I Didn’t Sign The Artwork

But maybe I should have

I didn’t sign the artwork that I did for our invitations. When we first started planning for our wedding, I didn’t have a plan, really, for the stationery. In my secret wedding fantasy moments, I tended to focus on the cake.

Cake is a big deal; cake deserves serious thought and opinions. But I had a bit of a sudden brain wave, just as we began planning. My awesome science-nerd dude was explaining some of the work he does with species interaction to me, and it fit so nicely, and I had an instant, perfect picture of what I wanted the invites to look like. Will found me examples of mutualist species, I spent a couple of weeks watercolouring, I learned to use Inkscape to do the composite, and used Vistaprint to get it all printed. It’s been my favourite project of the whole celebration. And I love the way they’ve come out, even if the (rather conservative) receptionist where I work, who was the only person around to show when they’d just arrived, sounded fully dubious when she described them as… different.

But I didn’t sign the paintings. Some of my family know that it’s my work. Some of my close friends guessed, asked, and gave me soul-satisfying props. I think Will mentioned it to his family. But I avoided telling others, just like I’m avoiding mentioning that I’m both designing and making my dress to my bridesmaids.

I’ve spent what is probably an absurd amount of effort and energy over the course of my life trying to balance a deep desire for feedback and praise with an equally deep horror of people thinking me a show off. I’m betting I’m not alone in this. Maybe it’s a New Englander Puritan Modesty issue, or maybe it’s a New Zealand Tall-Poppy syndrome thing. Maybe it’s a totally normal human thing to want people to know you’re so awesome that you don’t need people to think that you’re awesome. I particularly struggle with worrying that people will think (Oh, what people might think!) that I’m… taking too much; with my math degree and my public speaking and my painting and music and dance, and—yes—with my completely amazing fiancé. Oh God! What if they hate me? Please don’t hate me! I promise, I find myself mentally crying out, I promise—I’m bad at stuff! I swear! You should have seen how bad my chemistry grades were! I’m appalling at history—can’t remember dates to save my life! I’m awful with car maintenance, even just having to take my car in for servicing gives me the jitters! I suck!

Really though—no one cares, right? Everyone else is busy worrying about what I think, and I should really just shut up about what I suck at and trust other people to be confident enough in their own awesomeness to celebrate with me when I’m doing something well and want to share it… And, I’m trying to learn to think this way, to learn to be able to say—hey, look, I painted this, isn’t it cool? I made this thing, wanna celebrate with me? But I’m clearly not there yet. Because, I didn’t sign the artwork.

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  • Sarah E

    Kudos for your excellence! Own it :-) And shout-out to a fellow Lindy-hopper- it’s no wonder you’re awesome.

  • Violet

    I love this, Angela. You are not alone in this balancing act. I’m always so concerned that I’m too “much.” Too loud, too opinionated, too happy, too know-it-all, too lucky. But then I’ve got all my undeniable failings, quirks, struggles, weaknesses.

    While you might not be “there” yet (wait, no one will ever get “there” because life is always just a work in progress), I’m so glad you signed your name to this written piece of artwork!

  • kcaudad

    I think it’s and ‘artist’ thing to not want to take credit for your work or to seem too proud. Also could be a fear of rejection. I have seen these traits in myself and my art school friends.

    • Emily

      I’m curious if this group thinks it is an artist thing or a female thing? I suspect this is a female thing, perhaps related to imposter syndrome or something similar.

      • KC

        I think it’s a human defense mechanism which is particularly in evidence in groups where there’s a fair bit of take-others-down competition. In these cases, it can be very practical to do either the “fat Amy” defense of insulting yourself before someone does it for you… or just not put yourself out there. I think some groups of artists and some groups of women both have this going on. such that others in the group are less likely to be catty (or more likely to be friendly/helpful) if they don’t perceive you as a threat (or as someone who is consuming part of the [in badly-flawed theory] limited quantity of happiness/success)… and hence, if one does something one could be proud of, not being visibly pleased with it, or “taking it down” yourself, means less cattiness in your direction.

        It’s an unfortunate tragedy of the commons sort of thing; the more people do this, the worse it gets societally or within a group, but for a particular individual, it can be optimal to do (although isn’t always).

        • KC

          (obviously, imposter syndrome would also have people disclaiming that their work is any good, when they actually think their work isn’t any good. But I think there are other factors also at play in many cases, including habit/culture and the above-mentioned Sniper Dodging.)

      • Annie in LA

        For what it’s worth, most of the male artists I’ve known (the ones that were very good at classical drawing and painting anyway, the “avant garde” crowd is a wholllle different story ;) ) have also been some of the most humble people I’ve ever met.

        That said, it takes a long time to be able to walk that line between “humble” and “self-disparaging.”

  • vegankitchendiaries


  • Hannah

    The invitations are beautiful and completely worth taking pride in. I have similar issues with taking credit for my writing and as a fellow New Englander I’m also not sure if it’s a regional thing or an artist thing.

    (That awkward moment when, upon reading the essay and the biography, you become very sure that you are friend’s with the author’s sister…)

  • Cleo

    There seems to be a lot of frowning on taking credit for amazingness that you’ve created lately (e.g. #humblebrag, articles about the people everyone hates on Facebook). I don’t think it’s healthy to feel guilty about being proud of yourself and wanting to share your accomplishments — I’ve found it adds a cloud of shame over the happiness I feel.

    Obviously, there are times and places where it’s not appropriate (trying to one-up someone, at a funeral, etc.), but why shouldn’t we throw a little proud of ourselves party?

    Can we do that in these comments right now? Let’s all share something we rocked in the past week that we haven’t felt comfortable blasting all over the place.

    I’ll start — the creative lead on a project I’ve been working on thanked me in a group email chain for fighting to keep an element of the project that he was unsure about. He said my comments swayed him to decide to keep it and he thinks the project is stronger because of it.

    Who’s next?

    • js

      Congratulations! I invited my in-laws to come and visit because my husband really needed some family around even though we are going through some really hard times right now, medically, and I was in no shape to entertain them like we usually do. I also had to let them see me weak and showing signs of weakness to “outsiders” is a big deal for me. My husband was very appreciative and proud of me.

    • YOQ

      This isn’t this week, but I designed our invitations, programs, and other printed material, and they look fantastic. I am super-proud of them (and we’ve gotten bunches of compliments, too!)

    • Emily

      I love this idea! This week has been particularly rough, but in planning my wedding (it happened almost two weeks ago) I worked really hard to fight off things that weren’t us. We had no paper decorations, no color scheme (I started telling people our color scheme was “wildflower”), all the tablecloths were different colors, we made our own centerpieces from cut flowers (and it was easy), we carved a rock and “shared our burden” of carrying it up a hill (we took turns carrying it in a packframe). Along the way of the wedding planning I got lots of pushback (actually push-towards things like gifts going in a wheelbarrow or having a backdrop) and I really questioned myself. But the day went perfectly and, most importantly, it felt like us.

    • I’m the new board president at my church and successfully ran my first Executive Council meeting last night!

    • orienteeringirl

      I am proud of myself for dealing with my mother who is beginning to make our wedding all about herself without losing my temper. This weekend she must have decided that she missed the attention she had been receiving for our engagement, which was 3 months ago and re-announced it on her Facebook page sharing photos from our proposal without my permission. Then when I told her that we’d found our location (no date, but it will probably be in 2ish years) she decided that she needed to make all of her (totally unreasonable) wedding day demands now because she feels that being mother of the bride entitles her to do so, even though we are paying for it ourselves. If this had been any other interaction with her, I’d have shut all of that down in a heartbeat, but I have vowed not to fight my mother every step of the way in planning our wedding. That doesn’t mean she will get her way, but it does mean that we will discuss these things like adults. After adult discussion number one, I have gotten her to agree to ask my permission in the future if there is something about our wedding that she wants to post to Facebook. Thankfully our wedding day is at least two years away so I’m just letting her nonsense about what she wants on our wedding day go for now.

    • Sarah McClelland

      I helped my grandmother make all of her funeral arrangements(I’m a pastor). Huge task, but it gave her peace. It’s also gonna make things much easier on my mom, aunts, and uncle in a few weeks when she goes, and peace is the goal.

      Thanks for making us brag. I needed to pat myself on the back for that because it was hard and I should be proud for getting through it with grace.

    • Brielle Arnold

      I just want to say I’m super proud of everyone for everything they’ve accomplished!

  • Bets

    A PEI wedding! I hope you’ll do a wedding grad post – that island is one of my favourite places in the world.

    I am much like that too: I don’t like to call attention to myself or what I’ve done/am doing, maybe it’s a Canadian modesty thing. My fiance is also artistic, but he’s the opposite: everything he’s created goes up on facebook and emails to the rest of the family. I would be so uncomfortable broadcasting my work, but sometimes I wonder if it’s what I should be doing (and then feel even more uncomfortable that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing). It’s hard!

  • Hannah B

    <3 this! Totally feel this as a musician. On the outside, I'm always so, oh thank you for your compliment but I don't believe you, didn't you hear that mistake in the fifth measure, I totally took a breath in the wrong place, while on the inside I am all "I sounded great right? I mean yeah I know I am good singer, but but but you liked it right you aren't just saying that to preserve my feelings oh my god am I actually any good at all?" But also, just as a person. Many of us struggle to find the balance between show off and just actually fulfilling our potential. I love the invites and love them even more that you made them to represent who you both are. You're just a Renaissance woman!! You should be proud :-)

  • Satsuma Caravan

    Many people are bound to ask about the artwork and compliment you on your wedding day, which I think is a totally rad thing. A really nice way to “sign” the artwork, so to speak, in these conversations would be to tell everyone the short story you’ve given above about how the idea for the artwork came up when spending time together with your fiance. You might even wish to consider giving a small wedding speech (of course you can do this as the bride!) that includes this story, as a nice window into your relationship with your spouse-to-be. Personally, I love hearing about these stories about what makes the couple “click” & “have chemistry” when going to someone’s wedding, since they help to draw you (as a guest) further into the wedding as a total rite of passage.

    • Emily

      For my wedding I made simple, one page “programs” that I put on the table. They had helpful info – order of events, bathrooms, etc, but they also had “The Story of the Rock” which explained the background behind a rock we both carved to commemorate our day. You could write “The Story of the Painting” or something like that.

      You sound awesome and brilliant! Own it… we need more women able to claim “I did that.” I’m working on this myself.

  • Recently my in-laws were lovingly joking with me that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. It became even more funny about 5 minutes later after the conversation had moved on when I blurted out that I don’t crochet.

    I’m proud of what I do. I’m aware of what I can’t. But like you I find myself often walking the line between wanting everyone to know about this awesome thing I did and wondering if I spend too much time drawing attention to myself. I haven’t found that balance yet.

  • CC

    original autographs are cooler are artwork ^_^

  • Ashley

    I can definitely relate. I designed our Save the Dates, and when people told us that they loved them, I felt totally weird responding, “Thanks, I designed them!” My fiance always chimed in and told them. I had to awkwardly accept praise, but it felt good knowing that my fiance was proud of what I’d done, and that he wanted people to know it.

  • ADK

    Yup, it’s a New Englander thing

  • Emily

    I can totally relate! Perhaps it is a New Englander thing. (Vermonter here!)
    That said… this is a perfect opportunity and platform, to joyously announce that earlier today I submitted the final artwork for my own invitations!! Our reception (and ceremony, if the weather doesn’t play nice) will be held in a theater that was built in the late 1800s. I’m using a tracing of the 1880s hand-painted wall pattern as the border motif, and all the lettering is done in my handwriting. This has been such a labor of love, and I’m so proud of myself for having the courage to really commit to the project and create such a personal design.
    (Shout out to On Paper in Columbus, OH for working with me, and Designer’s Fine Press for their beautiful letterpress! I seriously cannot wait to hold these beautiful cotton paper invites in my hands. #stationerynerd)

    Your invitations are stunning and so creative. I’m so glad you had the courage to tell your story here and claim the accomplishment! You deserve every bit of praise you receive, and I also hope you learn to revel in the dubiousness of old farts who just don’t get it :)

  • Kathy

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

  • KH_Tas

    Yep, me too. I’m also designing/making my dress, which is information I’m not so keen to disclose while my fiance is quite happy telling people. It’s a mixture of don’t-want-to-show-off and what-if-people-hate it as well, with some tall poppy fears thrown in

  • Hampton

    I sewed my own wedding skirt. That beast of a dress kicked my ass and I wanted EVERYONE to know what a labor of love it was… But I wasn’t comfortable “announcing” it, and (depending on the person) when anyone asked I often felt like the proper feeling to convey was bashfulness, instead of pride. But by the time our wedding day I came around I was ready to own it and when people complimented my dress it was another facet of the day’s joy- here’s hoping you get there too!

  • May I just say those watercolors are amazing? The biologist in me particularly loves them! Can we see more of them?

  • Annie in LA

    Also chiming in to say that those are fantastic! And you can always tell the story of how you came up with them when people ask about the Mututalism and the lovely fish and the equations.

    My husband and I made quite a few pieces of “art & design” for our wedding, and we didn’t sign any of it. Now that I look back though, maybe we should have signed our (pretty effing sweet) lamp centerpieces.

  • Sarah McClelland

    We might be the same person. I’m designing and making my dress, lindy (lately more blues but still) and when I finally end up in my vocation will teach.

    It’s hard to own it and be who you are and proud of what you do…. And I get not wanting to be boisterous in taking credit for your awesome. I started sharing more of what I was doing because the stress of doing it all was starting to show, and being bragged on by my awesome people reminded me of how good it feels to give accolades… And now I feel weird about being in the spotlight for things, but guilty at the thought that not telling about accomplishments is making folks who love us miss out on celebrating our awesome.
    Because we ARE awesome… All of us. Planning these things while leading awesome lives, putting sweat, paper flowers, watercolor smudges, pretty fabrics and ALL THE LOVE into our celebrations while kicking butt at life tasks?? Pats on the back all around.

  • Mooza

    Golda Meir said: “Don’t be so modest. You’re not that great.”

  • Cathy

    Hey Angela! I happened to receive this invitation in the mail a few weeks ago, and Carl and I both thought that it was awesome. And it really is so cool that you did the artwork! It’s great!! I wanted to do the same for our wedding but I got too lazy. Congrats to you and Wild Bill!!!

  • Brielle Arnold

    Oh my gosh, this is me! We actually ordered pre-designed invitations early on in our wedding-planning process, and they’re fine, but kinda “meh” looking back now and knowing what else is possible. I ended up designed the rehearsal dinner invitations myself much later on in the process and once I knew more about what I was capable of, and I’m way more excited about those than I ever was about the invitations. And there is that part of me that wanted to send out a little note with every invite saying, “hey, just so you know, Brie MADE this. Herself.” And I also had some desire to completely re-do and re-send every invitation with something I created myself…. I also ended up learning calligraphy and hand-addressing every wedding invite, rehearsal dinner invite, and thank you-note envelope so far. With those it was a little bit more obvious that I had done it, and I never made any announcements or anything, but on some level I wanted everyone to know, “hey, just so you know, Brie learned this skill and did all this work and look how pretty it is!” But it all seems so petty. And so I never say anything about it unless someone actually asks me, and even then I have to say, “oh yeah, I made that, but I’m totally not even really good at it, and I was just relieved it ended up getting finished, haha.” And I’ve made all the bouquets, boutonnieres, and decorations myself out of paper….but I’m so conflicted over how much I want to be praised and have them oohed and aahed over versus how uncomfortable I get when that actually happens, or when my mom starts poking me to tell someone everything I’ve been working on. Ugh.