Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trying to Make Practice Make Perfect

It has come to my attention -- by me, in fact, though I'm sure others may have noticed it -- that I have a tendency to creative laziness! And I don't mean just procrastinating. I mean "not going for the gold star."

I've often told Rick, who diligently practices his classical guitar every night, "I love hearing you play. I just hate listening to practice."

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "Outliers," speaks of how those who "make it" tend to have about 10,000 hours of prep work, writing and rewriting, painting and repainting, coding and recoding computer software.

I may take my time with a project -- or not -- but then it's done and on to the next one. A new canvas, arrangement, crafty bit. Creative ADD. There was a time in the 1980s during the peak of my knitting period that I was turning out a sweater a week, some reasonably complicated. I can't say all of those were made to gauge, that they all fit or that there weren't a million flaws. Off the needles, on to the next! (But I did use good yarn -- it takes just as much time to knit good yarn as cheap and it lasts much longer and holds up better.)

And yes, I proudly wore every single one of those sweaters. (And I still do, a couple of them.) But most? They were just OK. Not good, not great, not spectacular. Only a few things, like handwarmers and purses, really felt like they were done to the max. And I wonder -- if I saw them now would I feel the same? Probably not.

Now, I'm not saying everything I turn out is junk or that I don't agonize over some things and do them till I get them right. I do. (Rick's book is an example.) I have tons of photos of Harry the Heron because some are better than others -- sometimes because of me, sometimes because of camera or conditions. I can rewrite till I'm crazy.

But I've been a lazy painter.

A week or two ago I was reading Vivian Swift's inspiring blog. She is one of my favorites, partly for her wonderful humor and equally because almost every post includes a painting lesson of sorts, as we paint along with Vivian. (By this I don't mean I get out my paints while she is painting but her readers watch her through photos. Step by step.) Vivian's newest book, Gardens of Awe and Folly, will be released March 1 (my copy is on backorder!), and now she is at work on her next, featuring the gardens at Giverny, one of my favorite spots in the world.

As Vivian was working through a painting she repeatedly said, "That's not it."And did it again. And again. Four times.

And I thought, "Gee, if Vivian Swift has to start over four times, who am I to think I can just finish and go on to the next thing!"

I thought of my friend Kate, whose remarkable "Birdiferous" calendar has only 12 pages, yet she spends countless hours on each one. I realized with more than a bit of shamefaced humiliation, that I can turn out things fast and maybe just fine. But not necessarily perfect. And yes, I still am learning but then, isn't that when practice is most essential?

My realization took me on a journey back through my photos where, like Vivian, I found one of Giverny, though in my case, the town, not Monet's home. I started with a color pencil sketch. (Size: approximately 4x4.) The photo is blurry -- old camera -- but it isn't much better clear!

A little blobby. Not a lot of detail here. Maybe not the the right medium for the subject. So it was on to gouache. (I'm working on watercolor postcards, 4x6, for size comparison)

Round one, so-so. The trees need work and it's simply a little flat. (And that gate was driving me crazy.)

Round two, better. I started with a partially done sketch This time I did the gate first -- get the bad thing out of the way. I'm not all that happy but it's better than round one. The trees and flowers are a bit better too, I think. I kept trying to remember some of Vivian's methods and incorporate them. Safe to say she has no competition from me, but I am learning, getting the feel of the paint.

Round three. I began with my initial light sketch and some gentle color blocks.

Then I started putting in the trees, the garden, the detail on the walls. And back to that damn gate. Finally I realized I probably need steadier hands or a smaller brush to do the gate and pulled out the white gel pen and black Pitt markers.

It looks better. Actually a lot better, as I found myself adding more details. It has a bit more depth, I think and the flowers and leaves have improved, though the gate is still impossible. (But Rick liked the wall better in an earlier version!)

Maybe it's on to number four -- although I have to admit, a couple other subjects are calling my name!


Daniela said...

Anothes so lovely post of yours, my wonderful friend !
Sending blessings to you
with gratitude

Stacey said...

I'm feeling convicted by these words of wisdom! I don't think everything has to be perfect but there are certain things that I want to be darn close! That's not it needs to run through my mind a little more often.

I love the artwork you are sharing. You mentioned on my blog that you are taking some workshops in April. Are they for wreath making? I've always wanted to learn a few things....flower arranging, cake decorating, better photography, etc. :)

Mae Travels said...

Vivian Swift really is amazing, the way she shows her watercolor technique -- you're really right about that. Her results are fantastic, and she is so skilled at showing how she accomplishes them. But sometimes the process is the real reason to do something, not the product. Maybe that's what you are working from, enjoying the process not worrying about the product -- I think your gate is wonderful, but maybe you can just enjoy watercoloring. I don't see what's wrong with that. She complains all the time about her commitments and how she's bound to produce something. Maybe that's not everyone's reality. Not mine!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Joanne Huffman said...

I think it's always a good idea to make several versions of something as you try to get it where you like it; but I'm wary of "perfect." Practice is good for mastering or improving, but often is a daunting goal. I like all your versions; each has its own personality.

Joyful said...

This is a very interesting post. I'm a very lazy creator myself (probably lazy in other ways too though I like to get things done and be productive, contradiction ?). I can also go a l-o-n-g time between creating anything new. I just really have to feel like it so I'm probably not a true 'artiste", lol. But I do enjoy making things when I get at it. I'm not a procrastinator as such. I just have a lot on my plate and trying to juggle it all is difficult.

Marilyn Miller said...

You sound like me with creative projects. Cleaning out old supplies I am astounded at supplies I bought and slightly used. Then onto something else. I like all of your paintings, but probably the last one the best. How it inspires me to want to pick up watercolors again, but no must stick with what I am doing. Ugh! Hang in there, you are getting better and better.

Lynne said...

I am learning more and more about you . . .
Interesting . . .

Jemma@athomewithjemma said...

Good Morning Jeanie,
I have been engulfed with grands and love and I have missed out on a few posts from friends.
I love this post and the self examination that you so openly share, in fact you have ignited a spark within myself to do the same.
I enjoy seeing the layers of you, your talent, passion, perfection and rushed spirit. No wonder you have such an engaging smile!
Happy March,

Victoria Zigler said...

I know what you mean... The practice (AKA re-writing) can be frustrating when it comes to writing projects too. I used to have to force myself to go back and re-write after the first draft was done. It's become more of a habit now, but I still find myself needing to give myself a mental kick from time to time, when new ideas are calling my name, and new stories are begging to be written.

The French Hutch said...

Jeanie, I think we all question this about what we do. I know I make so many photos hoping for the perfect one, I never get it but I enjoy the hobby. I think your are amazing in all you do. Your gate looks great and I love the scene. I have a pic of Monet's House with a cat on the fence. I'll be happy to send it to you if you want to do another painting.
Happy March sweet friend…….

bj said...

I have always been sooo impatient...I start something and want to hurry up and get it finished so I can move on to something else...hence, my work on things is never very good...and the bad thing is, I never expect it to turn out great.
Your picture is really nice....love that gate

Tammie Lee said...

I think you are doing great. Lovely to see your paintings.
Such a lovely subject. Lots of perspective drawing involved.
I was just reading a post at Veronica Roth's blog and she taught a art journal class. She mentioned that tracing paper is a great way to start drawing. A person gets a feel for where the lines are, I suppose this would be over a photograph. I would love to have perspective drawing in my tool box, practice. ;-)

Barb said...

I often edit photos many different ways and also edit any writing until it seems I should either say it's OK or quit. When I used to write for publication, I'd rewrite until deadline and then send it off still wishing I could make changes. I still do a lot of editing, but I seem more satisfied with what I deem the finished product than I did when I was younger. (PS I actually love Round 2!)

The Artful Diva said...

and I thought I was compulsive!

~*~Patty S said...

I am in the school of if it makes you happy...do it.
That said I realize that if I were more disciplined I might be better at some things.
It is so easy to be hard on ourselves...we are our own worst critics I think.
Those Hollyhocks with the gate in Giverny make my heart go pitter pat and each rendering is lovely Jeanie.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What's important is doing what you love. It doesn't have to be perfect. But, that said, each one of your versions of the garden gate is lovely!

Bella Rum said...

I love that gate painting. You are so talented.

As for not liking the practicing part... that reminded me that I once heard that Fred Astair practiced for hours and hours just on the hand movements. We always see the finished product, and never know the work that goes into art.

shoreacres said...

There have been many articles pointing out that Gladwell's 10,000 hours is a low-ball figure, and I believe it. That may get a person to proficiency, but not necessarily to mastery. Of course, it depends on what the goal is. Learning to make a good piecrust would require fewer hours than learning classical guitar, for example.

Here's an excellent post I just read this morning, and completely agree with. When I think about the hours that my three-post series on the Presidio required -- well, let's just say I didn't set foot out of the house for three weekends, and didn't do much in the evenings, either. But that's what it takes.

And, of course, there's this: we can't do it all. One reason I dumped social media and television isn't because of some sort of cultural snobbery, or any of that. It's just that an hour of Twitter or tv is an hour less for writing. Choices, choices. Now I've really gotten myself into a mess with my new camera; There aren't enough hours in the day!

Mary Rose's said...

Another word for practice is devotion.
Another word for devotion is love.

If you're doing what you love, who measures, judges?

I've read about artists who deliberately leave a flaw in their work -- a hanging thread, a misplaced indent, a blob of color.

Have you read this one?
"This Error is the Sign of Love."

"This error is the sign of love,
the crack in the ice where the otters breathe..."


Much love to my fellow journey-erm
Maryanne in SC

Naturegirl said...

Loved reading this post and visiting Jeanne! I have been away from my blogging sisters far too long. OMG another thing we have in common! I adore Monet's garden in Giverny! I must get back there soon. Love and light Naturegirl

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Goodness, dear Jeanie. Now I feel so imperfect. Love the sketch and painting, but I'm with Rick and like Version 3's wall better. I don't think I've ever made ANY art I thought was perfect. Probably never will, either. But I'm more about experimenting and less about perfection, I guess. I think you make great art!

Tracy said...

Oh, your painting is WONDERFUL, Jeanie! I think you give yourself far too little credit for trying! I'm a life-long recovering perfectionist, and I'm still learning that it really is a lot of about just showing up, just trying. I love what Mary Rose said--that practice is devotion, that practice is love. I LOVE that! If we love something, we keep up the practice, right? ;) This was VERY fun, my friend... keep painting! ((HUGS))

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Your paintings are beautiful and the improvement from the first to the third is very noticeable. I can be a perfectionist with some things but sometimes I just don't have the patience and discipline to be a perfectionist so I say 'that's good enough' and move on. But there is definitely value in revisiting projects and improving them.

Sally Wessely said...

I just realized how very, very impatient I am while I read this post. I am the worst when it comes to revising and reworking. I have absolutely no desire to work on something over and over again. This is not a trait that I wish to have, and it doesn't serve me well.

I've been thinking about practice and how those who do well do much of it lately. A woman I greatly admire is a gifted concert pianist. She now has a serious illness that requires her to exercise to keep upright. She works out two hours a day. I look at her magnificent posture as she uses her walking aids and know that she is standing because she works so hard. She practices in the same way she did when she learned the piano. I must admit she has inspired me to exercise everyday.

We are given gifts, but they must be practiced to keep them and to improve upon them.

I love you attempts at creating what you hope to be the best representation of what you mind's eye is seeing on paper. Each one is beautiful, but I do see improvement with each.

Tamara said...

Lazy or not, i think your artwork is impressive ànd gorgeous. Like others have said, if you're doing what you love who cares how imperfect it might be. Of course, if you're up to challenging yourself to improve, learning from other artists is a great way to be inspired. I was just reading Dolce Bellezzas post about meditation collouring in books. She's been watching youtubes...

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Lovely post, Jeanie! But I don't think you're lazy. I think with your sweaters, you may have been moving from one to another, but you were still practicing the knitting. So there are different ways to practice. But I see too that continually refining your painting can help you improve your skills. Maybe it's because of my background as a journalist, where I had to write fast, but I sometimes think a piece of my own writing is finished, when it really could be improved.

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