Death by Undo

The easel has no undo button

Last night I came to a conclusion. I believe any talent and boldness I may have had with the brush and the pencil have been devastated by the undo button.

My wife and I recently signed up to attend an art critique night. Each person is to bring a work of art that is in progress. I had just spent a couple months on two pieces that everyone in the group had already seen. Since then I’ve been in recovery mode and haven’t done much in the way of creation, apart from website development.

I sat down with an empty page and decided to start a new piece. What to create? What is the subject matter? What is my theme? These are always the questions and I knew they would again be a struggle to answer. My wife had asked me that morning, “What inspires you?” Great question. One thing I’m inspired by is creativity. Specifically, I enjoy when two unrelated objects are blended together.

But how to select two topics? Answer: Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a link in its menu titled “random.” Click it and you will see an article, pulled at random from the Wikipedia database. Click. Some remote town in eastern Europe. I hadn’t intended to pass on what was delivered, but… click. Another town. Oh, this may take a while. Click. A famous person from some war. Too lazy to read his history. I want a simple object. A few more clicks…

Butterfly. Bingo! I have an object. And suddenly I have an idea. I’m going to do a cityscape, viewed from above at an angle, as if viewed from a taller building. In the foreground will be a corner of the flat roof of that taller building. And on that roof will be a little girl, sitting down and looking out at the city. The shape of the city, via the use of roads, parks, rivers and buildings, will resemble the form of a butterfly, as if shaped by the girl’s imagination.

I have a concept. And this concept will probably work best as illustration. But I have only a couple hours and it’s time to start making marks on paper. I always have to work up the courage begin. Most work days I’m in front of a computer all day. Adobe Illustrator is my favorite tool. It gives me precision control with the ability to undo any stroke. Actually, I can undo a series of countless actions. It gives me peace. Photoshop works the same way. I remember learning Photoshop in college when it offered only one undo. Stress! Proceed with caution or save multiple versions!

Some stress is relieved by beginning with pencil—one that has a generous portion of eraser. Within half an hour I have the basic image lightly sketched. Next on the scene is my favorite Uni-Ball pen. I go over the light lines, adding bold, permanent lines of ink. I know I can get too cautious, so I make myself add additional details on the fly with the pen. Looks pretty good for the time I put into it…

And that’s when I realized I had done it again. Every time I intend to create a piece of fine art, I end up doing an illustration or a design. I am intimidated by the canvas and the sketch pad. It’s become a fearful process. There are no undo buttons, at least not the kind I’m used to. True, there was no undo button with my illustration, but it was a process with which I was comfortable. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe that’s the point.

I admit I often scoff at famous singers who try to act and vice versa. “Just stick to what you’re good at!” Now understand I’m not claiming that’s good advice. But I think in this situation it’s advice I’m going to take. I love paintings. I love drawings. But when it comes to fine art, my natural inclination is to build—and I’ve had some success with that. When I pick up a pen, I start to design and to illustrate. I’m going to continue admiring people like my wife who can create beautiful abstractions on canvas. But I’m going to stop kicking myself for not having the same ability. I’m a designer and I can create beautiful things with my design skills. As I explore the world of fine art, I’m going to embrace these truths.

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