Sometime you just have to start. That’s my motto for this afternoon. I’ve had some sort of sinus/cold thing going on for the past week. Nothing too dramatic but it’s been slowing me down. It’s been okay getting the paying work done but being self motivated and getting my own work done has been a struggle. It always is when I’m not at my best. Heck, I don’t really have to be at my best to get things done. Maybe I should say, “At my average”. Being even a little sick definitely puts me below my average. But this afternoon I decided to stop trying to get my brain to decide what to do and just start doing something.

I always find it a little amazing how hard it is to decide what to work on. I think that stops a lot of people from ever even beginning any of their own creative endeavors. Everybody knows how and why to start paying endeavors. You start because the boss says to get it done and you’re doing it to earn a living. That’s easy. Why to start and make a painting, a drawing, knit a sweater, build a cabinet, or any other creative thing is a bit more tricky. I know a lot of people with an “If I’m not getting paid I don’t lift a finger” attitude towards life. I can understand that but that’s not me.

Often when I have no plan and can’t figure out what I want to next I draw. I pull out my sketch book, look for an idea that catches my eye, and work it into a more finished drawing. I can then use those more finished drawings for prints, paintings, or whatever else I decide to do. The drawing in and of itself is not the finished thing so that makes them easy to start and work on. There isn’t a lot of heavy lifting at this stage. It’s mostly a fun stage. The problem is that because of my sinuses that’s all I’ve been doing this week already. I haven’t had the strength for much else. Today I’m still not one hundred percent but I decided to get something going anyway. Luckily I had an unfinished painting hanging around.

I almost never have unfinished paintings hanging around. I’m a methodical artist. That means I’m method based. I come up with an idea and then I start with step one and move through all the other steps it takes to complete my vision. I leave room for improvisation, otherwise things can get dull, but overall I’ve got a plan. A method of doing things. Not every artist works that way, many are much more improvisational, but it suits me. As a result once I start a painting I usually finish it. Finishing is built into the method. But things don’t always go according to plan.

Sometimes things go astray. It’s usually the result of two things. One is when I’m just working by rote. When I’m going through the motions. I come up with an idea but it’s a pretty boring idea and I’ve got nothing else so I continue to execute the boring idea. Sometimes I don’t even realize how boring an idea it is until I struggle to get it done. Usually by half way through it’s obvious to me that the idea is dull and things aren’t going to work out. Mostly that’s before I get to the actual painting stage so it doesn’t result in many half finished paintings. Bad ideas usually reveal themselves as such before I’m at the “Committed to painting” stage.

The second way things go astray is when I lose sight of whatever vision I had of the work to begin with. I start with the idea, go through the steps, start the painting, but then the painting never quite comes together. The painting doesn’t match my original vision of it, often because my original vision wasn’t as strong as it should be, but the vision can also become blurred. It’s hard to match my original vision when I can’t see it anymore. It’s a frustrating problem.

This is also when a painting can become a real time-suck. It’s like being out for a drive and lost. You keep on driving and hope you’ll see something you recognize soon because it seems like the only option but you end up getting more lost and wasting more time. And it’s not like the painting is fundamentally bad and has to be abandoned it’s just directionless. And there is no end to the wandering in sight. Unlike driving a car there is no one to ask directions from.

The only thing I can do at that point is to make myself stop working on the painting and put it away. That’s hard to do because I want to finish it and make it work. I had just such a painting sitting around. I last worked on it about two months ago. I had a hard time putting it away because putting it away always feels like failure. It’s not failure because the key is to put it away long enough to forget whatever my original vision was and forget how much work I put into it.

That’s also what makes it hard to put the painting away. Knowing how much work I put into it. I worked on it for days and wanted to get it right but couldn’t. To put it away is to lose those days of work. But now, two months later, I don’t remember those days of work. They blur into the past and don’t mean anything to me. I’m free to obliterate whatever work I put into the ideas and the actual painting and just make it good. I don’t remember or care what my original idea was and now am free to follow whatever path works. That’s what putting it away does for me. But that takes time. I tried to pull it out after a month but couldn’t. I didn’t even want to face it.

It turns out today was the perfect day for working on it again. I not only wanted to get started on something but I wanted it to be something that I maybe could get finished sometime soon. Finishing something is also a way to get things going again. And here’s a good thing about these abandoned paintings of mine. I can often finish them, after they’ve been left for a while, fairly quickly. Usually there’s something good in them but they’re directionless. As long as I can find a new direction things go well. And a new direction is much easier to find after I’ve forgotten the old one.