This isn’t to diss Bob Ross, because he’s a delight. But like everything in art, there is nuance and alternative meaning. When Bob talked about happy accidents, he was teaching his viewers not to break the flow of their work with thoughts about how they messed up. It’s a way of reframing the unforeseen.
Mistakes will happen. But whether your work is meticulously planned or completely spontaneous, it can be helpful to keep rhythm with them. It’s another Zen or Taoist concept applied to creation: it doesn’t matter if errors crop up, because they become part of the humanity of your work. It’s only more real for small flaws.
And sometimes they can take us in different directions we hadn’t thought of, or would never find in a perfect thing.
By “paper,” I mean “in the waking, physical world.” Which ZenTaoist masters might have a field day with, given various definitions of awake and asleep, but grant me the metaphor, please.
Our dreams are mostly uninteresting to anyone but us. For most definitions of them. They’re amusing, sometimes, to discuss briefly, but their tricks on memory and disconnected narratives get tedious quickly. This goes for visions of accomplishment, too.
But things that are dreamlike are another realm.
Giving your work, or the thing you happen to be working on now, at least, a dreamlike quality can be resonant and evocative. This is because we can consciously shape them to be so. We can edit them in a way impossible for the sleepified version to be, lucidity notwithstanding.
Control is usually frighteningly absent in a dream. But in art, it’s the control that turns it into a story or a mood for everyone else. It gains power beyond your own subconscious and penetrates ours, too.
It’s not that I pretend I don’t want my work to be perfect. I do. But I realize—recognize—it can never be so. Yet, I persist, if I’m not paying attention.
Sometimes, it’s good to let something go as it is. And sometimes it’s better to scrap the thing and start again, scrape the canvas, delete the tracks, crumple up the page.
How do we know when to stop? Deadline is a good full stop, but if you don’t have one, it’s an arbitrary point where you’re out of flow, getting stuck in fine details, with little or no progress or change to the big picture.
There will be no bell. No buzzer. You can choose the moment—but sooner rather than later is usually not a bad thing. Your time is all you really have, and making another imperfect thing helps more in the long run than approaching the logarithmic curve of perfect.
DISCLAIMER: watchmaker and Zen master mileage may vary.
Sometimes you just get obsessed. Sometimes this is flow, the zen state, in the zone, and your work is going well. But sometimes it might just be fascination and the puzzle of whatever you’re focused on, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s a long thread on social media that keeps going in circles. It’s day-to-day coverage of politics.
It’s rarely necessary, but it’s addictive. If it keeps you from working on your thing, it’s probably better to treat it like a momentary thought in meditation practice. Notice, then let it go.
It does sound easier than it seems. The secret to meditation practice, though, is that you aren’t judging the distraction. You’re just noticing it exists. It’s okay that it comes back. We’re patient.
Acknowledge the obsession, then turn back to the thing you make. Repeat as needed.
My first year in college, I signed up as a creative writing major. I thought that was what I wanted to do more than anything. I’m still not sure that’s not true, but I have vacillated, all my life, between wanting to write, to draw & paint, and to play music (it’s interesting that the act of making images and words have their own singular verbs, “draw/paint” and “write,” likewise “dance,” and “photograph,” but music doesn’t, somehow).
One of the best things I found when I was devouring “how to write” books, soon after I left my university, on academic probation and disillusioned, was Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. In it, Goldberg lays out a daily ritualistic method for getting going, called writing practice. It’s meant to be a time of non-judgment, where the only goal is to keep your hand moving and words flowing. Content is irrelevant. It’s freeing and helpful for the more specific writing you’d otherwise do, and it doesn’t necessarily stay separate from that. I did it for a long time, before I changed creative course.
It’s been very hard to stick to any path for long, though I’ve made a steady go with visual art the longest. But often, I still have trouble starting, and with keeping a sustained habit. I don’t have an easy answer or advice to fix that. I do that often enough, here. The idea that there’s a secret or trick to making art has too much traction, I think. Sometimes you should just ponder and try things out.
The opposite of what’s commonly thought of as “good weather” can be the sought after and enjoyable type to some. Specifically, to me.
Today was rainy for the first time in a couple of weeks. For me, growing up in the deserts of Arizona and California, rain is like a strange and beautiful prize. I can’t get enough, or at least I don’t know what my limit is. If this love of cloudy days and speckled windshields defies expectations, good.
We all—me included—need our assumptions challenged regularly.
I spend considerable time every Mother’s Day missing mine. It is getting a little easier balancing that with remembering how lucky I was that she was so amazing.
But I couldn’t help sharing this small, profound moment from Keanu Reeves’s appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. It’s just a person who’s aware of our place in the universe and he tells the truth.
“What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”
“… I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”
Basically, any inch you give will let the dopamine-hungry part of you reach for the easy hits. It’s hard to convince my tired, post-work frazzled self that finishing a creative task will yield a way more satisfying wave of the stuff, but the Internet is heroin.
I just try to keep it in mind. Maybe gradually, pushing back as steadily as you can, you’ll gain a foothold. It feels better, man.
Amanze works with surrealism and figure—mashups? There’s a mystical element to many works, finely detailed figures and things floating in the white space of their surfaces.
It’s disturbing and charming at the same time. The sense of myth or spirit world imbues the drawings that also show us the plain, real, everyday. The open spaces have a quiet, meditative structure, where anything could happen, but for now the moment of stillness stretches.
Oregon, that is. I’ve always loved rain and cloudy skies. I didn’t get a lot of them growing up in Arizona and almost as few living in L.A. for 17 years. But since I visited Portland last year, I noticed there’s another aspect to the gray. In the middle of the day, rain clouds are, indeed, leaden.
But at dawn—and dusk—the cloudy turns positively cerulean. It’s beautiful, and full of portent, and it makes the other colors near the ground stand out, somehow. It’s a lovely combination of gloom and beauty, and the relative stillness of the early morning gives the day a zen quality that calms and gladdens me.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.