A while ago someone said to me that they thought that a lot of my work was about balance. I thought it was an interesting comment, and an insightful one too. I do think that balance is very important in painting and drawing in a number of ways. The balance of the values is perhaps one of the most important, in fact its been something of an obsession of mine for some time now. Composition is an obvious one. Even if the composition is deliberately unbalanced, it's still about balance.
There are more general ways that the concept of balance is relevant too. Finding a balance between reproducing exactly what we see and the needs of the picture, for example, or the balance between technique and feeling. But today I'm thinking about balance from an entirely different point of view, because this past week I lost mine.
I don't mean I fell over in the street, or even at the ice rink (although I did actually, and it hurt). But somewhere around the middle of last week I reached a state of what I can only call exhaustion.
The week started out well enough with a good early start on Monday. I didn't get any drawing done in the morning session but I wasn't too concerend since I still had the rest of the week. On Tuesdays Michelle and I now have an ice skating lesson at 6:30AM, which means getting up at 4:30 to catch the half five train. So far so good. Wednesday I was up early again and did a little drawing in the morning and the usual session on the train on the way to work. Wednesday nights we had our usual ice skating session after work, and that's when the trouble started.
Rushing straight off to the ice rink after work without eating was the first mistake. Realising I was getting dehydrated whilst skating and not doing anything about it was the second. Not eating when I got home (due to being too tired) was the fourth, and the fifth was still getting up a 5AM on Thursday and trying to do some drawing before work. By the time I got to work on Thursday morning, I'd already had it. Somehow I forced my way through the day and then still got up early on Friday to (unsuccessfully) try and catch up on the morning drawing sessions I'd missed. Bad move. By Friday night I had taken on a zombie-like demeanour and was incapable of any conversation apart from irritable grunts.
I've always had a slight tendency towards obsessiveness, as do most of the painters I know. I've always thought of it as a good thing, but I wonder of it can be our undoing sometimes too. Sometimes I don't know when to stop. At the beginning of this month when I posted about my return to work, there were a few comments which very helpfully advised me to know my limits, and accept that I was going to have to progress more slowly. Those comments seem quite prophetic looking back at them now and I really should have listened more. They were right. The upshot is that I've been too tired to do anything this weekend despite sleeping like I was in training for the sleeping Olympics. By trying to force myself to keep working I've actually lost time.
There's obviously a lesson I need to learn here about balancing my job with drawing practice. Of course, I could give up ice skating but I'm not going to because that's about balance too. It's the only thing that Michelle and I do together, and she's more important to me than either my job or painting. And if I didn't get at least some exercise I'd be spending my entire life either sitting in front of a computer or an easel. Not a very balanced life.
So what's the answer? Well, for this next week I'm going to ease right off and just do a bit of drawing on the commute, at least until I start to come round again. Then I'll up my practice time again slowly and see how it goes. And I'm going to make sure I eat better and have more nutritious lunches. Boiled eggs, nuts and fruit are on the menu for this week.
But I can't pretend I'm not frustrated about it. After almost a year of painting and drawing almost full time it's proving to be a lot harder to adjust than I thought it would be. It's not the 9-5, I've surprised myself by adjusting to that very quickly. After all, I was already working more hours at the easel than I am at my desk now. And I like my job. What's getting to me is how little drawing and painting I'm doing. It scares me because at some point in the distant future I want to return to painting full time, and this week, for instance, I only managed just over five hours drawing.
I'm sure that some of you reading this are well acquainted with this frustration, those of you that have jobs and families and are still trying to paint. If it's any comfort, I now feel your pain, and anyone who manages to keep their dreams going in the midst of other commitments and demands on their time has my eternal respect and admiration.
As you might have guessed, there's not much to post this week; just another Sargent copy. I was planning to do the usual and finish this one off sight size before I posted, but perhaps this way it's more honest. This is the sum total of what I managed to get done this week, unfinished, mistakes and all. But it's better than nothing, and at least if I manage to get something done I'm still moving forwards, however slowly. And the dream is still alive.
Posted 22nd March 2009