Unfinished Business

I recently posted about the importance of finishing what we start. It’s a good rule to follow, not only in art but in other areas of life, too. But like any rule, it needs to be broken once in a while. Sometimes putting more time and effort into a project is a bad idea, so we need to be very honest with ourselves about those things that aren’t worth completing.

As I look back over the last ten months, I have a fairly good track record for completing projects. I don’t like having unfinished business hanging over my head. When I found myself struggling through The Pen and Ink Experience at The Virtual Instructor, however, I sat down and had a long talk with myself about the course. Ultimately, I decided not to finish it.

Actually, I wasn’t doing too bad with it, all things considered. I did learn a great deal from the video lessons I watched. Maybe the most important thing I learned, however, was that pen and ink just isn’t for me. I don’t have the patience pen and ink drawings require. I was frustrated at not being able to correct my mistakes. I wasn’t enjoying the experience.

Oh, but that nagging voice inside my head went crazy when I said “I’m not going to finish it.” What? Be a quitter? No, that’s not good. You started it, you must finish it. I felt so guilty, so ashamed. It’s often been said that the only true failure comes when we quit, and did I really want to be a failure?

I had to give it a lot of thought, and gradually I saw a truth beyond the simple questions. I actually had more to gain from quitting than from continuing.

How could that be?

Simple. Every moment I spent struggling with an art course I hated was making me hate art itself. I’d completely stopped drawing, and although I blamed it on the busy holiday season, I knew the truth. The reason I’d quit drawing was because it had stopped being fun. It had become a dreaded chore, something I was doing not for fun but because I felt obligated to finish.

Instead, I quit. It wasn’t long before those feelings of guilt and shame were replaced by a wondrous sense of relief, nor was it long before I was eagerly picking up my pencils and sketchbooks and rushing into my art room to watch more videos — from a different course – and begin more new projects.

To assuage my nagging conscience, I promised myself I could go back later and finish the pen and ink course. I could still finish it. I just didn’t have to do it then and there.

Since then I’ve quit a few other things, too. I started working on the February challenge for Colored Pencil Magazine, but let’s just say I got off on the wrong foot. It wasn’t actually a colored pencil drawing challenge. Because of the popularity of “grown-up coloring books”, the magazine offered a challenge that artists in the beginner category could simply trace and color. So, I got out my light board — an inexpensive one I picked up in the TOYS section of Wal-Mart — and set to work tracing. It was tedious. It was boring.

For the February challenge, beginning level artists were allowed to trace and color this scene.

Once I’d completed the tracing — stained glass windows — I considered making several photocopies. I’d just begun studying color theory. It might be fun to try different color schemes.

No, having additional copies would be too logical. In my burst of artistic excitement, I grabbed my colored pencils and set to work.

My colors were a disaster. Frustrated, I tried to go back to the original color scheme shown in the challenge photo. Of course that didn’t work. It only made matters worse.

I considered making a new tracing and starting over, and I knew I didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t having fun with the challenge. I wasn’t inspired by it. In fact, like The Pen and Ink Experience, this challenge was ruining my fun. I hated looking at those stained glass windows and finally hid my work under a pile of magazines so I wouldn’t have it staring back at me — unfinished — every time I came into my art room.

Once I realized I was doing more harm than good by forcing myself to finish the project, the decision to quit working on it — and worrying about it — came easily. Again, I breathed a sigh of relief, set my sights on completing the March challenge, and moved on.

Sawo Fruit
“Paint What You Know” might be a good caption for this disastrous sawo fruit still life. I’ve never seen a sawo fruit.

Yet another unfinished project is this sorry-looking watercolor painting of sawo fruit. I started this as one of my “random art challenges“. The challenge was to draw a still life of fruit using neutral colors.

I was off at once on a Google search for brown fruit. I came up with sawo. I’ve never seen sawo fruit, had never even heard of it before, but based on a few pictures I found, I gave it a try.

What was I thinking? It’s difficult enough for me to draw something I’m familiar with. How could I even attempt something I’ve never seen?

After working on the painting for a time, I realized it was doomed to be a failure. The good part, though, was that I’d already benefited from the experience. I’d learned to paint what I know.

I had nothing more to gain and so I set my sawo fruit painting aside. I kept it as a reminder to use a little common sense in my art, even when I’m challenging myself with random projects.

Through all of these experiences, I’ve come to understand that an unfinished project isn’t always a failure. Quitting can sometimes be a wise decision. It’s largely a matter of weighing what might be gained against what might be lost, and sometimes the balance will tip in favor of giving up and leaving a little unfinished business behind.



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