In my parent’s basement, throughout my entire childhood, my mom had a Norman Rockwell print pinned to the wall. Beneath it was the caption, “Patience is a virtue.”
I never really understood.
Then, I started teaching. I found, after a few years, a deep patience that I could access. This was a skill. It had a lot to do with breathing. It may have also resulted in a loss of hair.
Then, I had kids. I started to understand the expression a little bit more.
It has made its way into my art, too.
Patience is a virtue. The reality of making art is that sometimes – no, oftentimes – making art is really hard. It’s the most joy-filling, happy-making, soul-calming experience, but it isn’t always easy. It doesn’t just flow. What most artists know, that most non-artists don’t, is that making art is a skill, and not a talent. It isn’t a faucet to turn on, and it isn’t always waiting for you to access.
What I have learned, over the years, is that letting it simmer is really important. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion and say, “I’m done!” when a piece isn’t really finished. It’s equally as easy to jump to a conclusion and say, “It’s terrible! I’m done with it!” when a piece isn’t cooperating.
There are a limited number of outcomes that I have found, and letting the pieces simmer almost always leads to a more favourable outcome. They include:
- disappointment with a piece, when jumping to conclusions
- a missed opportunity with a piece, when jumping to conclusions
- a fresh view when revising a piece that has simmered for a day or week or month
- the acknowledgement that the piece was a learning experience, thus thanking the piece and moving on without feeling the need to fix and finish it
- a settled feeling upon revisiting a simmering piece, which ultimately leads to the feeling of completion without actually have to touch it
The last one is my favourite experience, but more often than not, I find that with fresh eyes I can see what needs to be worked on, and with a fresh state of mind am able to do that. Knowing when to breathe and walk away requires as much artistic skill as knowing how to balance and coordinate the colours, or any other aspect of building a piece of great art.
Below is an example of a time I felt settled upon revisiting the piece several days later. I believe, when I left it the last time I worked on it, I said to my critique partner, “It’s terrible! I am so annoyed and I don’t think I’m even an artist. Why is his face so terrible? No, don’t tell me because I don’t want to fix it! This will be a learning piece of art and I’m moving on.” I am sure my meltdown included more colourful language. Of course, after revising the piece and looking at the printed version in daylight caused a pause in me, where I sat back and thought, Oh. I was wrong. I actually quite like this. And it is finished.
Patience, whether it be in dealing with difficult humans or difficult art, is most certainly a virtue.