Mistakes. Sometimes you can cover them up. And other times things go so terribly wrong that all you can really do is cry, shake your first at the heavens, or just give up.
But sometimes it’s even more fun to wade into them and make a real good mess.
Case in point:
I was all set for a few days away at the ocean. I had prepared my paper, drawn my sketch, and packed everything I was going to need to start on a colored pencil painting of dogwood flowers. And the piece started out fine, until I decide to add a few water droplets. Can’t be difficult, right?
The first droplets were way too dark. I tried to erase them. The second batch was too dark and the wrong color.
“Maybe a few more would make them all look okay,” I thought. So I added more. Bad mistake. Soon the hapless dogwoods were starting to look shot-through by a BB gun.
I said a bad word.
I spent a few minutes feeling sorry for myself, My vacation project was toast. And then I realized I had a great opportunity to learn from this colossal snafu. I decided to get this water drop thing down. So I dove in to the water droplets. I looked at them online, I practiced drawing dozens of them. Then I added even more droplets to the dogwoods. “Take this! And this! And this!”
It was mistake mayhem. It was fun.
In the end, I finally managed to perfect a couple of really good droplets. I had a great time, and each one I created gave me a little more info for creating the next one.
I’m back from my trip now, and still kind of tender when it comes to making water droplets. But I’ll be revisiting those dogwoods again pretty soon, armed with a handful of Warm Greys, a diploma from the Colored Pencil School of Hard Knocks, and a whole lotta fight.
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Retreats are for hard-core folks. Professional artists, writers. But me? Take an art retreat? Meh. Not so much.
That is, until I went on one.
Mid-April, I joined folks from my local Colored Pencil Society chapter for a 5-day retreat on Samish Island in Washington State. I wanted to get to know the folks in the group and figured this would be a good way to start. Turned out, I had a nice room, even nicer company, learned a lot, all with not much more to think about except making art and making it to meals.
And yeah, of course: like anyone who’s every discovered something new and cool and game-changing, I am now a believer, evangelizing the Good Word: retreat hath the power to heal. I’m here to tell you that even if you never pick up a pencil or a brush, a retreat, time to totally get away and reboot, is just plain good for the soul. A little break from the grind (preferably somewhere in nature) settles you down, refreshes your soul, brings a bit of the magic back to your life. And your creative work — no matter what kind of creativity that is — takes a leap forward when you’ve cleared out the cobwebs.
It isn’t essential to head anywhere exotic. You’re gonna find it a bit easier to get into that loose, nirvana-esque state-of-mind when you are physically away from everyday responsibilities, but an at-home retreat is a great way to treat yourself on the cheap. And you don’t have to go with a group, although a retreat with peers is a wonderful way to learn, share, and grow your craft.
Either way, plan your retreat time like a vacation and make a commitment to yourself to fully engage. Treat it as a sacred time; just as important as any other thing you do. Stay away from the distraction of technology. Yeah, check your email and texts if you are so inclined, but don’t let them swallow you up. If you stay at home, make meals ahead of time, or keep them super-simple. Surround yourself with good music. Take lots of breaks; spend time just being, in the state I call un-thinking.
A few days spent freeing yourself from the stuff that weighs you down can pay off in weeks of increased imagination and creativity. You’re gonna seen with new eyes and get comfortable in your own skin.
And then you’ll be a true believer, too.
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