Art should be fun — most of the time, at least. And, if it’s not fun, it should at least be enjoyable. So what happens when we’re facing a project and we’re not finding any pleasure in it?
That was the position I found myself in recently. This little assignment began before my holiday break — and was, in fact, one of the reasons why I stepped away from the easel. I’ve been following the lessons from Oil Painting Step-by-Step by Arnold Fletcher, and for the most part, I’ve been enjoying the practice sessions. So far it’s been mostly practicing with poster paints on newsprint, learning about colors, shapes, and composition.
But then I came to a lesson I didn’t want to do. It was a lesson on “Grouping Outdoor Objects”. Once I came to this horrendous assignment, I put the book aside. I found lots of reasons not to pick it up again.
Before proceeding, let me just show you my disastrous newsprint and poster paint assignment for the day. Don’t laugh. Well, of course you’ll laugh. It’s ridiculous, and that’s because I deliberately made it into something ridiculous.
I look at this and think, Well, at least it’s colorful. Obviously I spent very little time drawing and painting this scene. The ships and buildings are all out of proportion, and it’s almost impossible to tell what’s what. But, that’s the point.
Here was the assignment from Fletcher’s book:
“The list of things we are going to incorporate into a picture is: warehouses, cranes, a quayside, crates, a large ship, small tug, yachts, buoys and seagulls.”
What? My mind reeled after reading this. I was supposed to draw yachts and buoys? I don’t know what a yacht even looks like. And a small tug? A large ship? I have no first-hand personal experience with any of these things.
And why, exactly, would I want to draw these things? I wouldn’t. But this was my assignment, so what was I supposed to do? Argue about it? Rather a waste of time since I’m my own teacher.
But seriously, folks, what’s the best approach to take when I come to assignments that I really don’t like and really, really don’t want to do? Do I say, “Oh, that’s all right. We’ll just skip this lesson”, or do I say “Just do the best you can,” and move on?
I found a third approach: do the assignment, but turn it into something fun.
Fletcher does say that the completed drawing might be “a little less real” than drawings from other lessons, and his instructions were to “only draw the main shapes.” So I focused on the shapes.
And I grimaced at Fletcher’s counsel to “Go ahead then, and have a really good time.” I knew before I even started that I would not “have a good time” painting this. I knew, at best, I would come away with a childish-looking painting, and that’s when I decided to just go for it. Why not make it into a fun painting by deliberately choosing to create something childish, something others might consider absolutely ridiculous?
So, that’s exactly what I did. It made a difficult assignment bearable, at least, if not downright fun. And while I often hear music in my head as I’m drawing or painting, this exercise brought a favorite childhood poem to mind. It’s The Height of the Ridiculous by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I’ve loved that silly little poem from the time I first read it.
All in all, I came away from my practice painting with a smile on my face. I completed my assignment — albeit in my own way — and I did have a little fun doing it.
What did I learn? Maybe nothing about composition, shapes, or colors, but I learned that it’s all right to make ridiculous art. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need.