Have you ever found yourself trying to re-create something you did a long time ago? Something you didn’t think so much of back then but somehow seems so much better now? I ran across a few old drawings and was marveling at the fact that I never finished them. Why didn’t I keep going? This could have been good! It would be easy to redo it or even just continue it. But should I?
There’s something exciting (yes, really!) about doing the same thing over and over again. Every artist has a drive for perfection, and what better way to satisfy it than by continually working on the same technique or subject? There’s always just one more thing to try, one more way to look at it. Seriously, I could do cloud drawings for the rest of my life and never get bored. But another drive every artist has is the drive to grow, to expand her abilities, to accomplish something…different. Which means at some point you have to let go of perfectionism and go back to doing Really Bad Art in a new medium or technique.
Of course, it’s frustrating to start back at square one, especially when you know you still have so far to go on those cloud drawings! But there’s a fine line between perfection and stagnation. And when you do something new, even if it turns out badly, all the energy going into learning the technique spills over into areas that used to be well-established. So you find out what happens when you dump a bunch of graphite powder on that almost-finished cloud drawing and smoosh it around with a brush.
It makes a mess.
But it’s heading in a different direction—and that’s exciting!
Over at RedBubble and Zazzle, I’ve been seeing a lot of holiday-themed art. It’s one of those things I’ve never seemed to manage over the years: drawing something for a holiday and selling it. I mean, I do the Christmas cards, of course; but even those usually don’t get done until just before the 25th. If you want to get started selling holiday stuff, you need to have it done a few months before.
I guess I don’t think much about selling art. The stuff I make is stuff that I think is cool, like snake skins or skulls or dead animals. I draw it for the sake of drawing. Not surprisingly, nobody wants to buy it. I guess it doesn’t matter (except for that nagging feeling that I’m wasting my time) but I have to wonder: is it so hard to draw things that other people would buy? I don’t really have a thing about being true to myself as far as art subjects go, and I certainly don’t want to get into drawing the same things over and over again. So why not draw cats or wolves or beautiful mountain landscapes? Or Christmas scenes? Is it just lack of motivation? And why?
This is the kind of weather that makes me want to be outside. And what better activity to engage in than plein-air sketching, right? Spending a day in the great outdoors, drawing whatever I see, enjoying the balmy air, hearing the birds sing…trying to make the rock I’m sitting on a little softer, shooing away the killer bees, worrying about the possibilities of rabid bobcats and coyotes, checking for approaching rattlesnakes every five minutes or so….
All right, so I’m one of those artists who’s more comfortable in the climate controlled and nicely padded studio. The great outdoors is a fine place, but there are a lot of distractions for the natural worrier. Still, it’s good to try new things, so I did make an attempt, not too long ago, to draw Golden Gate Mountain. It was within walking distance and easy to find an out-of-the-way place to sit. A sketch was about as far as I could go, given my pokiness in drawing, and even that took a couple of days. Trying to figure out lighting and clouds was just about impossible—by the time I’d make up my mind about something, it would change. But it was fun to see every rock and bush (’cause, yeah, I was using binoculars) instead of squinting at a photograph and wondering what all the blobs were. Did it make a better sketch? Haven’t decided yet.
Back in the good old days I’d run to Mom with my little drawings and she’d stick them on the refrigerator door with magnets. That was the pinnacle of the art scene when I was a little kid—having my stuff up on the refrigerator door. It made me special.
As a kid I found it easy to believe that I was a great artist. Now I know I’m not. That’s not low self-esteem or fake humility or anything like that—it’s a fact . And how do I know it? That gigantic refrigerator door known as the Internet. Everyone’s art is up there, from all over the world, and a Google image search or a browse through an art site like RedBubble can expose you to an amazing selection of jaw-dropping talent. And these aren’t necessarily professional studio artists, but people just like me, who like to draw in their spare time, who haven’t studied art exclusively, who have day jobs that may not be remotely creative.
It’s humbling and discouraging and wildly inspiring all at the same time. I look at what they’ve done and think I could never do anything as imaginative. But then I start itching to try so I can get something really cool out there. Because the pinnacle of the art scene is still the refrigerator door—and it’s on the Internet for the whole world to see!
Ever feel like you were in a rut? Ever feel like your whole life was running along the bottom of a well-established tread mark? I’ve been trying to give myself a kick in the butt and do something different, but everything I do seems like something I’ve done before. I remember a long, long time ago, when the fifth-grade teacher was hanging up the class art projects, one of my classmates said to me, “I can always tell which one is yours.” Sometimes it seems like a curse that all along, regardless of the subject or media, I have always done things the same way.
On the other hand, plenty of illustrators and artists have a recognizable style. Style is a way to success. If art directors and gallery owners like your style, you get plenty of business. But what if you get bored with it? Success can become a prison if it depends on you doing the same thing over and over. What if you want to shake things up and change things around, and people aren’t so happy with your art anymore?
I guess it comes down to the danger of trying to make money doing something you love—at some point you have to make a choice between the money and the love. Keep following the rut so you can get paid or live your life of meaning and purpose…and starve.