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Persistence

Wings in a jar

I’ve been working up a storm recently. You can see one of the results of that storm above. It feels rich and lovely, doesn’t it? The birds are singing, the sun has come out, and my paintbrush has been a dear friend again. Art is like that. Some days, the inspiration is there. Sometimes it’s not, and then the question is whether you keep plowing through or burn your failures and just give up.

When I was growing up, my dad was a high school art teacher. On Christmas break, when the high school was empty, my dad would pack us all in the family minivan and we’d have the place to ourselves. He’d unlock the gym and pull out some basketballs for my brothers, and then take me down to the art room where he taught. We made all kinds of stuff in there. My favorite thing to do was build sloppy little sculptures out of clay. When I got older, he taught me how to throw pottery on a wheel. I remember watching him pull and push the spinning mound of clay into beautiful shapes he’d bring home to my mom to be displayed in our home. The first time I successfully managed to pull together something that might sort of pass as pottery, I happily looked up and waited for his approval. That’s when he came over and smooshed it into a crumpled lump.

…Wait, what?

Yup, he destroyed it. Then he said something like, “Good job. Try again.” I sat there and stared as the ruined lumpy mess went around and around. It was a small miracle I had managed to pull a shape out of that glob of grayish brain matter. How in the world was I supposed to do it again? It wasn’t exactly the perfect warm fuzzy ending to the cute anecdote from my childhood. Now, don’t get all worked up. My dad’s not a ruthless barbarian who derives his joy from his children’s pain. He was helping me. He was teaching me one of the most valuable lessons I picked up in that art room: “Don’t fall in love with your first idea.”

First ideas are rough. They are (in my case) lopsided and they tend to be incomplete. Excellent work usually comes from several attempts at the same idea. You get better at it the second time, because you get a chance to work out the kinks. You get a little bolder, a little braver, a little more ambitious every time. The lesson wasn’t, “Your work stinks.” The lesson was, “Don’t fall in love with your first idea, because you’ll miss out on your best idea.”

I know it doesn’t look like much, but I’ve been working on the piece you see above for almost 6 months now. Some pages are marvelous. They fall in your lap and come out in a storm of creativity. Others require a long, frustrating, laborious process. This piece is definitely in the second category. I’m going to do something I never do: allow you see my failed work. Below are the first  two drafts. I dislike them both for various reasons, but I show them to you so you can see what the process of painting looks like. The explanation behind the work will come later. Today is just about persistence, and the sweet relief that comes with hard-earned success. P.s. I love you, Dad.

First attempt: March 2012. This one was simply too pretty for the story that goes with it. It didn’t sit well with me.

Second attempt: July 2012. I wanted to play with the collage of geometric shapes you see in the bottom right corner. That was about the only success in this painting. The rest is disjointed. I disliked it even more than the first.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Park #

    Yo Beez…I love you too. There aren’t a lot of things I have had the opportunity to be a part of which went right…but you are one! So cool to be your Dad, bald head and all.

    November 4, 2012
    • Hey dad, I love your bald head. Now, your bearded face? We’ll have to see about that by the end of November.

      November 6, 2012
  2. Wow, how cool. I love how you shared not only the story, but also the earlier pieces of the work that you have at the top. That is, to me, in a way, true vulnerability. I have been trying to see my little stories as the seeds that I plant on the porch. The seeds are fun to plant, even if they don’t make it all the way into plants. I’m growing them to see how they feel at an early stage, to see how the light on my porch works for them and what their baby leaves look like. I’m growing them without extreme attachment to the results, because I’m aware that I’m a beginner, and I want to see my stories the same way. I’m learning. I love that you showed us your earlier stages- I am going to remember this and keep it in mind. Falling in love with the first idea can make us miss out on our best idea. Brilliant 🙂

    November 4, 2012
    • Hey, Jennifer. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment! I appreciate your analogy to growing plants… I once tried to grow lavender seeds (which are known to be fickle) in my dorm room. Needless to say, it failed. But I did enjoy the experience; maybe something will come of it. Don’t give up on your messed up works! Maybe they’re drafts to your best work yet.

      November 6, 2012
      • I’m hoping so 🙂 Yeah I kept killing rosemary plants, so I’m working on easier ones and then I’ll use rosemary seeds and see if I can get them to work!

        November 6, 2012

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