Starting Over Always Feels Like a Defeat

Art is a cruel balance between perfectionism and humility.

The portrait of Ruby's cat languished, unfinished on my easel.  I'd been "working on" it far too long, which meant that I wasn't pleased. I hadn't painted a portrait in nearly a decade, so my skills had atrophied.  I used to have a pretty good eye for identifying the light and shadow relationships between colors, but as I struggled with this simple subject, I realized that I'd have to relearn everything.  In one particularly painful bout of despair I thought I would have to buy a color wheel like some novice art student.  Grrrrr.  (That's me growling, by the way.)

drawing of Charlie by David Borden
gray scale redrawing of the cat
I finally erased the painting by redrawing the image from scratch over the old one.  I remeasured distances and relationships, sizes and ratios.

This wasn't the first time I'd ever painted over a portrait.  Once, many years ago, I obliterated a painting that irked me.

Tamara protested, "You didn't have to destroy it."

"Oh, yes I did.  It was horrible.  It was crap!"

"I liked it.  Artists are so dramatic," she sighed.

Recently, I unearthed several lost paintings in the garage.  Tamara displayed a few of them in the house.  I tried, but finally couldn't stand it anymore and hid them in my studio.  I can't bear to look at flawed work.  She didn't ask what happened to them.  She knew.

When she saw that I'd painted over another "finished" painting, she said quietly, "I didn't think anything was wrong with it."

This portrait has been painful-- a lesson in defeat.  It took time, sitting alone in my studio, staring at the awful thing before I could let go... let go of the years spent away from my brushes, let go of the myth that I was any good, let go of the fact that I was nothing more than a novice.  I resigned myself to relearning how to draw accurate images, mix colors, apply paint.

When the new drawing dries, I'll try again.  I'll make another attempt to get the light and shadow relationships right and capture the texture of his fur.  And if it still doesn't work, I'll paint over the miserable canvas again.  I'll paint this cat over and over if I have to, until I get it right.  And although each failed attempt will feel like a defeat, I will know that, in the end, I will realize a victory if I don't give up.


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