The Empress Has No Clothes
The Empress Has No Clothes...a cosmic lesson on ego, art, and worthiness.
Recently, my husband Peter found me crying, in a puddle of tears on the floor of the art studio. He lovingly listened as I explained that I felt suddenly, woefully unprepared for my upcoming event at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. It was coming up in three short days.
My original plan had been to pack up all my paints, and paintings-in-progress, and head out to Sitka. My original plan acknowledged that I wouldn’t have a whole lot of new, finished paintings with me at this event. New work for the Sitka show wasn’t feasible due to my Spring teaching schedule. I’m very focused on the body of work that I’ll be developing for the rest of this year as a part of my Let’s Go Deep program - and I’m very excited about it. But the fact is, there aren’t new paintings to show for it at the moment, not yet.
In my original plan for Sitka, I would do live painting demonstrations and interact with the visitors at the show - that would be plenty. But suddenly, with the show just days away, this did not feel like enough. My ego reared up big-time: I felt that I couldn’t go to Sitka without a whole bunch of paintings. I told my husband that I felt like the emperor who had no clothes—naked, guilty, embarrassed, and needing to do something to save my pride.
I began a frenzied remedy. I ordered large reproductions of my most beloved paintings from the past, as well as many smaller prints. In the end, I ordered so much artwork that it was a challenge to fit it into my car, and later, to find a place to display it in the space at the Sitka Center!
I know so many people who hit this panic threshold when a big event approaches. Suddenly the fear of scarcity or of inadequacy hits, and we completely overcompensate!
As I frantically gathered my artwork and prepared this elaborate last-minute Plan B, I stopped for a moment to conduct a daily ritual: I pulled a card from my Warrior Card deck. These cards are always spot on, and this one was no exception.
The card I pulled was The Shadow, and I got goosebumps as I read the description on the card: “You are the emperor with no clothes.” It’s like it had heard me mention that exact phrase to my husband earlier that day. The card told the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which the emperor hires swindlers to make him a beautiful outfit. Playing into his pride, they pretend to make a set of clothing that is invisible to anyone who is either ignorant or unfit. The emperor himself cannot see the imaginary clothing, but he’s afraid to expose his own ignorance. The emperor parades naked before all the town. Finally, an innocent child declares, “The emperor has no clothes!” Suddenly everyone—including the emperor—realizes the truth. The emperor has been blinded by pride and now stands naked and humiliated. But these cards are all about healing, and the card went on to explain the powerful lesson behind this age-old tale:
The card read, “Today you may be feeling unworthy, not good enough, unlovable. Know that everyone can see you (and loves you) for exactly who you are. You do not need a fancy outfit to hide your true nature.” Oof. It really resonated with me. I had a good cry and I spent some time journaling about my feelings. I often feel extremely unworthy right before a show or event. This was a classic example and the card helped me realize what I was doing.
I packed up all of my materials for the weekend at Sitka—both the painting demonstration supplies, and all the extra artwork. My car was packed to the gills as I headed out! I was up until the wee hours the night I arrived, unloading, setting up, stringing hanging wire onto the newly printed canvases, and framing prints.
When I finally made it to my cabin several hours past midnight, I was sweaty and spent. I made an ironic discovery: I had forgotten my duffel bag. I only had the clothes on my back for the weekend! But I was too tired to get the joke yet. I hand-washed the clothes, hung them to dry, and went to sleep for the night. I wore the same outfit for my show the next morning. It was my birthday.
After the show the next day, one of the staff at Sitka heard my funny tale of forgetting to bring my duffel bag, and offered me a bathrobe and the use of a washing machine at the Sitka Center. As my parents FaceTimed with me to wish me a happy birthday, I explained to them why I was parading around in a borrowed robe while my one and only outfit was in the wash. They had a good laugh and my stepdad Ken exclaimed, “You’re the emperor with no clothes!”
It wasn’t until that moment that I fully understood that this was a cosmic lesson—maybe I really needed to hear it three times in a week - and maybe my subconscious was in on the game, making me literally forget my clothes.
The show was all about the Sitka Center; it wasn’t about me. My super-chill Plan A was a great idea, (to show up, paint, and be present at the event) and at the last minute I let my insecurities—my ego, my empress—let me feel like I wasn’t enough without a fancy accoutrement of work to flank me. I exahusted myself at the last minute scrambling to frame and prep a whole pile of extra work. I let myself feel unworthy of just showing up as myself with only paint by my side.
That feeling of unpreparedness, of not being enough, and needing to do more has been an issue for me. It comes up before I teach, before I do a show, and before I do a launch online. It drives me—but it can also drive me over the top into over-delivering and exhaustion. I don’t think that I’m real about that often because I’m ashamed about it.
This cosmic joke has more than a punch line for me—it has a message I need to keep in mind next time I catch myself in a similar situation. The fact is, I am good enough whether I have completed paintings to show or not. I can’t fool anyone, and I can only be myself—and being present as myself is what matters most. There are people who love me and my work, despite the messy aspects of me and my life.
This photo of me in the borrowed robe will be posted in my studio, as a reminder to keep my ego in check. Can I go to an event without going over the top? I hope it’ll be a helpful reminder. Have you found yourself swaddling yourself with layer upon layer of ego padding? How do you keep your own empress in check?
In related news: A special opportunity to purchase large reproductions of my artwork!
If you read my story above, "The Empress Has No Clothes" you'll understand why I now have an excess of life-sized reproductions of my most popular past paintings. If you've been wanting to get a painting of mine, but cannot afford an original, this is a wonderful opportunity to collect a large piece of work.
These reproductions are so nice that they are easily mistaken for originals. They are printed with archival inks on canvas and paper, as large as the original paintings. The canvas prints are stretched and wrapped over 1.5" deep gallery-style stretcher bars, and coated with a UV protective topcoat. They come ready-to hang. Prints on paper are printed on a nice, thick, 100% cotton Moab fine art paper and look beautiful framed behind glass. Take a look at what I have in stock and pick something out for your home.