Sometimes overcoming a white page or a white canvas can feel overwhelming. Procrastination is not always about putting off something enjoyable. I love to draw. Painting is one of the activities where I lose myself and enter a “flow” state. Writing can be like awake dreaming. Playing the guitar is another form of meditation. And yet, I will put off doing all of these things I enjoy.
Further, I have come to view procrastination not as a frustrating habit, but rather as a clue. I am not to the point of being grateful when procrastination pops up because it means there are “feels” to sort out or realistic time management issues to deal with or any of a bunch of other issues. But knowing I am procrastinating means there are things to work on.
In addition, “working on things” means making a conscious choice. Do I have time today to pull out the canvas and set up my painting area to get a pass at a painting done? Am I continuing to do studies in pencil because I am avoiding putting paint to canvas? Am I ready to get over myself and risk? Every time I put paint to canvas it is a minor risk.
But here is the thing, it is a minor risk. No one is going to lose a limb or die today if I mix acrylic paint, put it on a canvas, and decide later that I don’t like it. If I write a scene in a short story and it comes across as “telegraphic”, I can edit it later. No tragedy will occur if I paint a figure or a face and it doesn’t look like I think it should. When I practice the guitar in my room, alone, I am the only one who hears the mistakes. And I need to make the mistakes because no one is good right from the beginning. The only way to get better is to read, write, draw, paint, create, experiment, and play.
Let’s consider an example: Picasso. Picasso created 147, 800 pieces of art in his lifetime. He created his first painting at the age of nine. It’s good for a nine year old who had a father who was an artist and taught painting. And Picasso totally had to make this painting and hundreds of others and not all of them were what he envisioned. I know he had works of art he looked at later and wanted to change. I went to an exhibit in 2018 at the Chicago Institute of Art that featured works Picasso had “altered”. The painting Mother and Child originally included a father dangling a fish over the infant’s head. His most famous painting from his Blue Period, The Old Guitarist, has an image of a woman underneath it. Picasso was very prolific and we don’t see everything he created. He painted over some of it!
Continuing with the idea of “just do it”, I was talking with my daughter and she estimates 90% or more of what she creates she thinks is not very good. However, the other 10% she likes and she reports she could not have done that 10% without the other 90%.
Just Do It
Practice lays the foundation for creating better works. And shooting for more, experimenting pushes one’s skill level. I have been doing the beginning exercises for the Draw A Box online tutorial. The creator of the Draw A Box tutorials instructs people to only do the exercises for 50% of the time they are drawing because otherwise people get stuck doing the tutorials, don’t draw what they want to draw, and burn out.
For me, doing the Draw A Box tutorials are double-edged. I can understand the value of practicing making marks to gain control and confidence. This type of practice also feels like I am “drawing” and working towards my goal of becoming more adept at drawing. Also, I get why it is recommended to stretch beyond drawing lines, ellipses, and boxes. Ghosted lines, ellipses, and boxes can be used to create other shapes, but there is more to drawing and illustrating.
My Goal For This Week
This last week was the first week back to my job after being off for two weeks. I didn’t write or paint. Only during my lesson did I play guitar. I drew several practice pages to keep working on the Draw A Box exercises. The photos are scans of a couple of my pages. The week was exhausting and there is no use in berating myself for not doing more. Being good to myself and creating space to do things I enjoy is a better mindset.
In the vein of doing things I enjoy and creating time and space do them, the only goal I am going to give myself for the week is to have fun– paint something ugly, draw something/anything other then a box or a line or an ellipse, and write something fanciful. I will check back with you next week.
There’s some interesting stuff here. One is that drafting requires (at least) two types of skill. The ability to conceive of the line you want to draw AND the ability to control your muscles well enough to get the line you wanted. Maybe drawing is like learning an instrument in that respect.
We probably need to learn to see too. As I work on my German I can distinguish between similar sounds better. I’m learning to hear. Actually reproducing those sounds is another skill!
And practice is work. The brain must build and modify neurons to develop new skills. Doing that takes energy. But there’s also a battle about self esteem going on. Shall I try and run the risk of failing or shall I stay passive? If I stay passive I can continue to tell myself how great I would be if only I had the time to work on my skills.
But some of us become addicted to learning. Then it ceases to be a choice. Do we then deserve praise for the work we did or are we to be pitied for falling into our addiction?
But at the end we must try, or else, (has Joan Didion put it) how do we know what we are thinking if we don’t write it down?