Recently I shared a facebook meme about the greatest movie quotes ever, and have been thinking about how many of them enter our lives as a shared “short-hand” that carries so much more than the simple words “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”, “Think you used enough dynamite, Butch?”, “Of course he has a knife, it’s 1184 and we’re barbarians.”, “Have fun storming the castle, boys.”,”When someone asks you if you’re a god, say YES!”, “Do or do not, there is no try.”, “Go ahead, make my day”, “Could be worse, could be raining.” In the Agony and the Ecstasy the issue that Michaelangelo had to confront was that he knew that what he was doing wasn’t right, and he had to be willing to start over. He learned this from watching a tavern keeper drain a barrel of wine that had gone bad, while the various drunks around the bar eagerly pressed in to get the free, if disgusting wine.
This is the issue that all artists have to learn and deal with in our work. If you decide that it’s “good enough”, and don’t “waste” the work you’ve already put in, by ripping it out and starting over, there will always be someone who is perfectly willing to accept the lesser product because they don’t know better. There are people who can’t tell butter from margarine, but that doesn’t mean they are the same. I have a wonderful little book produced by a museum. In it various artists share what they’ve learned on the path to becoming successful illustrators. As it’s a “kids book”, they were each only allowed a brief page to share their lifetime of lessons. Mine would have to be to learn to throw it out, rip it out, ball it up and start over. I say rip it out because I first learned this in knitting, and sewing, but as with almost any hard lesson I’ve had to learn it over and over.
Perhaps the hardest part is that there’s always a reason to not do it. Even as I write this, I am avoiding fixing a problem I spotted last night in the painting I’m working on now. Just before bed, while cleaning by brushes, I noticed that the perspective was off- the hand in the middle ground was far too small and should be nearly the same size as the hand in the foreground, and made it look like it was farther back than it’s supposed to be. Perhaps more important, the space where the title will have to go when the painting becomes a book cover will be better if I fix it. But it’s going to be a pain in the butt. I’ve already done it, and don’t want to do it over. Maybe I should just go clean the refrigerator, or work in the garden, or any of a number of other things I’ve been meaning to get to doing. There’s always an excuse. But at the bottom, once you see something, you can’t “unsee” it again. If I don’t fix it, I’ll always be disappointed in the painting, no matter how wasteful it may seem to lose what’s been done before.
When I did the cover for Hammer of the Smith, I’d carefully reproduced the tools from the Mastermyr find on a table on the front bottom of the back cover- but that wasn’t where they’d be in a forge, so they are behind the smith, where you can hardly see them. I repainted the ceiling several times: once in thatch (until that logic-fail hit me), in wood, and finally I found the image of the underside of a turf roof. Finally I’m happy with it. I have that to strengthen my resolve as I go to wipe away what I’ve already done and start over again. The “wasted” time is frustrating, but not as frustrating as it would be to know that I had served wine that should have been thrown out.