“Practice transforms a skill into an art” ~Siddharth Joshi
In first grade, we were each given an assignment to create a little book (my first written book!). It was called, ALL ABOUT ME, by Wendy Barnette. (My maiden name and yes, I spelled my name with a “y” back then, but that is a story for another day.)
The book had about ten pages or so, and was filled with thrilling and enchanting tales like, my name, where I lived, when I was born, who my family was…The sort of things that you could politely read if you were an aunt or uncle and then, never think of again.
Except for the art.
We all had to do our own illustrations. I wish I still had that book to use for the picture for this post. I’m sure a therapist would have had a field day with the family picture. All of us had one giant eye protruding out of the center of our heads. My baby brother had no arms, nor a nose on his cyclops face, and my sister’s hands (at least she had them) were bunched up with fists as if she were about to punch the world (come to think of it, that part might have been accurate at the time). My father was a giant, my mother’s arms were flying above her head and her hair looked like it was on fire. I (who had probably spent very little time in front of a mirror) wore a dress that looked like a bell, had a smile that went into my giant black hair and only one arm swinging wildly in the air.
I thought the picture was awesome. I thought I was an excellent artist. I brought that book home, along with its other nine illustrated pages and beamed as I watched my parents’ faces fill with dismay as they turned it every which way trying to decipher what was supposed to be what.
You might think that would be the end of my interest is art. But no. I have continued my precarious adventure with art ever since. It still has its ups and downs. As well as long periods of breaks while I’ve been knee-deep in children, life and careers.
A few years ago, I decided to get back into painting. So when a friend of mine, Sheri Ponzi, began a challenge to do 200 paintings in 200 days and put out a challenge for friends to follow along, I jumped on it. While my busy life isn’t conducive to promising to paint every single day for 200 days, I figured I could paint 200 paintings in 200 days.
I welcomed the challenge. And I didn’t set out with an expectation of making great art, only that I would actually make the art, to put in the time, try new things and focus on the paint.
Today was the #50 painting out of the 200 days. Some of them have turned out better than I could have ever imagined. I’ve had inquiries asking if they are for sale. ( They are.) I’ve been learning every single day and trying new techniques. I’m meeting other wonderful artists who are encouraging, helpful and becoming friends. Forty-nine of the days have been everything I could have asked for.
And then I got to day fifty.
Day fifty’s painting was beautiful. I was on a roll! I loved it! It was the best one I had done so far! I was so excited! My son happened by on his way to doing something else and said, “Hey mom, that looks really nice, you are getting really good!”
My spirit soared. My heart leaped for joy. I picked up my brush. I added more paint. Red. Vibrant, brilliant red. How about some Cerulean Blue? Yellow! A splash here, a splash there… Awesome!
So good in fact, that I wanted to preserve it forever. I hunted down that bottle of gloss varnish I had purchased. I waited not-so-patiently for the painting to dry. Then I poured it on. And on. And a little more for good measure.
Then went to bed expecting to wake up to a high gloss vision of beauty.
That didn’t happen.
What did happen is that I woke up to a muddy, dimpled, cracked ugly disaster. Even that wasn’t enough to keep my hands off the canvas. I picked up a palette knife and tried to smooth out a cracked section. It caught a corner and up came a crater-sized chunk of goo right in the middle.
My best painting, my Day 50 Awesome, Exciting Painting officially Sucked.
I was laughing, but I was also sad. I was appalled that I had mangled up such a beautiful painting. All that paint…the cost…the voices in my head had a field day chattering on and on.
And my son walked by again.
“What happened to your painting?”
I told him.
“What does that teach you? he asked. (Wonder where he learned to ask that question?)
“I don’t know,” I said, “I haven’t gotten that far yet, what do you think it should teach me?”
“Don’t be greedy,” he said.
“Don’t be greedy?” I asked slowly, looking down at my muddy disaster. “I was greedy?”
“Yeah, You had something beautiful, and you weren’t satisfied with it. You had to push for something more.”
He walked away.
I stood there.
The funny thing is, I had just finished teaching a class which had a section on “The Sweet Spot of Doing Your Best”. Not pushing past that moment when you are truly in your zone, truly at your best. Not pushing into that overloaded, exhausted, depleted place. Conversely, when we are doing less than our best, we feel unchallenged, unfulfilled, and days, months, years can go by without even attempting our true joys and gifts.
I had definitely overstepped my best on Day Fifty. However- that did not mean that I stopped!
Though this happened a few years ago now, it has never stopped me from going past my “Best” moment, either in art or life. I discovered there worse issues than overreaching my “Best” and that was not taking action at all. The mindset of “Oh no, what if I go further and ruin the whole thing? Maybe I should stop while I am ahead?” was a much larger danger to my art than messing up a few paintings.
Here is the problem with that kind of thinking, in life and in art:
If we do not take action for fear of failing, we have already failed.
The truth is, I mess up paintings. I mess up writing. I mess up life. Not everything I do is my “Best” quality. But I keep on trying. I keep on growing. I keep on moving forward. That is all we can ever do.
Feeling stuck? The solution is in taking action. Whether it is your best or not. Just start moving forward. Will you be greedy? Will you be wrong? Will you make something ugly?
Chances are high.
But not as high as the chances of failing while stuck!