"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.
Tom C. McGee, Jr.
Musings about mystery, art and spirituality.