Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ordinary Things

Jim Rohn  once said: "Lifestyle is really nothing more than the art of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well."

That got me thinking: how do we decide, individually, what is "good" art and what is "bad". Of course, there is no such thing as good or bad art, but why does one piece go unnoticed, while another stops us in our tracks.

We know it's not the craftsmanship, or subject matter, or how much time was spent making the piece. It's none of those things and it's all of those things.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to quantify art, especially when it comes to creative endeavors. I don't spend every waking hour in search of the "magic formula". To me, good art is a reward in itself. But wouldn't it be nice to have some kind of guideline as we put more and more hours into our work?

I think so. And that brings me back to Jim Rohn's observation. Sometimes an artist will manifest something that's never been done before. And that is amazing when it happens. But it rarely does. So what should we do with the rest of our lives? What do we do when divine inspiration doesn't seem to be coming through?

Doing ordinary things extraordinarily well sounds like a worthwhile goal.

Here's an example. We use words everyday (or almost every day). Everybody can do it, everybody has to do it. Some people use words in such a way that nobody wants to listen to them, others make a living using words, and there is a select group of people who say a single word and the whole world listens.

With that in mind, let's see how this applies to visual storytelling:

letters and sounds are strokes and lines,
words, idioms and grammar correspond to tonal values and structure,
sentences and paragraphs are composition.

All these elements come together for a single purpose: communicate a story, deliver a message.

When these ordinary elements are prepared and presented extraordinarily well, it makes for an extraordinary story. When done right, amazing results appears to be effortless. To quote Jim Rohn once again, it's easy to do and it's easy not to do. Time will go by anyway. Best to put our time to good use and do small ordinary things very well, one little thing at a time.

Here is my final for Anthony Jones' Painting with Confidence class.

Final week was rough for me. I finally took my painting to a refined finish. Getting from a blank page to first image was easier and quicker than getting from the first one to second. Learned a lot in the process.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Confusion of Natural Progress

Reaching goals is a straightforward process, in theory: you estimate where you are, you decide where you want to be, you work hard, you arrive at your destination.

Easy, right?

Would've been great if it were. It never works this way. All good plans fall apart as soon as they touch reality. Think about it this way: a ship or a plane leaves from point A and arrives at point B. One would think that it's possible only because it stayed the course the whole way. Quite the opposite. Most of the journey is spent off-course, being pushed around by wind and gravity and many other forces. And yet, at the end of it all, the vessel usually arrives safely at its destination.

I had the hardest time embracing this concept. For some reason, I expected to be able to draw better on Tuesday than I did on Monday. And why wouldn't I, I put in the effort and the hours, I'm entitled to a visible increase in skill, aren't I?

Apparently not. Until the invention of the modern engine, vessels used to rely on wind or muscle power. But the wind has a tendency to change direction, even reverse it, while muscles need rest. And when the vessel is not being pushed ahead by human will, it drifts. There's no way around it.

I used to stress and worry when I was drifting. I would go to sleep feeling good about my progress only to find myself the next morning being unable to replicate the success of the previous day. That would often trigger anxiety and frustration. I should have rested or doodled, or did something else entirely, let nature take its course, but instead, I would push on. I wasted precious energy and focus which would have been better spent later, saved for a time when the wind was ready to fill my sails and put me closer to my destination.

On the journey between the two ports, drifting and detours are inevitable. The calm motionless waters are there to remind us that we should also be calm and relaxed, we should trust that our vessel will take us where we intend to go.

Struggling and worrying when the forces of nature are not working in our favor leaves us fatigued and unable to take advantage of opportunities when things finally turn around.

Regardless of favorable or unfavorable circumstances, our job is easy to define: we ought to make sure our prow is always pointing at our destination, no matter where we are at sea, and always be prepared to give our best effort when the winds and the waves start pushing us toward our goal.

I'm learning to embrace this and be comfortable to take one step forward even if I seem to kept ending up two steps back. Even when my senses are trying to trick me when my journey forward inevitably goes off my imaginary course, I still know where I'm going. And if I know where I'm going, there's a very good chance that through the storm and the still, I will arrive in due time.

May we always have wind in our sails and a hand's width of water under our keel.