Archive for January, 2015

Drawing on Our Shortcomings

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Just as it’s unfair to discount the good elements in our work when judging it, it’s also a disservice to ourselves to fail to acknowledge its weaknesses. It’s actually beneficial to take conscious note of shortcomings and to set goals for overcoming or improving on them in future work. That’s the value of the School of Oops.

I try to identify in specific words what it is about a work that dissatisfies me. What problems do I see? If I were to undertake the same project again, what would I change? How would I approach it differently to improve the results? Is there anything that can be addressed immediately to strengthen and improve the work I’m evaluating now?
141017p Sarah Greer Slater141211cc Sadie Slater

In the original drawing I did of my great-grandmother, Sarah Slater, there were many aspects of the drawing that I liked. But I also recognized and was able to specifically identify a number of weaknesses. I recognized that my drawing skills were not adequately developed. Among other things, the value range was too limited. And her expression appeared too “worried.”

A second attempt, only two months later, for which I used the same reference photo and charcoal instead of pencil, showed a lot of improvement. By using the softer, darker medium of charcoal, I was able to show more marked gradation where planes met. And the two months between drawings had allotted me enough practice time to increase both my skill and confidence in expressing my subject’s mood.

The key to the improvements was in having recognized and identified the problems in the original drawing. This meant that I was able to focus on those areas in my intervening practice work to find solutions and to hone my skills.

So I’m encouraged to continue this study of portraiture. I expect to be getting back into more color work soon. Stay tuned.

Finding the Good in It

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Don’t we always want to find something good about our work? Most of us need to receive a certain sense of accomplishment, if not some amount of satisfaction, as incentive to continue doing what we’re doing, no matter how much we already love the activity. We love it because it fulfills a need within us. Our friends and family know that, so they tend to offer comments like “That’s great!” and “Nice job!” as pats on the back and as encouragement to continue.

But unless they understand our specific goals and struggles, and are knowledgeable about the specifics of what we’re doing, we tend to (and should!) take their comments with a grain of salt. What do most of them really know, after all, about the process we went through or the issues we were contending with?

141212w Evaluation and Reflection, a self-portrait

So, often we must rely on our own judgment and become our own best critics. Did the overall product meet our expectations? Did it fulfill our goals? We’re the only ones who can answer such questions, and to answer honestly we need to take a good hard look to compare our ideal with the actual product. That’s not easy.

After focusing on a project over an extended length of time, and often at close range, it can become difficult to distance ourselves from it, both figuratively and literally, enough to see the big picture. Sometimes this requires a distance of time—anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks. It also often helps to create a physical distance from it to gain a different perspective, for instance by quite literally stepping back from the easel. And it’s just as important to create an emotional distance so we don’t cling so tightly to “what it isn’t” when we should be looking for “what it is” or “what it could become.”

If the product didn’t live up to our highest hopes, our initial inclination may be to say “It’s no good.” But that’s short-changing ourselves and our accomplishments. Is there truly no good to be found in it? There is probably a lot about it that’s good, with just a few aspects that don’t entirely please us. We need to see how many of the good elements we can identify.

If we don’t see any, we need to look harder. Has anything about it improved over a previous effort? Is the composition stronger than previous efforts? Or does it suggest an insight that we hadn’t consciously stated? Is the value structure more interesting or better controlled? Is the action less wooden? Is our use of color more accurate/lively/subtle/suitable for the purposes of this effort? At the very least, our dissatisfaction with it indicates that we’re becoming more discerning; that in itself is good and a valuable step forward!

It’s unfair to ourselves (and unrealistic) to overlook the improvements we’ve already made. Discounting our progress sets our feet on the road to frustration and discouragement. Improvement takes patience and practice and time. It’s important to acknowledge that and to recognize how far we’ve already come. It’s encouraging to remind ourselves that it’s bound to get even better from here.