I spent a great weekend in Post, Texas gathering painting material at a Bronc Ride. I always feel grounded hanging around real working cowboys. I spent most of my time with a fellow watercolor artist, who is also a good friend. The food choices in Post are sketchy at best and the town was completely overwhelmed by the throngs of attendees, so my artist friend and I bugged out for the nearest steak house, 26 miles away in Lubbock.
Our conversation ran the gamut from cowboys, tack, the local ranches, and of course, Art (specifically the intricacies of watercolor).
On the drive home, my friend, who is very accomplished at his craft, was discussing how to climb to the next level. I found this conversation very engaging because, as artists, this is the one thing we all share in common. Whether you are an absolute beginner or a seasoned high-earning professional, we all seek to improve our technique and climb to another rung on the artistic ladder.
We shared our similarities in having breakthroughs, and discussed our expectations of watercolor. I asked my friend if he felt watercolor has, in any way, ever been limiting. This question is very likely the same for all of us in some regard. I’m sure oil painters, pastel pushers, and those who choose a monochromatic media like pencil ask this same question.
Our shared goal is to tell a story, or express a vision of something that lives inside us. Early in our career, making huge strides is exhilarating, and we can see our progress. But the closer we move to perfecting our craft, we see the strides become shorter and shorter.
I was thinking about this on my drive home, and the best analogy that illustrates this, in my opinion, is the high jump. The bar from 1 foot to 3 feet is an easy road, with possibilities of great improvement. Like in our craft, the strides are great, and we make huge headway in our skills. Then as we close in on becoming a proficient high jumper, our success is measured in fractions of an inch. Now we must perfect our technique with fine control, making micro adjustments to what works, only to gain so very little.
It is the same with our artistic craft. The basics are gone rather quickly, and we find ourselves at one of the rungs, moving the fine tuner and searching for that breakthrough. The only way we don’t get there is to quit.
As artists, we must embrace the frustration that is a parallel partner with the breakthrough. They exist in a symbiotic universe; one with the other. My friend said he now enjoys the frustration of a breakthrough because he knows it’s time, and now starts to prepare, to climb another rung.
So, if you’re frustrated, congratulations! You’re well on your way to becoming an artistic high jumper.
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