As an artist, I find myself thinking about something creative or contemplating a painting almost every minute of the day. How is that possible? I am either going over a new idea, seeing something that compels and inspires me to paint, taking pictures along a road, or researching a technique or artist that I am inspired to know more about. (I am notorious for wanting to slam on the breaks while driving because I have seen something I have to capture with the camera! Although I have to suppress this urge when in heavy traffic, and often have a brief feeling of loss because I missed the opportunity.) I have often thought of this condition as a unique thing. However, the more I talk with artists and learn more about a variety of people, the more I understand that it is a very common thing. I wondered for a while if this condition had a name, when I immediately realized it did, “Artist”.
Now, I feel there is a little bit of artist in every one of us. Whether it is profound or subtle, we all have some degree of desire to create something artistic or expressive. Some of us are pre installed with that unexplainable need to paint, or sculpt, or collage, or whatever, that compels us on a daily basis to create. While others may feel the desire only on occasion and need to be guided or directed to learn how to let the creative and artistic stuff out. The desire to create remains the same. We, as artists, are not alone. There are others out there like us. They just have different day jobs and hobbies, activities, and thoughts, it seems, that do not always have to pertain to art. It is not the Only thing they think of All of the time, like us.
Having said that, the way we create is very similar as well. The materials can be different, the process and techniques can be different, and of course, the subject matter can be different. The way we are similar is that we all go through a basic creative roller coaster ride every time we create.
You know that feeling you get when you are midway through a painting? The one that makes you feel like you are getting no where, and are ready to quit. The painting isn’t progressing like you planned, nothing looks like it is supposed to, and you get that sinking feeling that makes you feel alone and less of an artist. Well, everyone else feels that way, too!
We have all experienced this at sometime during our discovery of art. We feel at that time that we are all alone and it is only happening to us. Well, it’s not! It is happening to all of us. All artists, no matter their skill level or experience, at one time or another have gone through this period during a painting or any other kind of art creation.
Well, when Joe Miller published his 2nd book entitled, “Old Watercolorists Never Die, They Just Wet Their Sheets”, he outlined and explained more clearly this thing that happens to all of us. He calls it the “S-Curve of Learning”.
Joe explains it like this…
1. From Day One, when you begin your first painting, take your first workshop, or begin your home study, you move up the S-curve almost effortlessly day by day. At a confident and steady pace, you are excited about the painting, the design, and the end result. You can envision how you want and expect the painting to turn out. You continue learning very rapidly, at first…
2. Then, one day, WHAM! (as Joe puts it) you reach your first plateau! It’s the point you feel like you are going downhill. We feel as though we are on a roller-coaster, free falling down hill, unable to stop the plunge! “Maybe I should start another painting.” “I don’t feel like I am getting anywhere.” You get a sinking feeling and are ready to quit. (Be careful, this is where a lot of beginners give up and quit. They feel they will never be good enough. As good as their instructor. They will never understand all of this new important stuff!)
Well, Don’t give up! Keep progressing. Do the next step and the next and the next and work toward finishing that painting!
3. With this persistence comes more confidence. We, at last, feel like we are going up hill again. Making some head way, now. Progress. Don’t give up! Finish that painting! Everybody feels this way. Remember, every artist will experience these highs and lows.
4. On your way to the second, third, and fourth plateaus, ect! Remember: Creative learning is a continual, life-long process. Always be like the “little train that could.” Keep on chugging!
Joe goes on to say in his book, that if you stick with your art, you will experience these up and down periods throughout your career. Leonardo, Vincent, Pablo, and every other artist who sticks with his trade has gone or will go through this. Yes, you will despair, but as grandma always said, “This, too, shall pass” and you will be on your upward journey again soon. The nice thing and the thing to remember, is that you will never go below the last valley, and you will always rise above the last plateau! Keep learning and changing and evolving your art! Don’t Give Up!
Joe really has a point there, a great one! One we all must embrace, instead of fighting it. Just go with it. Enjoy the experience. Let go of all of those voices in your head giving you doubt. Even Van Gogh said, “If you hear a voice within you saying, you are not a painter, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” Silence that negative voice. The same thing applies to any person or instructor that would discourage you from painting or creating.
One of the most surprising things that happens to me is that when I finish the painting, I look at it and think, WOW! How did that happen? And I give God the Glory. I know it is because of Him that this happens! I am almost always amazed at the results, even if they are not the ones I intended from the beginning. I don’t have to always like everything about the painting, as long as, I learned something from it and had a certain amount of success with the process. I would not have known what could have been unless I had finished it!
Now, this wonderful bit of information isn’t the only thing you will find in Joe’s book! There are fish stories, tips on value, journaling, sketching, how to draw people. Joe shares artwork and tips from other artists, pages from his travel journals, stories from old friends, and so much more! You would simply have to see it to believe it! Joe really put himself into the entire book!
Why, when Joe was writing his book, he, himself, went through a period of doubt. I remember a conversation we had when he was reviewing the pages of book. Joe and I were looking over the material, and he turned to me and said, “Mona, Do you know what my biggest fear is?” I looked at him puzzled, and listened. “I don’t know what this book is about.” he said. With excitement, I said. “Joe, this book is about you and your journey and growth as an artist. It is a time line. It is a workshop in a nutshell, an opportunity to see your travels and experiences through your eyes. It is your years and years of trials and triumphs from beginning to present, loaded with tips and lessons that you have already learned. With this book you are passing all of this experience to artists all over! Beginners will find a wealth of great information about watercolor painting. Whereas, seasoned artists will appreciate the stories and paintings of views seen through your eyes and your heart. The reader will meet you for the first time and know you all over again. Joe, this book is you, as an artist, a teacher, and a friend.”Well, Joe liked what I said so much, that he included it on the back cover of the book! I was so honored!
The point is that everyone, no matter how much success they have, will go through periods of doubt and discouragement. You just must press on! When you get to the place when you want to quit, tell yourself to keep going, to finish. It is important for the learning process that you do. You must complete the lesson so you can adhere it to your memory. Then, make changes or try new things. However, you will always have that experience to compare to, to gauge your improvement and future success. It’s kinda like fishin’! A lousy day of Fishin’ is better than a good day at work? Well, the same thing can apply to ” A lousy day of Painting”! I like it!
So, the next time you get stuck and want to quit, Don’t! Just Keep On Painting! And just know you are not alone! We are all right there with you. All in the same boat, we just have to keep rowing! I hope you will be inspired to try something new or just pick up an unfinished painting and jump right back into it again! And don’t forget to check out Joe’s book. I bet you will find it very informative and inspiring! I know I did! Thanks a bunch, Joe!
Have a Happy and Inspired Painting Day!
And Keep on Keeping On!
Keep your Brushes Wet and Your Artistic Growth Going!