How I learned to Paint: Building Lakes; Patience and Risk Management

*for the initial INTRO on this blog series click here*

Building Lakes; Patience 

 Now, we have probably all done some yard work but another labour job lesson I want to talk about are the tasks (you were hopefully paid for) that take you weeks and weeks to complete.  The endless toil you put into a project and you may not even know the grand scale of things or why your asked to do whatever your doing.  When you don't know what the outcome should necessarily be How is that different from the hours it takes to build up a painting?

On my first landscaping job the foreman had me lift pails of water to individual trees from a muddy half filled lake.  There were dozens of trees around a huge area, each needed several pails of water, the sun was out and it wasn't easy lifting.  I did this because he said the pump was broken.  I didn't question, it wouldn't matter if I did, not like I knew how to fix a pump and I kind of enjoyed working alone.  Far later in the day the pump roared back to life.  I found out much later from a friend that this was likely a weeding out test for new hires.  "The faulty pump game" is so they can test your stamina but more importantly your willingness to keep at hard work.  Because some days, it was going to be hard like that, and it was...

The news did make me feel a bit cheap shotted but I realize it was about adjusting expectations, which has a lot to do with patience.  Then on I went in to work thinking it might be about this hard every day.  It made me thankful when it wasn't but also quite proud when about 3 months later a whole suburban lake was finished.  Fully green, with dozens of planted bushes and trees. It was a pond maybe the size of of a parking lot with foot paths.  All this, and most in those suburbs won't get to know the amount of sweat put into it.  I was a bit in awe of what about 7 guys with shovels could do.

After painting steadily these last six years or so expectations become similar in feeling to those daunting projects.  Patience to keep at, expecting hard and good days on your journey brings you to whatever the painting has to be. And it will be what ever your sincerely capable of at the time but that never means that was your last stop of improvement. The trick is putting in that full earnest effort to make something is finished; at whatever quality you can manage.  

Most of the time when I see someone quit on a painting it was more that they gave up on themselves than have a bad start. One must finish the journey of a painting because it is that experience of completion that helps the next.  You gain not just technique but training on how to mentally take on large projects.

In many ways every effort you put into your current painting pays toward every future work and you can use that knowledge to push you through the most difficult parts of the artwork. Truth is, struggling is part of the process that makes it worth it. 

 not the lake we built but an appropriate painting I figure.

not the lake we built but an appropriate painting I figure.

The Unknown; Risk Management

When landscaping, and in some other machine maintenance jobs I have done, the scale of work can feel tremendous to any one person.  Many know this experience and that there are teams of people working toward these types of jobs but it doesn't stop the arduous tasks that must be done.  Couple that with the hot sun, certain personalities, occasional technical problems and utter boredom its not exactly fun.  

Do you not ever feel a similar daunting feeling at a painting? I'll admit I do. There are many bits in-between the good stuff that are boring.When I think of all the layers needed I slump in my chair a bit before starting.

  Doing anything decent takes time but oddly when it comes to art we often expect differently. Like it was supposed to run on some different type of engine that defies conventional laws.  Is it our personal investment?  Why does our choices in art change our internal dialougue so easily? Do we have self confidence issues? Do we need some boss telling us to complete our dreams?  Is it just that much harder or lonelier with out a team to help?    I can't say entirely on anything but these questions hint at the dilemma our art projects often confront us with.

I certainly feel shame in my painting efforts. Now and then I can't help but think I'm a coward, lazy , or something or other.  Some days I think; Do I even want my ideas to come true?

The pattern is that it is self evaluating negativity that only has one outcome; immobilization.  There is probably many ways out their to get through this but what I found was that when I noticed the pattern and tried to look through it I saw that what I was really afraid of was wasting the emotional energy spent.  Like a fear of regret, or a defence mechanism for the mind against energy waste.  Sometimes art teeters on that social edge of being a waste of time and it seems to me like our bodies and minds simply want to protect us from the possible emotional fall out of failure.  

The crux of it is that it is the unknown.  We don't know if the art will become good, bad, hard, easy, mean nothing, mean everything, or have any other outcomes and thats scary.  Painting is a gateway to the unknown and our personal investment in art, unlike "labour jobs", ups the ante.

Curiously, I believe that "unknown" quality  is also its solution.  Because when building the lake, I didn't know I was going to work on it so much (we were moved around many sites). 

I didn't know which shit days were surprisingly easy.

which nice days became surprisingly hard.

Or which personalities would throw me into a rage.

And I didn't know what knew experiences I would happen to enjoy to this day.

The "faulty pump game" early on only tells you that there will be some crazy days. You all know some days are hard, but we don't know how.  And neither do I but it can just as easily be a great day as it might be tough or anything in-between.  We are hardwired to notice the chance of failure disproportionately.  But showing a bit of patience, wrestling with the unknown, rather than being bitter about all the work can gain you a sense of achievement. Even failures put you one step closer to learning how to make your next success.

A necessary lessons for art making. Risk and patience.  

Art making in some child psychology views is the essence of "hypothetical Risk taking".  When youth are making art or being creative, eg, telling stories, they are learning the concept of choice, risk management, coping with failure and the possible rewards of trying new things.  It opens one to the notion that not  all "unknown" is bad.  In fact the majority of risks we take are small with either positive, or neutral effects.  All possibilities, even negative ones, also have the strange ability to become positives later on.  We learn ways to manage failures and make new outcomes from un-lucky ones. 

Painting is a playground in that light and not letting your self decide the outcome too soon with what you expect to happen is detrimental to your patience with the "unknown".  Give your self that chance when learning to paint and Instead turn that uneasiness into energy.  Explore failure and temper your skills with experiments.  This goes hand in hand with patience because more often than not, (and through the boring bits) you are waiting for an inspiring opportunity to come by. But you still have to take action in order to find those opportunities.

  For the good of your art practice notice even the smallest achievements otherwise you just can't sanely keep up the long hall of painting.  It took a while, but with the more art I do I'm learning to appreciate not just what I have accomplished but the highway of fuck ups and toiling away I will do in the future.  Set your eyes on the long horizon and have patience in constantly picking away at what might become some of your best works yet.  That is why the unknown is scary but also grand.

Final Note

The fear never goes away but it can become more manageable with your efforts and adjusted expectations.  That is todays advice on how to paint.  As you may of noticed these lessons are perspectives rather than shop secrets. I don't feel it would matter to tell you what I do specifically since each art is approached utterly different by each person and I wouldn't want to hamper that with what believe is correct for now, as I am growing too. That said, these are the biggest fundamentals that have helped me greatly.  It is merely a perspective through painting and my life experience.  Take it, leave it, or cannibalize it.    

but Hopefully it helps you in your own artistic path. 

Good luck.