A few years ago, I first read this quote by Ira Glass, and it encouraged me to persevere with my art.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
At the Plein Air Convention in Monterey, CA last week, I watched a painting demo by an amazing artist, Ken Auster, and he gave this advice; he said that yes, you have to do the work, but you also have to learn something each time from your work. In other words, think of it like a toaster; you can toast 200 slices of bread, but you’re still gonna get 200 slices of burnt toast until you figure out the little knob that controls how long it stays in the toaster!
After listening to, watching demos and being inspired by the best artists in the country for 3 days, my Dad and I set out to paint one morning while in Monterey. We went to Point Lobos State Park, near Carmel, and scouted locations. We settled on a beautiful location, called China Cove, because even though it was a grey, foggy morning, the water in this cove was colorful and picturesque. We set up and tried to capture what we were witnessing, and after 2 hours, I was getting lost in my painting. It wasn’t working, and I got discouraged. We packed up to head to Asilomar State Park to meet the rest of the attendees of the Plein Air Convention, and paint with them.
On the way, we talked about the experience and decided that my problem was that I didn’t have my drawing right, from the beginning, and Dad thought he had tried to cram too much scenery into the painting. We also agreed that we had a good time, and at least we had learned something!
When we got to Asilomar State Park, we started looking for a spot to plant ourselves and paint. Dad found his location, and began. I felt overwhelmed by the HUGE landscape of the ocean and rocks before me! It is so hard to paint either of them well, at least at my level. So, what was I going to paint? I sat there and watched the ocean waves for about 15 minutes, trying to get my head right. I even started setting up. But, I had psyched myself out. I did not want to paint in that frame of mind, so I put my stuff in the car, got out my camera, and went in search of these awesome artists who were so available to us.
I watched Thomas Jefferson Kitts for a little while, and he asked how I was enjoying the day? I said that it was great, but I had gotten discouraged. He told me, painting should be fun! You have to make it fun!
I walked all over for an hour or so, watching artists and trying to see what they see. My favorite was watching Lori Putnam. She was on the boardwalk in the dunes, painting what I thought was an in descript valley between the dunes. But her composition of the scene, and the beautiful colors she translated, made the most beautiful, and colorful painting.
When we were leaving to go back to the motel, we drove by several artists who were still working. I saw one painting as we were going by that an artist, who I didn’t see, had done of the side of the road and the front bumper of a yellow Jeep. I LOVED it! I said to my mom and dad, “That’s what I should have done!” I like doing still life and ordinary things. What I need to learn is to choose subjects that I love, not try to do what everyone else is doing.
My goal for this year was to paint with (and without) my dad every week, to take at least one workshop, and learn. The Plein Air Convention was such an amazing experience and I am happy and thankful that I was able to attend it with my dad, and learn some valuable lessons!