Don't Make Two Pictures

The thing about being on a model stand is that you overhear everyone.  I’m a consummate eavesdropper.  I pick up bits of gossip, personal stories about family and friends, bad jokes, and inane chatter about paint brand preferences.  Sometimes, I even overhear good advice.

Just recently I heard an artist say, “don’t paint two paintings.”  He didn’t literally mean two canvases.  He meant the painting in front of you on the paper, and the perfect one in your mind’s eye that you’re comparing it to.  It’s better to just see and work on what’s in front of you.  Don’t try to force it to match some ideal in your head.  

So of course I wondered how could I apply it to modeling.

I’ve never been completely happy with my underwater modeling.  Even more so than on land, it’s hard to get the results that I want.  Facial expression, pose, even hair placement—sometimes the water just has a different idea than I do.  And the water usually wins.  It’s bigger.

But I realized I was making the same mistake.  I was making two pictures: both the image I was actually shooting, and the perfect one in my head I was trying to force myself to match.  And because I was trying to look exactly like the image in my head—and failing—I was always just a little unhappy with what I produced, no matter how good it actually was on its own merits.

So this pool season I tried something new.  Rather than picturing the ideal image I wanted to make before I went under the water, I decided to, ahem, go with the flow.  I would just react to what the water gave me rather than trying to force anything to happen. 

I’ve been much happier with the results.  My facial expressions have been less distorted, my poses look more natural, and I swear even my hair is behaving better.  Any underlying tension disappeared from the images.  

All went better when I started concentrating on what I was actually doing, rather than fretting about the perfect version in my head.

Underwater modeling was so successful with this, I wondered what else I could apply it to.  It turns out, quite a bit.  Blog posts, fiction writing, my music—all of them went better when I started concentrating on what I was actually doing, rather than fretting about the perfect version in my head.

The thing about the version in your head is that, at best, you can only approximate it.   There will always be some imperfection you can find to judge yourself by. 

It took me a while to figure this out, but this advice worked on a larger scale, too. 

I’ve been working full time as a model for the last five years, and I still don’t feel like a “real” model.  Modeling was a happy accident.  It’s something fulfilling and artistic that I enjoy beyond measure, but never planned for.  If you had told twelve year old Katja that she would be a model, she would never have believed you. 

I also have a horrible habit of making a second painting of my own life.  I made my first life list when I was twelve.  I’ve always known what I wanted to accomplish—and modeling was never previously part of that.

It’s certainly not bad to know what you want, but it is a problem when it gets in the way of being happy about what you’re actually doing.  Because my life hadn’t turned out how I planned, I felt like I didn’t fit in it.  I kept comparing my beautiful reality to the impossibly precise picture I’d built up in my head.

I have a feeling that self-doubt and I are going to be on a first name basis for a long while yet.  But at least now when I feel it, I have a reminder to look at my life how it is, and not how I planned it to be.  That’s not bad for a little eavesdropping.