I have been putting this off. My collection of dilatory tactics is vast. I have dodged and evaded but here we are. This is an essay about getting started, and I'm writing it as much for myself as for anyone else.
The two hardest things about being an artist are starting and finishing. When you're trying to get started you are strangled by the yoke of all that came before, and when you're finishing you don't give a shit, or back again to the aforementioned yoke. You're afraid to let go of the thing, you're afraid of punctuation. But that golden spot in the middle when you have something to show your friends, something to dream about, something to come back to, that's hard to give up. So what do you do?
MAKE A MOVE, YOU'RE A GENIUS.
I doodle. I put implement to paper and let it wander, and see what comes out. Then I let it get complicated. And then I let it go as another idea waltzes in or saunters by. And I flip the page and start another. If it's any good I'll come back to it. Or I'll do research to fill in the gaps.
I go through the scrap pile of drawings and collage together some stuff that can't stand on it's own but next to something else I've made it looks alright. Then I add another. Then I draw over it. Then I put it down. Then sometimes I've already drawn the missing piece for a bigger work off by itself, before I even started the bigger work. And I bring it back, do it better and find a home for this wayward doodle.
Then I redoodle a doodle I've previously doodled, and I doodle it better. Doodle.
To get things rolling you've got to take a shot in the dark. You've got to set up a frame of reference. Without a frame of reference, all you've got is a blank page or a lump of clay or an empty roll of film. Without doing the wrong thing, without making mistakes, how could you have any idea about what you actually want the thing to look like? Don't worry about mistakes, you'll never make the same one in the same way twice. You'll figure out new ways to mess up a thing. It's just the way it goes.
You've got to screw it up, rough it in, and then poke it around until it's yours. Picasso did 1000 horse drawings before Guernica. He got 'em all out of his system, to get the one he wanted.
GO WITH THE FLOW, MOTHERFUCKER.
I go a bit blank and try to find a flow, I try to be in the moment in front of the thing. It doesn't always last long but you've just got to catch it for a minute, and see what happens. Action will go totally ape-shit on your doubts. It will go full-on berserk in the face of regrets and memories and all that nonsense. Action will pick its teeth with the bones of bullshit self-loathing. It's the way an athlete does complex physics equations in their head without actually doing physics equations, they're in the moment. They've trained for every possible situation, practiced the motions, gotten familiar with how their mind and body work to do a thing. The just follow the ball, put their hand or your stick or whatever where they think it's going and don't worry about what to do next until you get a hold of the devilish thing.
I find it really helpful to start with things I'm not really invested in. I let the pen wander through cheap paper I have a ton of and try not to worry about how much it cost. I try not to worry about wasting it. I try to focus on the process. I try not to care about what the thing looks like at the beginning, and just be happy that I started.
EVALUATE IT, AND TELL YOUR PAST-SELF WHAT'S UP.
I take a look at what I've got and try to assess where it doesn't make sense. Not objective sense, I mean whether it makes sense to itself. Is that leg in the right place, does that foot make sense with that knee, does that thing work in this composition, what kind of contrast do I need to create, what's the next move. I make observations and decisions and try to get my brain to connect to the piece so it can connect to my hand and do what my brain told it to do. I try to keep things rolling, evaluate too long and you'll go in circles. Don't focus too much on one spot for too long or you'll lose the whole thing. Find a bit of balance. Remember it's a process. OBSERVE, TAKE ACTION, EVALUATE, REPEAT
GREAT. THIS DIDN'T GO AS I PLANNED.
But, the thing doesn't always come together. Sometimes the golden goose takes a shit. But putting yourself in the position to make things, to work, is important. I find that most artists, myself included have no trouble getting in their own way, so let your art get in your own way: Leave your stuff out, fill your bag with pens and sketchbooks, be the Mary Poppins of art supplies, or something. If you are tripping over paints for a month, eventually you're going to get sick of it, and do something with them. The point is make it easy to do your work and hard to do everything else. Don't worry about the results and focus on the process for a while. Enjoy the struggle, and learn when to stop. It takes practice to really take a studio day to an extreme. And even then, those extreme days I'm usually working on half a dozen things at once. Bit of time here, bit of time there, it all comes up bit by bit. You've got to go at whatever pace you can go, and get whatever you can out of wherever you are, say you did your bit, and put it down. It is an abysmal process. It means you write 10 pages to get 1. Crisis is inevitable.
DID I REALLY START THIS PAINTING 3 YEARS AGO?
Artist students have a tendency to commit early, and artists have a tendency to leave late. An art student hangs all their hopes on the thing in front of them, and proceeds with wild abandon almost senselessly, stubbornly trying to slay the dragon. An artist knows enough to know it could be better, but lacks the sense to see that it doesn't have to be on this one. It can be on the next one that you start, or the one after that. Iteration is key. The next one will be better. Nurture a thing to a point and then send it on its merry way. Fill in whatever mud-hole it stomped in your heart and use the shape of its shadow as it's flying away to start the next one. The next one will be better. But it can't be better until you get it going, until you start chasing it.
Have you ever seen that movie where Charlton Heston plays Michelangelo? I think it's called The Agony and The Ecstasy. But there's a whole montage in the middle of the film where Mikey and Pope whats-his-face have the same conversation over and over again. The Pope says, “When will you make an end?!” Mikey spits back, “When I'm finished.” And the whole thing is meant to glorify the artists commitment to making something great, to romanticize the struggle of making something you think is good. Plays great for drama, but it's bad for business. Unlike the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, you're probably not working on a masterpiece. Finish by saying, “The next one will be better.” .
Stick it out as long as you can. You don't have to be thrilled when it's over. But you should be relieved.
Don't ask for forgiveness, don't forget what you learned, just say fuck it and see if you get closer on the next one. Just make sure there's a next one. So get started.
While this was probably not informative, I do hope you were at the very least entertained. If you want to buy something I've made, or send me a snarky e-mail you can hit the contact tab and fill out the form. Nobody's done that yet, so hey, take a chance. Be the first.