The Danger of Getting Complacent
Just when I think I'm getting somewhere, just when I think that all the practice is paying off and I'm finally getting better, my utter lack of talent and self discipline jumps up and bites me hard on the arse.
Ok, maybe that's a little harsh, but I'm deeply annoyed with myself at how badly I messed my latest portrait drawing up. Not just because it's a bad drawing. St. Luke (the patron saint of painters) knows exactly how many bad drawings I've done over the last few months, and he ran out of fingers and toes counting them. The reason I'm so annoyed with myself is that I let my guard down, I forgot that I'm just practicing, and I tried to produce a finished piece.
Let me set the scene. A while ago I was getting so frustrated with my appalling portrait drawings that I decided to drop tone completely and to work only in line, to cut down the amount of stuff I had to deal with and to improve my ability to see shapes and to improve the quality of my line. I hoped that by simplifying the drawings I would get away from being precious about the work, accept that the drawings were just practice and stop trying to do stuff I wasn't capable of yet. Also Michelle was getting a bit tired of me stomping around the place swearing under my breath every time I did a drawing. The 'line only' diet seemed to have a positive effect. After a producing some very strange drawings for a while, I seemed to get things under control and my line and my accuracy improved. So far so good.
A few days ago I decided that I was doing ok, and I was chomping at the bit to put some tone back into my drawings, to see if there was any improvement, so I drew this self portrait. Now, that might not seem like such a great drawing, but compared to some of the wild messes I was turning out before Christmas I thought I could see a definite improvement. I really thought I'd got to a new level, and I was looking forward to doing some more portrait drawings. For a while now, I've been deliberately not trying to produce finished drawings, because I just wasn't ready. Kind of like trying to play a Bach prelude on the violin when you can barely hold the bow right. It's a deeply frustrating experience.
But I'll admit it, after that self portrait drawing I was feeling a bit full of myself, and all of my resolve went out of the window. I persuaded Michelle to sit for me. I spent a long time setting up the pose, controlling the light carefully, putting Michelle up on a raised chair, all the stuff you're supposed to do. I tried to produce a finished drawing. I fell flat on my face.
Here's the drawing. As you can see, I''ve had to tape it back together after tearing it up in a fit of pique.
So what went wrong? I think the main problem is that I forgot what I was doing, I forgot what I'd learned from the practice I've been doing so far, and I went right back to where I was last year. I got complacent.
Firstly, I rushed the measuring and drawing out stage. After the first 20 minute sitting, I went straight in and started filling in the main tone blocks. I should know that my eye is nowhere near strong enough to produce an accurate layout of a drawing in that time, it takes me at least a couple of hours and a lot of correcting just to get somewhere near.
Secondly, I allowed myself to get sucked into fussing over details, like the eyes, before I'd got everything in the right place. Even when I could feel my frustration with the drawing mounting, I kept on beating my head against the details, forgetting about the big picture. I didn't, as far as I can remember, once take the time to stand back and take a critical look at what I was doing.
So this has turned out to be something of a cautionary tale for me. What I should have done is spent the whole of the two hours I spent on this drawing just roughing it out, producing a reasonably accurate line schematic, like the drawing of Clytie, and when and if I was satisfied with that, moved on either to another drawing, or got Michelle to sit for me again later and done some more. It's not as if she's going anywhere, we're getting married next week. In the mean time, I've learned yet another valuable lesson, that if I ever start to feel good about what I'm doing, that's when I'm most vulnerable to getting ahead of myself and having a piece of work fall apart on me. I'm going to get "You're not ready yet" tattooed in reverse on my forehead, just to remind myself for when I'm doing a self portrait in the mirror.
Lesson learned. Again.
Posted 1st August 2006