You know that thing that happens sometimes when you plan out a project you have high hopes for, only for the work-part of it to take much longer than anticipated and in the process it ends up completely living down to all of your expectations?
Yeah, I do. I’m kind of living that right now with one particular painting which is giving me a lot of fits, but also a lot of lessons.
Life lessons, if you will.
About a month ago I started working on this piece for an upcoming show I am really excited about. I have high expectations for this project, so I wanted this piece to be good. Real good. First I had to plan out the thing. I knew I wanted it to be big enough to fill the large space it would reside in, so I went out and purchased the biggest canvas I could afford for my budget. I also had a very specific aesthetic in mind for what I wanted it to be. Neat, but natural. Neutral colors. White background. Once I got in my mind what I wanted to do, I was excited. I felt confident that after successfully painting similar pieces on a smaller scale, I would have no problem executing this one.
So, after all that planning, I started to work. The bones of getting it laid out on the canvas took a few hours, which was great, but then adding in the specific elements that made it up, well, that took much much longer. There are a lot of lines in the piece, and each needed to be painted over multiple times in order for them to look the way I wanted, and I had to let the paint dry in intervals in order to achieve the intended effect. I was okay with how long it was taking at first, but as the hours and days wore on, I started to get the feeling that I had grossly underestimated the amount of time this thing was going to take.
Obviously I had my first obstacle, the timing, but what also became a problem was it looked, well, flat. The thick lines of paint weren’t doing the piece any favors. I mean, I actually liked how it looked pretty well in theory, but there was just something missing. I ended up working so meticulously on the tiny details that I lost the bigger picture of what I wanted the whole of it to be. My particular style just seemed lost in this giant monster of a thing, which made me lose all of my motivation to finish it. I started dragging myself to work on it, a bit dejected, because every time I added to it in hopes of livening it up, I got frustrated and wanted to throw the whole thing out the window.
Until last night.
After a long day, my husband Jeff and I had gotten the kiddo down to bed. I knew I needed to work on the painting after several days of putting it off, but I just couldn’t muster the energy. I started complaining to my husband about how time consuming and entirely frustrating the piece has been, and explained the flat effect I was struggling against. What was even worse was that he agreed that it was flat and it needed something more. Nothing more hope-dashing than having your worries confirmed! But he did it lovingly of course, so we went, side by side, to stare at it for a while to see if we could help the poor thing.
After gazing at it from far away, then up close, and analyzing every angle, I took one of Jeff’s suggestions about needing more dark lines and just got out a pen and started drawing on top of it. All that work and I was deliberately destroying what I had previously done! Ballsy. But I didn’t care. I had the same thought as Jeff did of what the painting needed several weeks ago, but I was scared to mess it up after spending a ton of time making the lines perfect. At this point, whatever, I just needed to scrap the original plans and come up with a new one.
As I was drawing I felt liberated. I realized that when I stop caring so much about the outcome and JUST PAINT (or in this instance, draw)- that is when the pieces fit together and whatever I am working on starts to look better than I even imagined it could be. I’m finding more and more through the process of working on my paintings that sometimes you have to let go of a perfectly good idea in order to get to a better one.
Isn’t that kind of how life works? Or maybe I should say, that IS kind of how life works. In my career and personal life I’ve laid out various plans and trajectories to get me to some ultimate goal of where I want to be. At times I have placed intense pressure on myself to follow those trajectories so I could land peacefully in my desired destination, ultimately forgetting that the path is what is important, not the goal. Sometimes you have to abandon where you think you should be going in order to get to the place you need to be. So many times in life, and especially now while I am in a season of growth and change, my original plans, the ones I’ve taken painstaking measures to follow through on the details with, are not the ones I end up wanting in the end anyway. I’ve learned to allow for the messier, more time consuming version of my life’s path to take over and carry me to a better, unimagined place.
Isn’t it funny how one piece of art can mean so much? Teach so much? Isn’t that what we ask for out of creativity anyway, to allow us to make something out of nothing and teach us lessons along the way? And in the end the lesson doesn’t really even matter as long as the process is meaningful.
Yet, somehow that messy process is the lesson, and is what means even more.