10 Life Lessons I Learned From Painting
You may not know this about me but I am an artist. I been very surprised over the years by what painting has taught me about life—and I don’t mean about appreciating form and color. Painting is the one thing I can’t multi-task my way through. It demands my complete and undivided attention. Maybe that’s because an unhurried mind is more observant. These are some things that Painting has whispered in my ear while I’ve put my brush to canvas.
1. Don’t ever give up just because its hard/ugly/looks unsolvable
Because, friends, sometimes I would like to get the lighter fluid out and douse a canvas. My lesson here is that I have simply not completed the task. I am impatient. I think I should be at conclusion but I’m really in the middle of the process. If I produce enough follow through, conjure the will to try and push forward, I’ll see where this painting needs to go. It only takes one brushstroke to give me a new idea and provide me with a new direction.
2. My biggest mistakes can turn into my sweetest accomplishments
See: Lighter fluid
There have been times when I set a partially painted canvas in the corner just to stare at its ugliness. Oh dear god, who painted this crap? When the answer is *me*, I have found universally that if I don’t give up–when I get in there and continue painting, even if I’m not exactly sure which direction to take—that I begin to see the painting form. The paint knows the way. But if I give up, the paint never makes it to the canvas. This process is about trust and taking a walk in the dark. We all have a tendency to be control freaks in one way or another. The hardest choice to make is to trust that everything is going to work out perfectly. Possibly not our personal version of perfect—maybe a version that’s unexpected. There’s also an excellent by product: it feels great to not give up.
3. Know when to say *when*
The hardest part of painting is knowing when you are done. The next stroke can be overkill and take your oeuvre from subtle to amateurish. Everything has a natural stopping point. Jobs, paintings, hobbies, relationships, our lives, the extent of our feelings, patience, energy—everything has a natural stopping point. And, that is not the same thing as giving up. It’s about observing something in a particular state.
4. Staring and thinking are very important
Never underestimate the importance of percolating on it. When I stare at a canvas, I’m not having quiet time. I’m painting, I’m trying new things, and I’m planning— all in my head. There’s something so important about running the game from start to finish in your head before you actually do it in real life. Ask any Olympic athlete. It gives us the power of *I will! I can! I did!*
5. Do something completely different when you’re stuck
When I get stuck on a painting and don’t know what to do next, I’ll grab a color without looking or choose a color I seldom use. I’m amazed at how doing the least predictable thing can jog me out of a rut. The other thing I do when I’m stuck—I will hang the painting upside down and work on it. Everything’s about perspective. If you can’t imagine what something would look like from a different point of view, physically show yourself. It never fails.
6. You don’t have to wait for Inspiration—it can totally be created
I want to slap the person hard across the face who uses lack of inspiration as an excuse to not do something. You, sir, are a liar! Can I show you the thin thin, thin, thin (it’s really thin) line that separates lack of inspiration and procrastination? My friend, when you are feeling uninspired, when the muse is not whispering in your ear, there is but one thing to do. I will share my secret. It’s something I tell myself each and every time I make the horrible face because I have no motivation to create art.
Shut up and do it.
That is what I say. My gift to you. Really, quit your bellyaching and just shut up and do it.
7. If you like it, it’s good
Not everything has a measurement attached to it to let us know if it’s hit the mark. Many things, like art, are subjective. Each person has their own idea of what’s good, better, best. You know what? Your opinion is just as valid as theirs. Do not forget this.
8. There are no mistakes
Two words: happy accident. Just because you didn’t plan doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be. There’s something thrilling about taking control of a big piece of ugly and making it something enjoyable and pretty. And also, relax! Try being a participant in the process instead of the drum major. Your being in charge is not only way things get accomplished. Ouch, right?
9. And that’s why they made white
Footnotes avaialble at “Know when to say when”
This is really my way of saying, yet again, that there are no mistakes. Let’s say you create a painting titled *Super Ugly to the 10th Power*. Get out your white paint. Squirt it on. Start over. There is power in knowing that whatever you do, you have options. Let me make the analogy a different way. I used to be a baker and I loved it. But sometimes yummy things can come out of the oven ugly. Or gooey, in a wrong way. Do not throw out your *mistake*. This is why they made chocolate. Make frosting and drizzle. Yes, it’s a bit of camouflage, you’re sort of just putting a dress on it. Yes, it’s nowhere near the delicate pastry you might have originally intended. But will it be enjoyed? Will it reach an audience you may not have originally intended that will be just as pleased as the audience you did intend? The answer is yes…it is chocolate. And chocolate is magic.
Note to readers: every situation has a chocolate equivalent. Its up to you to discover its powers.
10. Why waste all that good pain
This is by far my favorite and most used. There will always be times in our lives when pain becomes leaden…sad things happen and they can hollow us out. These feelings are as palpable as they are oppressive. I know when you find yourself at this moment, as we all have, it’s hard to do anything that might lift you up. Try to think of pain as an ingredient, not an obstacle, to creation. But do know—it’s not a necessary ingredient. It’s really important to remember that especially once the sun has started to shine. That whole tortured artist thing…not so much.
Would you like to see the art that taught me all these valuable lessons? All my paintings hang in my virtual gallery at Pitchfork Art. See if you can pick out the ones I wanted to burn before completion…