An artist's musings about becoming a better painter.
Being great means doing things other people won't. This piece of advice isn't helpful to most of us because when we think of things other people won't do, our minds go immediately to acts that are crazy or scary or risky or just too hard for us. But this sentiment, if broken down and applied to our simplest, most everyday choices, can be helpful to even the least extraordinary of us.
The thought came to me as I sat down this morning to repaint the sky a third time in my first attempt at painting on canvas in more than five years. I know this piece isn't going to be great. I know that my second, third, fourth, fifth paintings will (hopefully) be way cooler than what's on the canvas before me. So why am I wasting my time un-mottling the sky yet again if this piece isn't going to make it into my portfolio? Why not just do the least I can to get it done so I can move on to the next?
Because I'm learning with every stroke of paint. I have skills that I did not when I started this painting. My brain has learned about the feel of each type and color of paint I have used, how the colors mix together, how to make corrections, and how to not make mistakes in the first place. By taking myself to the edge with this painting, by pushing myself to make the best work I can with what I've got right now, I'm expanding my tool set.
Because I've wanted to give up at every step. At the beginning of the process, I had no idea the painting could be anywhere near as good as it is now. When I just had the outlines of the tree tops, it looked awful. I had chosen the wrong color of blue, the wrong color of green, the shapes were wrong, and I felt like I should just start over. The brush strokes were awkward and ugly, and I felt like maybe painting wasn't for me, and I should go back to the comforting precision of colored pencils.
Because this piece can be far better than I imagine if I let myself engage with it freely, unfettered by ego. The untapped potential of the subconscious mind is so often stifled by unrealistic expectations and self induced anxiety over our level of creative prowess. The fact of the matter is that most of us don't ever get to see what we're capable of because we're so mired in an emotional stew that keeps us from accessing the truly staggering brainpower we have. Taking the ego out of the equation and engaging one on one with each work as it sits before me allows a situation where I can be calm and allow this innate creativity to spring forth.
Because by continuing to experiment on this piece, I learn to see what's not there yet. The wonderful thing about paint is that, if you wait long enough, it's infinitely malleable. By working on a piece you can't see a future for, you train your brain to look not at what is there, but what could be.
So why do I paint the sky a third time? Because I want to treat this painting with love and kindness. I want to grow it to its fullest potential, and allow it to grow me to mine.