this tendency and until a few years ago, I rarely had a daily drawing practice, and I often struggled to get my proportions in portraits correct, often giving up in futility to join all the other drawings on the reject pile.

However this summer, I was inspired to tackle my fears about drawing and making mistakes by the drawing challenge artist and blogger, Julie Fan Fei completed which she called, 100 15 minute Balzer Faces, in which she made a daily drawing practice using a variety of media such as ink, acrylic paint, and jelly plate printing, among others. Source: http://balzerdesigns.typepad.com/balzer_designs/100-15-minute-balzer-faces/.  This challenge and my art teacher’s wise advice, motivated me to complete my own drawing challenge which I like to call 100 Faces in 100 days.  I post progress photos of my celebrity sketches on my Instagram account almost every day, but it tends to be more like 5 days a week because of my work schedule, in which I often work weekends.   I spend 45 minutes on each sketch, with minimal sketching, and I simplify this process by working only in with paper and pencil.

I also keep a visual photo file of celebrity imagery I would like to draw from. One important note of caution here: If you want to sell a portrait or sketch, it is best to use your own photos if possible to avoid copyright violation, or to visit the Wikipedia web site, http://www.wikipedia.org, where you can do image searches by the name of the celebrity and find out the photo’s provenance, such as the name of who took the picture and whether it is in the public domain. Here is a link Wikipedia with a public domain photo of Cary Grant: https:enwikipedia.org/wiki/Cary_Grant#/media/File:Grant,_Cary_(Suspicion)-01_Crisco_edit.jpg. I have attached my sketch of Cary Grant based on this photo.

 To be on the safe side, you want to choose photos in the public domain if you plan to show your work or sell it or publish it in any way unless you can get written permission from the photographer to reproduce their work.  If you’re drawing is just for practice, no need to worry. But do try to give credit to the photographer if you can find out that information, and include that photographer’s name in your sketch when you sign and date it. Here are two web sites you can refer to learn more about copyright violation and terms: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html, and https://blog.kenkaminesky.com/photography-copyright-and-the-law/.

In conclusion, I am still working on my drawing challenge and I am really enjoying the process.  I feel like I am getting more comfortable with drawing and the pressure if off because this work is not for a custom art order, or for an art show entry. I am learning how to slow down and not be in a rush to finish a project. What really matters is that I have passion, determination, and am willing to put in the time to learn to draw, paint, etc.  It takes time to acquire these skills and is similar to learning a sport or an instrument, which requires hours, days, weeks, and years of practice. I’m trying to be patient with the process and remember that most of what I know how to do now with ease, had to be practiced and (and often!), whether it was walking, talking, reading, writing, cooking, etc., etc.  to reach a level of mastery.

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100 Faces in 100 Days: Drawing Challenge

Back in June of this year, I had started a drawing challenge with celebrity portraits. In this challenge, I drew one celebrity portrait a day, using photo references of actors, actresses, and entertainers from the 1980s. I was inspired to start this series by a drawing challenge which I read about in a blog by Julie Fan Fei Balzer, called Balzer Designs. She called her challenge a 100-day

challenge and she created 100 faces in 100 days using a variety of media including acrylic monoprint, screen prints, ink on paper, ball point pen on paper, etc. I modified this challenge by using just paper and pencil to simplify it and instead of making up imaginary faces; I attempted to capture celebrity likenesses. I was also motivated to do this challenge because I had recently completed a portrait commission in May, and I truly struggled to get the likenesses of the people in the photo.

To make this challenge a daily habit, I collected photos of celebrities from the internet that I found inspiring and saved them to a file labeled, portraits, on my computer, so I had a ready supply of faces to draw. I also did a few other things to keep me on track, since I struggle with discipline and finishing art projects that I complete, especially ones without a definite deadline. So, I coupled setting the timer for 25 minutes and making the drink, usually coffee or diet coke, of my choice to go along with it. I also tried to start my drawing mid-morning, before other activities intruded. For the most part, the challenge has been going really well, and most days with a few exceptions, I have set aside time consistently to draw.  On the days when I can’t get to my sketch pad, I don’t beat myself up and I just start again the next day. And I feel I am learning so much about how to draw better portraits, for one, taking the time to really scrutinize the subject’s face and other features.

Also, just stepping back frequently has given me a fresh perspective on how closely the sketch resembles the photo reference.   On the other hand, there have been some days when I have felt really discouraged about whether I have what it takes to be an artist, when I have to do a drawing two or three times over, maybe even selecting a different photo to draw from if I get desperate.  On days like that, it’s hard to keep going with this challenge and I start to get discouraged. Lately, it has just been the dedication to push through and get it right. Last week though, I felt encouraged about the necessity of making art because, without a studio practice, I can’t have anything to share with my friends, family, and fans.  Nor can I grow in my skills as an artist, if I don’t practice. And not only that, I feel I would be losing a big part of myself and my identity as a person if I stopped showing up to make art.  I would lose that joy of creating something or seeing my internal visions come to life in sketches and paintings.  In the words of art business coach, Allyson Stanfield, “Without your art, you have nothing to promote, you have nothing to market, you have nothing to take out of the studio and share with the world.”  Source: Ecstatic Encounters Lesson 1: Devote Yourself to Studio Practice, from https://artbizcoach.com/ee-1/.

So despite the difficulties I sometimes encounter with making art, I am not giving up, not on this challenge or any other art project. As it stands, I still have quite a few more days to go before this challenge is complete…By my calculations based on my Instagram posts, I have 63 more days to go. After that, who knows what new challenge I will take on… If you would like to watch my progress, you can view my Instagram profile at jsjschmidt2 on Instagram. I attached a few photos of this drawing challenge from my Instagram account. I hope the challenge to draw every day or almost every day, challenges you as much as it has challenged me. Thanks for stopping by!