I’ve been working on this painting for five days now.
At the beginning, I was feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety, as I usually do.
Excitement at what the picture could be, and anxiety that I won’t be able to get it there.
When I’m working on a painting for more than a day, somewhere around the middle things change. There are moments when I’m lost in what I’m doing and the paint flows.
But there are also times when it becomes hard to keep going. Even moments of despondency, sometimes. Usually followed by excitement again when I think I’ve figured something out.
As I feel I’m coming close to the end, the excitement and the tension build. I might just make it. That vision I had when I started might just become a reality.
And then it doesn’t.
I force myself to keep going. Look for things I can improve. Try to make sure the big things, value, colour, drawing, are good.
I often decide more than once the painting is finished with, but then end up going back to it to try to improve something else I’ve decided is letting it down.
This last stage can become very drawn out if I don’t watch it.
So why is it so hard to finish sometimes?
Here’s what I think: It’s because it means you’ve committed to this being the best you can do right now, at this moment in time.
You’ve given it everything you had.
And it’s fallen short of your hopes. Because they all do.
It’s just like having a dream, and working towards it.
One of the biggest reasons for procrastination I think is that once you’ve committed to doing something, you’ll make it real and bring it into the world. You’ll put it in front of people with all its imperfections and shortcomings and say: This is what I’ve made. This is the best that I can do.
If you never do that, if you endlessly plan and dream, then you never have to face judgement – and your own will always be the most harsh.
You’ll never have to admit your own shortcomings to yourself.
That’s what makes progress so hard – it means that you have to become painfully aware of the gap between where you are now and where you’d like to be, where you are in your perfect, idealised dream of the thing.
So that’s why finishing a painting is so hard. Because you’ve shown yourself that gap, the distance between your dream and the reality.
And now you’ve seen it, you know you’ll have to work to close it.
But still you must commit, because, uncomfortable as it is, that is the only way you ever will make progress toward that elusive, unreachable dream.
And in the end, it’s not achieving the dream that matters, it’s making progress towards it.
Being better today than you were yesterday. And working, however uncomfortable it makes you, to being better tomorrow than you are today.
So start your painting and finish it. Put your dreams and hopes on the line. Draw a line under it and say: “This is the best that I can do. The next one, I will try to make better.”
A famous artist’s quote goes something like, “paintings are never finished, just abandoned”. The fact that this quote has been variously attributed to many different artists, in slightly different forms, probably points to its veracity.
What do you think?
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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