Magnificent Imperfection

Jacques-Louis DavidLe Général Bonaparte, 1798

The word perfection comes from the Latin perficere, meaning to completeto finishto bring to an end. Sure, the word has additional meanings before that mark and since but for the sake of this post, let's focus on that main definition.

It follows, then, that imperfection merely means that which is not complete, unfinished.
Isn't that the state of being human? Aren't we perfect only when we are finished with our earthly journey?

Near the end of his life, Leonardo (as in da Vinci) went through his notebooks and wrote over and over again, "Tell me if anything was ever done".  Yes, Leonardo struggled with perfectionism.

So do many of my students. I've attracted many perfectionists to my drawing and watercolor workshops and courses of the years. As a recovering perfectionist, I recognize them and their suffering right away. I understand the syndrome and coax them (sometimes more successfully than others) through the process of letting one thing or another go.

Even if students aren't outright perfectionists,
 there's a more subtle, related suffering. A constant nagging sense of displeasure or defeat (or both) when showing work they consider subpar.

I understand that, too. Especially over this past year, when I've only had time, for the most part, to make mad dash demos under pressure of stupidly short amounts of time and (often) interruption, I then present whatever results as an example of my abilities. Actually, the results are rushed demonstrations of how to but still, my ego is crestfallen with the results and the what other people think nattering is super annoying.

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at it’s core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.”

Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? 
Perfectionism is a hustle.”

– Brené Brown

Even with my relatively private daily drawing blog, I am posting scribbles and drawings that would be better burned.

In fact, they're all just teases. Warm ups (with, at this time in my life, nowhere to go for follow up). However, if I can get over myself, all of these (mostly) disappointments keep my muscles flexed, the practice intact and provide some sense of accomplishment. The carrots of disappointment and imperfection keep me in a race that, eventually, as soon as there's more time, will have me winning more often on a daily basis.

Fortunately, the demos I'm creating for the online courses are mostly highly successful. So there's that. I'm not operating in abject failure.

All of what I've just described is experience that cannot be conveyed to a novice or to someone unwilling to let go of prescribed structures. That may be the most difficult part of teaching beginners. The other difficult notion to convey to beginners is that we're all beginners, no matter how long we've been practicing and working away.

There's a large degree of faith involved in the creative process. There are moments of inspiration and master pieces but the whole cloth unfolds over a longer period of time and experience and work that any one piece can adequately describe in terms of perfection. Faith kicks in when you come to understand that you cannot possibly know or control the end result or outcome of any process, let alone any creative process. Faith is a practice, too.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”
​-
 Anne Lamott

Personally, I love unfinished paintings. Gilbert Stuart's Athenaeum Portrait of George Washington, David's Unfinished General Bonaparte, Freud's Self-Portrait, to name a few. I love seeing the process, the partial drawing against the partial paint against the naked canvas.

This may be one reason why I cling to watercolor as my main medium, because the naked paper is always a presence if not clearly visible. Just one reason.

Of course, drawing and painting are not always a matter of suffering. Not by a long shot. Many are completed quite nicely (if not perfectly).

Come learn about magnificent imperfectionism.

Work with me.

The time is always right

Strike, as in sudden success | Watercolor
©2011 Suzanne McDermott/All Rights Reserved

The time is always right to do what's right. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Doing equals action. Action is the stroke. All action takes time.

Before action comes envisioning, clarity, intention, decision, commitment.

Flow is the allowing, faith, patience.

Nothing is absolute but boy, for the most part, everything seems to take longer than we think it will. (Except for what doesn't).

For example, I intended to launch my new courses at the start of the year. It's going to take longer. Anyway, what I like about "the start of the year" is that there are so many.

With the new moon tonight at 9:18 PM ET, I feel like I'm just getting started with the year. There's been so much scaffolding to create to hold up the rest of the year's plans.

As far as this syndrome of things seeming to take longer than we expect them to, I'm holding to the wisdom that everything takes exactly as long as it needs to, that everything unfolds in perfect order and that now is always the right time. It's the only time.

Yep. Now is the only time. May as well enjoy it, get into it and let go of the rest as well as you can. That's what I'm really working on.

And... no matter how far behind I feel, I always remember to do the next right thing.

Okay. So, you are welcome to a gratis copy of my Drawing Primer. Go here to get yourself a copy. Pass the link along to your family and compadres. Share the link. Share the love (and pencils and paper.)

Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don't wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it's at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.
—Earl Nightingale

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