May 25, 2021
I've learned a few nifty tricks over the years and I want to pass them along to anyone who is just starting out, or, who perhaps just needs some inspiration.
As I told the freshmen class at NAU (they were all born after 9•11!), when I was in high school I so desperately wanted a professional artist to come visit our school and tell me what I could do to become an artist, but no one ever came and so I made a vow that if I ever did learn anything I would share it. So, here you go.
Lesson #1: Inspiration Is Not The Answer
If you are waiting for inspiration to create, or draw or start a painting, you will never make it. The biggest factor for success is to draw and paint—without hope, without despair—until the cows come home. I actually learned this on my long quest to make good on the audacious claim that, "Every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in him." It's both funny and outrageous, and I laughed at it and thought it was probably true, but I finally got tired of hearing this bromide and decided to do six "bad" drawings a day until I completed the task and see if it made a difference.
Of course, it did, but not in the way I thought it would.
The very fact that I was trying to do bad drawings, freed me to produce some very loose suprises, like this page of quick color landscapes. The amazing thing is I couldn't have done this if I tried!
Daily Whip Outs: "August, 2009 Sketches"
Lesson #2: Let Go
When you are learning any skill you invariably use every muscle in your body which overloads your circuits and usually leads to initial failure. Think water skiing. With practice, you learn which muscles are actually doing the task and you begin to relax the rest of your body and that's good enough to be proficient, but it's still not enough to be a master. In order to master a medium you need to relax to the point of total sloppiness, BUT only after you have mastered the holding on part. I will show you a good example of this in a minute.
"Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings."
Lesson #3: Everything Is Counterintuitive
I swear, the damn duality in this world makes me dizzy. I can't think of a single thing I've learned that didn't have an opposite dynamic that was just as legitimate. You know, like this:
"An arrow can only be launched forward by pulling it backward."
—Old Vaquero Saying
Another example: when you go to college and study fine art, like I did, you invariably learn how to build a painting from the ground up, adding loose washes and light detail and then locking it down, step by step, until it is "finished." If you are ever going to be anything more than a hack, you need to learn how to do that, but then take out everything until it is even better. As one wise artist put it, "You need to know what to leave out." Or, to put it even more succinctly:
Lesson #4: Perfection Is A Curse
Are there any perfect pieces of art in this world? None so far. So stop chasing that insane game. It's an ego crusher and a dead end and it's probably ruined more budding artists than anything else. However, you need to be open to the idea of aiming to be the very best (see Lesson #3).
Oh, and stay open to all ideas.
Lesson #5: The Road Is The Only Thing
Growing up on Route 66 I had a passion to make it to the promise land. I wanted someone to tell me how to take the right roads and arrive at the dream where I would make art that mattered and more importantly, where I could marry a blond and drive an XKE. Okay, I was very immature, but I did marry the blond. Anyway, when I actually met the most successful artist I have ever known, I asked him what was more satisfying, the road getting to the top, or arriving at the top and without hesitation he said, "The road is the only thing."
So, get out there on that road, and make bad drawings until the cows come home, draw with your opposite hand, set out to actually ruin a painting or two (I do this almost every single day) Then look at that drawing and actually laugh at how bad it is. This is so healthy and cleansing you will be shocked at how good it feels.
Good luck. I've had more than my share of luck, and I firmly believe part of my penance is to give some lucky guideposts to you.
Daily Whip Out On Letting Go:
"The Baja Hinny"