A “Look” at My Internal Critic

June 8, 2015


Left: Verbal me "drawing" my internal critic, or at least responding to that prompt. There are a couple typos in this rapidly composed piece, Gallipoli minus one of its ls is perhaps the most glaring. There are other places more punctuation would have been helpful. Click on the image to view an enlargement, are read the text reprinted below.

If you go here on YouTube, or go to my Official Fake Journal Blog you'll find I have finally posted my 2015 fake journal. You can view it at either link.

Posting the video flip through of my 2015 Fake Journal was delayed this year because of a series of respiratory ailments that made it impossible to do a voiceover.

The journal itself was actually created between February 17 and March 18, 2015. I didn't realize when I started selecting the book for the MCBA Visual Journal Collective's 30-Day Drawing Challenge, that I was actually going to be doing my fake journal. In fact it wasn't until the first day of the project, when I posted my piece, that I realized what I'd begun.

This transformation of myself into "an alternate Roz" who is keeping this journal is all explained in the video flip through. I talk about the selection of a tagline for this year's celebration, and the selection of an image (a gouache painting of a young boy) to be used for the "button." 

I take time to share this in the video because I think it shows the inescapable nature of serendipity. Several projects converged, one starting, one being planned. And in ways I couldn't predict they, merged. 

I also have much to say about the use of prompts, because that was the basis of the MCBAVJC 30-Day Drawing Challenge. 

If all of that interests you, check out the video, where you will also see all the images in the journal—most of which are gouache paintings. Stonehenge is a lovely paper for painting on with gouache, and the use of rubberstamp inks.

In the midst of working on this project one of the prompts demanded a "real" response. While all the other pieces in the journal were created by an alternate "whiny" Roz who stood just a little to my side, I could not answer Day 9's prompt in a false or alternate voice.

Since many folks who read this blog are totally uninterested in IFJM and don't know why I make a fuss about it every year anyway, I've posted Day 9 here today, because it might also help readers understand where I come from as far as process and internal critics, and life in general, goes.

On Day 9 I looked at the prompt and my heart sank. "What was I going to draw?" I thought about drawing myself, because I think we can always be our own worst enemies. But that sly deflection didn't get at the heart of the matter—something I have been helping students with for over 25 years. How do you get up in the morning and start generating creative ideas, both for clients and for yourself?

I started typing. And what flowed out in 10 minutes of typing I placed into the square format I was using for the rest of the journal; reducing the type so I could fit it all in, and missing a couple typos in the process!

This is the "Real Roz" writing within a fake journal created by an "alternate Roz," but I could only address this topic, head on.

I've spent too many years talking with students, and writing on this blog, about this issue to not respond truthfully. I've tried to help people find a way to get past their internal critics whatever shape or form those critics may take.

I think it was important to be honest about what is important to me, what I focus on, what enables me to get up every morning and begin to make choices.

I'm not saying that every day is easy. They aren't.

What I am saying is that if you address this issue head on, you will find your trigger points, and you will find approaches that will work for you and sustain you. 

I am a firm believer in choice. At countless points in the day, I can choose to do one thing over the other. And that choice sends ripple effects through my life. I can choose to get up in the morning and do my workout and physical therapy and that means I'll have less pain for the rest of the day.

That seems like an easy choice, less pain. It isn't. Anyone with chronic pain will know that it's not. 

But having made that choice for over 35 years it is like second nature to me. I can do the workout and PT and have a productive day, or I can literally start off on the wrong foot and watch the day slide away from me.

Viewed that way it doesn't seem like much of a choice. That's why I guess I get a reputation as a cold bitch. (That and some other things too.)

It's still not that simple. I think that people have to do work with their mind and heart in order to walk consciously through the world. Choice is the engine that moves us.

It is important to me that I tell my students, and blog readers, that you can make these choices.

And you can make them so often that they become second nature to such an extent that, even when you hear the voice of your internal critic entering into your head as a quiet subtle voice, you can call him out immediately and tell him to shut up because you're busy.

It will happen gradually over time. Or perhaps for you it will happen even faster than you could imagine. The point is it will happen, because you will be too busy working to notice the chatter.

I have known some incredible people who have faced far worse than the farce my life is. If they can change the voice in their heads, if they can change their vocabulary, if they can walk forward, then so can all of us.

It's about training yourself to make conscious choices.

You will need to be honest with yourself about why you aren't following the path you believe you should be on. You'll need to adjust your behavior. You may need to talk with someone who can help you see what's going on.

You'll have to forgive yourself for things that were out of your control and many things that weren't. Put them down, and walk forward.

You'll have to ask yourself what your process actually is. You might even have to take a couple shots at establishing a process. That will mean some false starts. Put those down and start again. And walk forward.

But it's all worth it. Because once you've done all that, the only thing left is to get on with the work you were supposed to do.

And once we have discovered our process we are able to fine tune it (again through choice). Which is why I write, that to thrive we choose "to place process first above perfection, because process allows us to walk straight through perfection to creation, which is by Nature, messy."

(Sounds a lot like "Embrace the Mess" that I am always writing on and on about doesn't it? That's a rhetorical question.)

I really believe this with my whole heart. And I am comforted by the faces I see in my mind. Not some negative internal critic browbeating me over what I can and can't do, but all those people in my life who have taught me, with living example, how to make hard choices.

We are always, all of us, walking. We choose the direction in which we walk.


Here's the text from today's image if you find it difficult to read.

I'm a verbal person. I can't recall thinking of my internal critic as a face. If I have, he disappeared long ago, without a trace. I can remember the face of the gardener who saved me from a large poisonous snake. I can remember the face of the amah who taught me to make daisy chains with flowers more exotic than any aster. I remember the faces of the men who walked Bataan and survived the prison ships holding me in their laps not knowing that I was reading their faces. I remember the faces of the spinsters who lost loved ones in WWII and even at Gallipoli, yet taught me with compassion. But I don't recall a negative face telling me I'm not creative, or that I can't do something. And I don't think it's productive to try to do so at this point. I focus instead on the iterative process, and the voice I hear when I create. My life has always, since my earliest days, been about framing the dialogue and improving my process. You can change a voice. You can change its vocabulary. You can focus a voice on your process to frame the dialogue. You can demand the voice find something useful to say. You can savor the little bits of each piece that work out well, and then build on those bits. You can always be walking forward towards that goal. And that's what I tell my students. I try to give them the skills to do that—to always be walking forward even when it looks as if you've been this way before. To have the sense to sit with discomfort and wait it out because you have been this way before and you already know the benefits. This is how we thrive, regardless of the walk we're on. This is how we choose to place process first above perfection, because process allows us to walk straight through perfection to creation, which is by Nature, messy. Through process we identify steps; we order the acquisition of skills; we practice; we experiment; we embrace fun. To the voice that says there "isn't time" I say, "I don't have time to have this discussion with you. I do have time to do the next step, to create." That's training. And that's why I choose to see those faces from my childhood that bring comfort and inspire me; faces that remind me every day is a choice regardless of the circumstance we find ourselves in. We are always framing the dialogue. We are always, all of us, walking. We choose the direction in which we walk.

    • Elizabeth C.
    • June 8, 2015

    That’s powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Lydia Akers
    • June 8, 2015

    Hi Roz,

    I first met you on the Strathmore online visual journaling class. From there I found your blog – its one of the few I follow.

    Due to my schedule, I read fewer entries than at first. This morning I am particularly frazzled. Taking a few moments to clean up my email I saw “roz” and thought “what’s Roz up to?”

    You have a knack for addressing topics that are timely and potent – Saying something I need to hear when I need it.

    Serendipity? I don’t want to spend a moment more analyzing.

    Thank you for taking off your “pretend” hat and sharing your real thoughts on this.

    I am now much better prepared to face the tasks in front of me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to face them, I was just feeling weary.

    Thanks for the boost!
    Thanks for being Roz!


  1. Reply

    Lydia, I’m glad you stopped by today and that this was a bit of serendipity for you. I’m so happy when that happens. I do appreciate people taking time from their busy lives to stop by. I hope that things go well and that you are able to push past the weary feeling and address whatever comes up. Hang in there.

  2. Reply

    Thank you Elizabeth. I appreciate your comment.

  3. Reply

    Fascinating post Roz-appreciate you sharing your thoughts and artistic struggles. But most of all, your gouache sketches are so incredible. You remain a huge inspiration to me and I always look forward to seeing your work.
    Love the texture of your stamp pad ink backgrounds. Haven’t figured out how to apply it smoothly myself.

  4. Reply

    So meaningful and so true.Life is what we choose to make of it. Dealing with chronic pain + physical issues for me has come down to dividing out EXCUSES from EXPLANATIONS in life and art. EXCUSES usually are roadblocks, support doing nothing, may encourage spinning one’s wheels/bellyachin’. EXPLANATIONS are active stories about how the ball got moved forward, a narrative of decisions, and a foundation for more decisions in the future.
    Your approach to consistently applying creativity in any life situation is a generous gift to so many people. Even a little work is better than no work: life goes on! GO with it!

  5. Reply

    HAHAHAHA! Just watched the video! I am less of a “SH…..T ” too when I do my daily work! Might be next year’s theme! BE LESS OF A SH…T! WORK IN YER JOURNAL!

    Love the soft backgrounds, the variety of imagery and techniques, the use of each session!

    • Ted Byrom
    • June 8, 2015

    Roz, You have said this so well and so completely. It brings to mind the most important thing I took away from my brief two-semester sojourn into art school, the words of my design instructor, the late ceramic artist and teacher, Bill Dennard, “Art is about choices.” He said that in almost every class and without fail in every weekly critique session. You have expanded beautifully on that axiom — life itself is about choices.

  6. Reply

    Chris, thanks for reading and the kind words about my gouache paintings. I have a lot of fun when I paint in gouache.

    So here’s all you need to know about applying smooth rubberstamp ink backgrounds: 1. Use a great paper like Stonehenge. I think we can all agree when we look at the ink application in these sketches that the paper loves rubberstamp ink. 2. Hold your stamp pad fairly flat against the paper (there is some angling when you want to do tight areas, etc. but that comes later with a bit of practice). 3. Using a circular motion and even pressure you go around and around the area you want to color until you have the coverage you want. The even pressure takes a little practice too, but not much.

    You can also use those little petal shaped ink pads. I only use Brilliance Stamp Inks and Pads now as they don’t smell, dry quickly, give great coverage, have interesting colors (the Graphite black is fantastic) and I can paint over them right away, and write over them with my favorite pens.

    Have some fun with it Chris!

  7. Reply

    Ellen, I really like the way you’ve defined explanations. Thanks for writing in (and off) the blog.

  8. Reply

    ellen, I like that “less of a shit” theme. I’ll see what I can work with. I have had some other ideas but I’m going to put this on the list.

    Glad you liked the images.

  9. Reply

    Thanks Ted. I love that’s what Dennard said to you. I think teachers need to remind students of the choices, sometimes even discuss the choices but mostly just point to the fact that there are choices.

    I think the “editing eye” is a great example of this. You and I might both sketch the same landscape at exactly the same day and time with only a few feet of space between us to change our view point and yet our paintings will look completely different based on the choices we each make.

    And then the same thing happens in life too.

    I think one of the important things in life and art is to learn to enjoy and appreciate the choices you have made, and if they aren’t the best, to work on positive ways to make new choices to change them.

    And sometimes the first step is just changing the way we talk about things.

  10. Reply

    I had mixed feelings when I watched the film and heard you talking about your fake journal, and I realize that´s how I feel about almost everything I have made that turned out to be really important – that I learned the most from. It is not easy to know when one is enough out of one´s comfort zone to be challenged, or when one has strayed so far it becomes impossible to move on at all. I do believe that some roads are not for me, but others are worth at least a short trip, even if I will not enjoy the journey very much. This is very interesting, thank you for sharing.

  11. Reply

    Thanks so much for the encouragement and technical advice. I was given a bag of ink pads so I’m starting to figure it out. You are always so generous with you help.

  12. Reply

    No problem Chris, it’s fun and satisfying to get that smooth coverage of ink, and you’ll have it in no time. Especially if you’ve got a great paper like Stonehenge.

  13. Reply

    Viktoria, I like to work out of my comfort zone all the time (which is why I change papers and implements multiple times a day and do some of the other stuff I do for approaches) but this was annoying because of the limitation of those prompts. I don’t think using them made me do better work during the month. Left alone I believe I would have done more interesting paintings. And they certainly frustrated my productivity, which is something I’m always leery of. But I think for me this comes under the short trip category you mention, it was certainly worth that for me. Sometimes I think the best thing I can learn is a reminder that I am a certain way. It’s certainly better for the folks around me—because I’m less grumpy. Thanks for writing in.

    • Alison A
    • June 11, 2015

    Thanks Roz

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