I once had a sweet little studio In Grants Pass, Oregon. It was on the upper floor of the house where I lived. In it, I drew meticulous drawings (so painstaking, in fact, that I finished very few).
A bout of nostalgia made me reflect on that work today. I spent a couple of hours this morning rummaging through some old portfolios of mine. Most were full of school assignments. What was I hoping to find? I couldn’t even say. Maybe I expected some kind of proof that I had been a prodigy. What I found was amazingly average. My student exercises, studies and various projects showed talent more than drive. Had I been too lazy to hone my skill? Have I wasted my potential? I zipped the cases shut, washed my hands of the charcoal and chalk dust and put the portfolios away.
The disappointment darkened my spirits. I can’t change the past. My trembling hand does not bode well for my artistic future. As often happens when you start reminiscing, however, it’s hard to stop. My search veered into a closet. I found an old notebook. As an art history minor, I had poured over the slide banks in the hallways outside of my college classrooms. Light boxes with the images from recent lectures occupied me for hours. I would sit on a stool and sketch paintings, sculpture and architecture. What I stumbled on today was exactly such a tablet. Is it weird that it’s some of the best stuff from my school years?
At least I can point to those pages and say, “That’s where I excelled.” The pieces that I brought to studio critiques weren’t as good, in hindsight, as the doodles that I drew for myself. Is there a lesson here about letting go? Should I learn not to overthink things? Whatever led to these sketches, I want more.
The nature of regret, I think, is to blame. Personally, I tend to dwell on my shortcomings. Sure, I could have done a lot of things better. There’s also a lot that I did pretty well. In the case of my art, a pursuit of perfection may have gotten in the way. I was too worried about getting every line right. That’s why my notebooks are livelier. They’re spontaneous.
It reminds me of the phrase, “Accentuate the positive.” Anymore, I can barely draw a straight line. None of the thumbnails that I discovered today are perfectly rendered. That wasn’t the point. My hope of finding a masterpiece in my old portfolios had disheartened me. I’m glad that I looked elsewhere.