A couple of years ago, as a stranger in a strange land, laden with what I knew to be a bountiful cargo of skill, brains, and the drive to create something meaningful, I heeded the call for entries for a works on paper contest at a well-known art gallery. I knew this to be a high-profile starting point for a young artist such as myself and subsequently underwent the arduous, emotional process of producing submittable work. From what I understood, prizes for this contest included money and high fives. I needed to make an impression. The deadline for this contest was on a Sunday, and by Saturday afternoon I hadn’t come up with anything. I know! But see, at the time I was in between living arrangements, sleeping on a friend’s fold-out sofa and living out of a suitcase. I also had limited supplies. And sweaty palms. I also like to make excuses for myself.
In any given situation where we have to make or produce something, physical or otherwise, we are confronted with hordes of limitations. A lack of tools. Tools we want to use but don’t have the understanding to yield an impressive result in the time given. Environmental hurdles like poor lighting, a crappy workspace, lack of centralized air conditioning. “Creative block.” Perhaps the world’s worst limitation, the Internet. More on that another day.
So you lack the dexterity required to kick over your head? Who cares, the groin is low anyway. So practice your low kicks until they’re perfect and you’ll be golden.
I happened upon a passage in the book Zen in the Martial Arts where Bruce Lee emphasized the importance of embracing your limitations and making the best of what you have to work with. So you lack the dexterity required to kick over your head? Who cares, the groin is low anyway. So practice your low kicks until they’re perfect and you’ll be golden. This is sage advice. Instead of fretting over what you don’t have, a wise person makes the best of what (s)he has to work with.
But artists (this one, anyway, and I know more of them) are not always wise. Artists are emotional. We get easily discouraged, easily frustrated, easily ego-bashed. We’re volatile people with a long list of desires that often have very little to do with reality. In times of discouragement and frustration, it’s an often overlooked solution to scale back on the grandeur and stick to what we’re good at.
In times of discouragement and frustration, it’s an often overlooked solution to scale back on the grandeur and stick to what we’re good at.
So you have a deadline. You have limitations, mental or otherwise. You’ve already shared your intent with the world via blog so if you come up short or fail to meet your goal you sound like an unreliable princess and lose all your credibility. What to do?
Let’s look at the tools, first of all. You have at your disposal:
a pad of white (barf) Canson drawing paper, a small tub of gesso, a shitty brush. The needles fall out as soon as you get it wet. Oh well, it was cheap. a bottle of cheap wine. This is for drinking, guys. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. your trusted ballpoint pen.
What you don’t have:
a fancy studio, a secret lab, or an expensive computer set up for impressive digital trickery, time for experimentation, the need to revamp your entire creative process to try and up your game at the last minute. that’s what playtime is for.
The prevailing psychological limitation is that ballpoint pen on paper isn’t going to impress anybody. The good artists use fancy printmaking techniques and secret tricks and silver bullets and you’ll be damned if you’re not going to have it all figured out in a moment’s time and come up with something fantastic. This, of course, is so lame I feel uncomfortable even joking about it.
a) If you’re only doing it to impress someone else you’re not doing it from the heart and you’re not authentic and blah blah blah this is a contest and there will be judges so that hocus pocus can and should be put on hold this time. b) Not going to impress anybody? If I’d had the clarity of mind then that I do now, I would have realized that it was the pen drawings that DID make the strongest impression.
The prevailing psychological limitation is that ballpoint pen on paper isn’t going to impress anybody.
I spent a good deal of the previous summer toiling away in a warehouse, endeavoring to produce enough paintings to fill a gallery space. A lot of it involved experimentation, but I had the time so that was ok. The final product was good. (Could have been better, but it always can.) I even sold most of the pieces in the end. Do you know what most people said? These are great, but I like your drawings better. Does that mean I shouldn’t have made the paintings? Of course not. I like painting and I’m good at it, and one day I’ll be even better. But I already have something that works, something that people respond to. So why ignore that? Why spend more time worrying about what it’s not, than appreciating what it is?
So do you have limited tools? You’re good with pen on paper, use it. Think, for whatever reason, that you’re unqualified? Unless the fine print specifies pantywaists are to be excluded, the worst that can happen is you don’t get a call back. On to the next. Are you hungry? Go make a sandwich. Are your palms so sweaty from this heat that you can barely hold a pen? Stop working on the project for the night and write about it instead. Maybe you’ll inspire yourself.