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   Oarfish. Oil on canvas. 18x24

Oh, how I used to hate this painting. I used to look at it and sigh, in utter disappointment. Because it is not what I wanted. I'm still not particularly happy with it. But first let's talk about the Oarfish, because I'm thinking chances are you don't know what it is.

I fell in love with this fish when I saw an illustration of it in The Fresh and Saltwater Fishes of the World (by Edward C. Migdalski and George S. Fitcher - it's a gorgeous book and I highly recommended it if you enjoy looking at really pretty illustrations of really interesting fish). It's the longest fish in the world, it lives in the deep sea, and it's very rarely seen. Another name for it is the King of Herring. If you want to know more, you can start here.

And when I say I fell in love, I really mean it, I fell in love. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It looked like something magical, like the kind of creature that exists only in fairytales and legends but it was real, and it was so beautiful and amazing and I was completely overcome with how insanely amazing and wonderful the world is and how the real world is so much more interesting and magical and wonderful than any fantasy world ever could be, and this creature, it is so gorgeous and it actually exists look everyone look it is so gorgeous and I showed it to all of my family members and I was so swallowed up in my amazement that I didn't even care that I was the only one who was completely enraptured by it. Yeah. If anyone said "why are you so into the real world" I'd say "THE OARFISH. THE OARFISH IS THE BEACON OF ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THIS WORLD. IT IS THE SYMBOL OF MYSTERY AND WONDER AND MAGIC STILL BEING OUT THERE." So, you know, I am very...emotional, about the Oarfish. The Oarfish means a lot to me. I have a lot of feelings.

So of course I wanted to paint it! And this is when the scary music starts playing. Because I was, what, 15. And I wanted, not just to paint the Oarfish, oh no. But to paint all the things it means. All of that emotion. I wanted to show how incredible it was. I wanted people to look at that painting, and feel all those things I felt. The desire to paint this, this masterpiece, burned in me like a fire. It had to be amazing, just like the Oarfish itself. It had to be beautiful and perfect and do all of these things that I wanted. I had a very strong image in my head of the perfect Oarfish painting.

There was no way I could do it. My standards were ridiculously high, and I had nowhere near the skill to come anywhere close to them. I drove myself into the ground with frustration. I was so scared of messing up that I wasn't willing to do the bold, adventurous things the painting needed to be great. My fear of being any less than perfect held me back. It ruined everything. But that's why this is the painting that actually taught me the most.

It was a turning point. I suddenly saw the roadblocks that were in my way. Saw how destructive perfectionism was, how destructive fear was. On my next painting, I resolved not to be afraid. Not to worry. To just go for it. And I did, and it worked out. And I've taken those lessons to heart. I wouldn't say I'm "free", exactly, as it's an ongoing struggle, but learning to relax, to be free sometimes, to not tear myself up over every little brushstroke, and knowing that everything will be okay, that sometimes it turns out so much better than you ever could have hoped, has made me a better artist today. And I have the Oarfish to thank.

Nowadays, I look at this painting, and I don't think about how I wish it were better. I think about what it taught me.

Something that will haunt me forever: I made the black stripes vertical instead of horizontal like they're supposed to be. When I realized I'd done it wrong I wanted to scream and tear my hair out. Details like that, when it comes to animals? They matter to me. Big time.

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  (full texas sunlight!)