I browsed around a bit this morning and found this quotation from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love:
Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.
Sometimes I stumble across meaningful quotes; other times, I go off in search of them. Finding this particular quote was a deliberate act on my part. I knew what I hoped to find — a few words to explain the importance of ruin and how it can serve as a starting point for something better. Gilbert’s words expressed my thoughts perfectly.
Recently I posted about a painting that I had ruined. It happened on the day my “cranky art teacher” inner voice — whom I have now named Miss Crabapple — was berating every brush stroke I made. To make myself feel better, I chose one part of the painting that I did like, chalked it up to experience, and determined to move forward. As a reminder, here’s a look at the what I liked in the painting.
I loved the sky in the painting, and I liked the contrast with the reddish-orange.
What I didn’t show you, however, was the rest of the painting. It looked too awful to share. I hated it, but here it is:
With one look, you can see why Miss Crabapple was fussing at me. I had used solvent instead of medium, I’d let my colors get flat and dull, and that poor, scraggly tree!
Still, the painting had to sit on my easel while it dried — I’m quickly running out of space in my kitchen studio — and each time I walked past it, I looked again at what I liked and what I didn’t like. And then one morning, I decided to simply use this ruined painting to practice rocks. I’m coming to love painting rocks almost as much as I love painting skies and trees. This would be an excellent opportunity to practice a bit.
So, I painted in a rocky ledge. I liked it. I smiled a little now each time I passed by the painting.
Next, I thought maybe I could practice adding in a few flowers…and maybe I could dabble around with leaves, using different colors. Maybe I could even paint a bit of bark on the tree trunks.
Little by little, a new, transformed painting began to appear. And yesterday while working on another painting, I found myself with a brush loaded with a lovely green, so I dragged it across the ruined canvas just to see what a difference it might make.
I began smiling even more, seeing how my once-ruined painting had become something new, something better.
I definitely like this new, transformed version of the scene, and I’m glad now that I ruined it originally. Ruining the painting gave me the freedom to play with ideas, a no-worry way of trying new things, a willingness to experiment a bit just to see what might happen.
Elizabeth Gilbert is right. Ruin can be a gift, especially in the world of oil painting. I’m now looking forward to ruining more paintings – not deliberately, of course, but as I continue painting it’s sure to happen many times. I like knowing that it’s possible to transform our art, that I can take something and make it into something new, maybe even something better.
Even Miss Crabapple approves of the painting now. She’s smirking at me, actually smiling a bit, and acting as though she’s entirely responsible for this valuable lesson I’ve learned. And maybe she is. Thank you, Miss Crabapple.