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October 23, 2023

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

I recently finished the ink work for The Tireless Lament of Past Selves, and as usual with these work-in-progress posts, I'll share some images from the art and chat about things in life that relate to my art process. (Scroll down to 'The Art' section if you just want to see the ink work on this one.)

Incidentally, my motivation for my art and for this blog has skyrocketed recently.


Fuck if I know.

I talked a lot in my last work-in-progress post about humans' lack of free will, and specifically about the idea that we cannot choose our motivations or desires in life. My belief in this idea continues to harden as I move through life with greater awareness around it.

Like many creators, I am constantly grinding away at my art but I occasionally get surges of motivation during which the work just flows out of me without any effort or input on my part. Why do I suddenly have so much energy and motivation for these things? Why do I suddenly have tremendous belief in the art and this blog when I sometimes feel a variety of doubts and/or an occasional sense of apathy about them?

I was recently listening to a great conversation between William Bartlett and Chris Williamson on Chris' Modern Wisdom podcast, and William was sharing his formula for discipline, which looks like this:

Take the importance of a goal to a person, add their psychological enjoyment of the pursuit of the goal, then subtract the psychological cost of that pursuit. If it comes out positive, then that person will be disciplined in their pursuit of that goal.

That makes intuitive sense to me and also checks out with my own lived experience. With my art, for example, it's extremely important to me to create the best art I can and find a way to share it with the world. I also get a low-key but profound level of psychological enjoyment from it. So it's well worth pushing through the occasional self-doubt and general fears about my competency and what other people think about what I'm doing.

As a result, I work on my art every day.

But as I was listening, I couldn't help but laugh about Sam Harris' argument that we cannot choose our motivations in life. So William Bartlett's formula is all well and good, but also useless because we can't actually choose which goals are important to us in the first place.

I'd argue the psychological pain or pleasure can be shifted in some cases by identifying and eliminating pain points (for me and my art, this involved addressing the negative impact of art school critiques on my psyche, something which caused me to stop making art for many years), but the discipline to do that self-excavation in the first place is still out of our control.

The truth, at least as I believe it to be in this moment, is that regardless of how precisely we can identify the impact of our past life experiences on our current selves, the desire – and I believe even the decision – to act in any particular way is determined by factors outside our conscious effort.

So I fully expect that in a period of weeks or months my motivation will slip back somewhat or perhaps all the way. But in the meantime I am all productivity all day every day, bouncing from work to art to crushing my exercise routine and learning and pushing myself harder than ever, all set to a constant soundtrack of my brutal death metal playlist. My dopamine and testosterone feel like they're through the roof right now.

I just wish I could take credit for some of it, haha.

But let's look at some art.

The Art

Dark surrealist ink drawing of baby head with branches and tentacles sprouting out of it

(Note: you can read about the pencil art for this one in my post from July 24, 2023.)

I'll get into more details about the specific imagery in The Tireless Lament of Past Selves when I share the finished color art, but it was made during a brief period of exploring Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. I'd learned about IFS after its creator appeared on The Rich Roll Podcast, and I thought it seemed interesting in relation to my ongoing exploration of my inner monologue and self-talk.

I was open to a core premise of IFS, which is that my negative self-talk was the result of traumatic life experiences that caused "parts" of me to become stuck in the past, and that digging into those experiences would unwind some of the thoughts. My IFS sessions absolutely tapped into those experiences and dug up a ton of emotion for me, also felt fucking terrible.

Like really wrong to me.

Surrealist horror drawing of baby head with tentacles and machinery

I quickly decided to end those sessions, and the specific feeling I had around it was that I've done all the work I need to on identifying past trauma and unfortunate life circumstances (at least for now). Any further exploration there amounts to nothing more than dwelling on and adding fuel to negative past experiences.

I have so many things I'm excited about today and for the future, it feels really unhealthy to keep looking back now.

So I instead resolved myself to return to and get more serious about a steady meditation practice. Which then led me to Sam Harris' Waking Up app and his oral argument (and now his book Free Will) that humans have no free will. His take on this connects to the revelation we can observe in meditation that we are not the thinkers of our own thoughts; thoughts and emotions are simply happening as experiences in consciousness and not the result of any actions we take on our own.

As depressing as that seems on its surface, the decision to focus on meditation was absolutely the right one for me. I quickly re-discovered that earnest meditation and mindfulness practices cause all the bullshit, all the negative self-talk, and all the excuses for why I'm not pushing myself toward the things that are truly important to me to simply evaporate.

Free from the burden of those negative thoughts, my physical energy levels soared, back to where they were early this year before I began slacking on my meditations. And with a clearer sense of how to approach my own thinking and emotions thanks to Sam's teachings on the app, I've felt tremendous motivation to push harder on my workouts, my art, my blog, and my love life.

So, to answer my question at the start of this post, I suppose I do know a bit of why my enthusiasm for my art and this blog is so high right now. Yet the motivation to renew a meditation practice in earnest is still not something I can take credit for in the first place...

Black and white horror art depicting heads in jars

Back to the art though: ink work on this one was handled the same as always, with one exception: this drawing is done on watercolor paper. I actually love drawing and inking on watercolor paper, as its ultra-toothy surface feels satisfying to work on and plays well into the roughness of the line art I'm aiming for.

My original intent was to only do analog color using watercolor, ink, and whatever else I have lying around, though to be honest I've already jumped ahead and have the flat colors for this one fully laid out in Photoshop. I tell myself that's just to guide me on the color palette once I start the analog painting, but I'm also excited at this point to fully finish it digitally as well.

So, as of right now, it looks like there will be two color versions of this: one analog on watercolor paper, the other digital in Photoshop.

That's it for today, thanks as always for reading. If you enjoyed this one, remember to subscribe and share it with a like-minded friend or family member. Cheers until next time.

Ink drawing of man's head pickled inside a jar

1 Comment

Oct 26, 2023

What great insight to realize that IFS wasn't moving you forward. To have that kind of self-awareness and control regarding the direction you wish to face seems uncommon these days. Nice art piece too. I look forward to seeing the color choices you'll make.

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