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If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly

I painted 5 bad paintings in a row. I couldn’t figure out why they kept bombing. I spent an entire day on the last still life. When Sue got home I carried it out to show her, exclaiming: “I’m a smart guy, how could I paint something this bad?”

It was as if someone had sucked all my brains out and I was incapable of seeing the train wrecks I was creating. I told my buddy Fletch about it. We were at the gym for a little rock climbing exercise. Climbing is a dangerous and totally pointless activity. It has no redeeming qualities at all…other than being fun.

Fletch told me that any activity worth doing is worth doing badly. He was referring to writing, but it also applies to painting. The theory is that you have to practice to get better and you shouldn’t let your perfectionism get in the way of practice. So do it badly, and believe in the process. If it helps, you can tack on other euphemisms like “believe in yourself” and “the darkest hour is right before the dawn”.

That’s all fine, and sounds great over a drink at the bar. But the reality of getting up in the morning and knowing in your bones that you will spend the day creating more bad paintings…well, let’s just say that computer programming is starting to look better as a career option.

Having said all that…I painted today, and it was ok, not awesome, but ok. Perhaps it was the bicycle. I like to put the bike in the car when I go painting. It helps to get my blood flowing, and it’s easier to scout locations outside the car. I pedaled down to the Gig Harbor waterfront where they moor the police boat. I love saying that. How many towns can boast a police boat? That must be the coolest police job ever.

Anyway I found a couple cool sailboats and painted them from the dock. At least a dozen people walked by and told me they liked the painting. The owner of the boat walked past me, then walked back and apologized for taking his boat out while I was painting it. He asked me where I sold my work. I could tell he sort of wanted the painting. If it had been more finished I would have offered it to him.

The policeman walked by on the way to his patrol boat and stopped to talk about the boatyard nearby that built the sailboats. When he stopped by later and saw me packing up, he asked why I was leaving. “They took my models…they sailed away,” I replied.

Update, a week later: The water was difficult to paint that day. The wind was blowing, and the tight ripples prevented paintable reflections. The sun was rolling across the sky, changing the boats sides from shade to bright white. I need to arrive either earlier or later. Noon is not a good time to paint boats. I recycled the painting and plan to paint something better over the top. Some of my boards have had 4 paintings on them now.

I want to learn to paint like this guy. His style feels very do-able and genuine. I can feel the paintings I want to do in my head. But I don’t have the skill to move them from my mind to the canvas. I know the skill will come in time, I simply need to keep working.

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