04 May 2014

Getting started

This was written some time ago, before the 150-hours-of-painting idea hatched itself. (Hoist by my own petard?) It didn't get published because I couldn't find images, but what the heck ... for the record, it's here: a procrastinator-recidivist talking to herself...

We can almost talk ourselves out of starting, can't we? Yet by using different words we might be able to talk ourselves in to starting...

For instance, if your fear is that you won't finish every project you start - don't call them projects, call them explorations. An "exploration" can be finished at any point!

We want "it" to turn out according to our vision, and know it won't - maybe there's something overlooked in the planning, maybe we run out of one of the materials, maybe the technique we're using isn't one we've practised enough. 

But sometimes it does all flow smoothly, it goes together "perfectly" ... and when it's done, we look back and are glad we dared to start.

Even if it doesn't go exactly as planned or hoped, there is value in carrying on, taking it to the end - you'll no longer be afraid to ruin it - it's ruined already, right? - so you will be braver and try things just for the heck of it. Who knows what might happen? 

At the point of despair, when the project becomes an exploration, you realize it looks different from the projected outcome. This is when the fun starts, because you have no choice but to "act like an artist" - interacting with the work, rather than forcing it down the path you had decided. It didn't want to go there, so you can stop and look at this stubborn thing and ask what it needs. It may give you a choice - don't let that stop you, just do something ... then ask the work if it wants more of that, or if it wants something else. At some point, you (and it) will decide it's finished and can be sent on its way alone.

It takes on a life of its own for you, the maker. Even if it's being so stubborn that you're still dissatisfied at the end of the day, and chuck it in the bin, take a moment to reflect on where, and perhaps why, it went wrong ... how will we improve if we don't learn from our mistakes?

The big problem is when fear of starting means you've left the starting too late, and anything going wrong is fatal. This is where a little forethought, a little self-brainwashing, is useful - "I'll just try this first thing on a piece of cloth that happens to be just what I might be using for the final project" or "I'll make four squares as samples and check how they'll fit together".

When makers feel the materials under their fingers, something kicks in and creative things start to happen. While our hands are working, it all moves along. The work speaks to us through our fingertips. This is why simply refolding your fabrics is one way to get started on a quilt, why writing the date on a page is a way to get started on a diary entry or a poem, why choosing a special sheet of paper and sharpening your pencils is a way to get started on a drawing.

Which brings us to the usefulness of starting rituals. Stepping over the threshold of the studio, or sitting down at the desk, how do you know you're ready to start work? This may depend on your history of starting work - your past success rate - which might by now be tied to some small, almost superstitious bit of behaviour - having the favourite coffee cup in hand, or tidying the desk to look "just so", or spending 15 minutes looking at an inspirational book or checking your studio log or sketchbook. Some people have ongoing "mindless" projects, stitching or a small observational drawing perhaps, that get their hands involved with their materials.

... and now [early April] I have this crazy idea of getting comfortable with paint. The paints, the canvas, the brushes and palette knives, even a few prompts for those blank moments, are to hand. The starting ritual is easy: set the timer for 30 minutes,  squeeze out paints, pick up a brush, GO. It's an exploration ... to be added to, changed, painted over, the same day or the next session. In between: a digital archive, a record of the process.

And just to mention the importance of stopping. PING goes the timer ... finish what you're doing - or leave it midway, to be easier to pick up again next day. Then the clearing up  and cleaning of brushes, the re-organisation of the work space. Making it pleasant to get back to next time.

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