No big deal

Being “high-quality” is the best… supposedly. You know the good old “quality over quantity” adage. But man that word “quality” throws me off my game some days. I can sit down at a painting (or drawing) and think “I’m not going to stop until this baby is perfect.” But then, it’s never quite “good enough” to stop.

When I’m disciplined enough to call it quits on a piece more quickly, I find that my skills improve faster. I also enjoy the process more because it’s less drawn out and agonizing. I recently stuck a bright pink post-it next to my easel that reads “FAIL MORE. FAIL FASTER.” In fact the QUANTITY of art created will beat an attempt at QUALITY (or more accurately “perfection”) any day.

My skills are constantly changing and after every piece I think how much better I want my work to be. The best painters never sit back and think “Ah yes, I have arrived. I have won at art!” Which means I need to be able say, “Hey, this is where I’m at, and that’s good enough for now” and then set the brush down.

Expecting paintings to fail doesn’t mean I stop thinking critically- it’s not a sad or pessimistic experience. It means I work my butt off (for a reasonable amount of time) take a few risks, try to learn a lesson or two, and then move on.

One of my favorite artists, Carolyn Anderson wrote this list of “everything you need to know about painting.” I particularly love numbers five through eight:

5. When Your Painting Doesn’t Work – Identify the problem and find a solution.

6. When Your Painting Still Doesn’t Work – Take a break. Drink coffee. Read No. 5.

7. It Still Doesn’t Work – Never beat a dead horse.

8. How To Know If Your Painting Is Finished – You have a run out of time or have nothing else to say.

It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Painting is incredible- but it’s not everything. It’s just a thing. A thing I like too much to take too seriously. I want to make a painting and move on like it’s no big deal.

 

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And in the spirit of “failure” here’s a piece that I did in a workshop with Sean Cheetham recently. It took my three days to paint this portrait. It’s not a successful or finished piece- but hey, I learned some things in the process.

I love painting. It’s the worst.

Yeah, so I love painting. It’s the best. Sorta.

When I’m painting for a long stretch of time (you’re supposed to frequently take a step back from a painting… but I get lazy, so this may be part of the problem) and I walk away from a painting I am always shocked to see it again. Sometimes it’s a good shock, like: “Oh wow, I’m awesome.” But usually it’s more of a: “Wait… WHAT. I’ve been working on this for x hours and it’s not good at all. I’m a failure!”

And sometimes I switch back and forth between believing I’m awesome and believing I’m  failure quite rapidly. It’s truly a dizzying experience.

However, a few things seem to calm me down:

  1. I remember that I’m still learning.
  2. I remember that I’m still learning. AAANND that my learning time (& budget) has been fairly restricted this past year, so I may be learning slower than I have in years past. And that’s ok. Because generally, I’m still headed up the mountain.
  3. A good cup of coffee.
  4. Posting a painting on social media and having friends and family say nice things about it (even though they aren’t artists, it feels good. And that helps a lot.)

 

Shame & Vulnerabiltiy in Art

This talk (below) is one I watch again and again and again. The times I don’t “feel” like painting or drawing are usually the days I feel most afraid of failure and ashamed. They are the days I fantasize about choosing a different career path… maybe one with a boss who tell me what to do every day, and I just get to check off a list.

But really, if I can just “put on some galoshes” and walk through the shame, I can get back to the place where I love what I do and I’m eager to fail again. Because failure is just useful information about what to try next time.