"Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don't want to take."
David Whyte (Essentials p.13)
I was a bad water colorist for 30+ years. I would do 10 or so paintings, take a few lessons and then quit. Again and again. Reading this poem recently, I realized why. I hated being a beginner. I wanted to do a few, get the hang of it and ride my talent to the next level in a few months, a few paintings in. I wanted to start at the third step. When I moved to Santa Fe, I wanted to try again.
Skyler McGee, my "real artist" daughter in law, suggested I try oils instead of watercolors. It was a new beginning. My new teacher noticed that I was the only one, in the class of 10 or so, that was working on a new painting each week and said, "You will learn more from starts than finishes." I remembered a mantra from design school, "Quantity produces Quality." I decided to do 100 oil paintings before I quit. I painted small. If I didn't like one or got stuck, I wrote a number on the back, put it in a box and started a new one. When I noticed I was resisting instruction, I tried to shift to learning mode, embrace being a beginner. About 60-70 paintings in, I started do work I "didn't hate." I found a new mentor. About 150 paintings in, over a year later, I was finally producing salable art. For me the first step, the one I didn't want to take, was embracing the "beginner mind" and the process of learning from scratch.
Press into something close, the doable next step, but probably the step you don't want to take. Embrace the process, the exploration, the learning. Listen often, to what you are enjoying, the voice inside will guide the second, and third steps.
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
way to begin
from "Start Close In" in David Whyte: Essentials
Young artists I talk to are sometimes confusing style and artist statements with voice. Your own voice is not something clever you do in every painting or piece so people with know it is your work. It is not an often too complicated explanation of what you are trying to accomplish in your artwork.
Voice is deeper.
It comes from the ground up,
through your feet, legs,
loins and heart.
It breaths through your
eyes, ears, mind and lips
and only then does it
flow through your finger tips,
Speaking from earth to earth and
spirit to spirit.
Voice includes perspective, insight, passion, expression, tone, phrasing, your body, soul, mind and spirit in dialog with the other. Voice emerges through conversation and experimentation.
You act........ then ask and listen........
Then do it again and again until you,
your artwork or the other has nothing left to say and
you can sit with yourself and know you have
learning something you didn't know before
the dialog started. You start again, knowing that
finishing is not the goal, neither is finding your voice,
both are outcome of good conversation.
"To hear your
you must listen
to the response of the
To understand the
You must first
learn to hear
your own voice."
- Tom McGee
Tom C. McGee, Jr.
Musings about mystery, art and spirituality.