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What’s Wrong With It?

When I began painting in the early 1960’s, I spent frustrating hours at my easel longing for perfection and feeling disappointed with unchanging, repetitious results. Frequently, I felt like giving up all together. Years later, a comment from our youngest son changed my attitude and artistic life forever. I hope that my personal experience will benefit you.

When Gary was twelve years old, he announced that he wanted to learn to play a violin. We rented an instrument and enrolled him for introductory lessons. For several months, nothing he did with the violin and bow had any resemblance to music as I knew it, and his determine twice-daily practice sessions were sheer agony for other family members.

But, in time, he could actually play recognizable musical notes, and he surprised us by happily participating in a school recital. When the performance ended, I proudly shook his hand and congratulated him. He said, “Dad, I want to thank you and the family for your patience. I knew we would all have to go through a lot of agony before we could enjoy the ecstasy.”

Through determination and patience, he had achieved what others had considered to be an impossibility. From that moment on, I realized that anything I did on canvas—good, bad, or catastrophic—should be recognized as a major contribution to my artistic growth. Working at it as often as possible was far more important than the specific results. What I formerly called failures became appreciated stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

I understood that I’d spent most of my time at the easel looking for disasters. My intense search for unacceptable results probably blinded me from seeing good things when they did appear. I began to relax, with an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity alone, and I stopped expecting instant success. When I concentrated upon what was acceptable and watched for effects that were even better, those things that were “wrong with it” gradually faded away.

Try this: Begin with a single stroke application of a pigment to a picture surface. Evaluate that and then add another that somehow differs. Carefully compare the first two strokes to one another before making decisions about the third. The painting will soon take over and begin telling you what to do next. It will be the best teacher you could ever have. Pay close attention to your intuition, trust your judgment, and be willing to experiment. Have faith in your potential. Above all, enjoy yourself and be patient. You will be ecstatically rewarded. That’s a guarantee!

Don Foster

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