I had a very interesting internal conversation with myself while I was working with my watercolors last night. Before anything else, here’s the finished product:I don’t love it. But of course I don’t. That’s how perfectionism works.
When I sat down with my watercolors, I spent several minutes contemplating. What did I want to do? I felt like I should spend more time just figuring out the basics. But I also knew that I could very easily get myself stuck in that phase, practicing and practicing little shaded circles until the end of time.
I’ve read a lot of articles online that talk about not waiting until you’re ready to start something because you’ll never “be ready.” There’s a lot of truth in that, at least for me. I have a tendency to over-prepare, to agonize over perfecting the little things long before I try the big thing. But I didn’t pick up watercolors to make shaded circles; I picked them up because I’d like to use them to actually make things. So why not try to make a thing?
I got my paints ready before I could think about it anymore, making brown and greens for the tree. I had other ideas floating around in my mind, but I figured starting slow was probably the best idea. And I started.
It was about the time I finished the trunk and started on the branches that the internal conversation began:
You don’t know how to paint a tree.
Yeah, I know. But I can try.
And fail miserably, sure. Why are you doing this? You’ve only made a page of squiggles before. C’mon. There’s no way this is gonna turn out. See? You don’t know how to make a trunk turn into branches. It looks awful. And the paint is way lighter than it should be.
Well… It’s not ruined yet. I’ll just add some darker paint…
Ohhh, yeah, that was a good choice. Look, you ruined it! It’s like ten times darker right there now! Ew, and it’s spreading and it looks awful. It’s ruined. Just stop.
That little voice is a jerk. She’s been with me for most of my life now. She likes to play it safe and hates taking risks. She’s always certain I’ll fail, and she’s more than happy to point out when I do. Or even when it looks like I might. She’s constantly reminding me that other people saw that or how I look really dumb right now or that it’s not very good.
And it’s really hard not to listen to her because that voice is my own.
But I kept painting last night because I’m sick of her winning out, keeping me from learning and trying New Things. And it turns out that I could figure out how to turn the trunk into branches. And, lo and behold, that lighter tone actually made it look like I knew what I was doing. It gave the effect that some branches were in the background while the darker strokes were in the foreground. That’s right, I learned something useful accidentally because I didn’t give up. Take that, little jerk.
I finished the brown, bare tree, and she piped up again.
Better take a picture before you ruin it.
Fine, I will, but just so I can show the progress of the picture.
That wasn’t entirely true. I was afraid I would ruin it, and I wanted something decent to show for my work, even if the finished product sucked.
So I snapped a picture and started with the green paint. Blob here, first leaf, and:
Ew. Great. Ruined.
It might dry okay. I don’t know how it’ll look.
It’ll look terrible. It’s just a bubble of water. There’s no way it’s going to look like a leaf.
But I kept painting little blobs of green, and, as I got to the other side of the branches, heart racing, I looked back at the first one and realized it was wasn’t that bad. It didn’t look how I’d wanted it to, but it wasn’t awful. By the time I got to the third shade of green, I was better about making leaf shapes, and I thought the tree looked pretty good. I decided it was done and that I would add some green for grass below it.
Ugh, the tree doesn’t blend into it at all.
Thank you, I noticed. I’ll add some dark green right around the bottom…
It looks awful. What were you even trying to do?
Turns out, it just needed blended. I didn’t love the final product, but I did find out that often something looks really messy and seemed botched but just needs some water to spread it out and make it work. Watercolors are weird, and it takes a little work to make some things look right. They always end up looking so much better than they do when you first add a dark blob of paint.
I sat and looked at the tree and the leaves and the grass and knew I wanted to do something else. I’d started thinking about my grandma while I painted, about how much she loves spring and being outside. About how she still has pictures of me as a little girl all around her house. “Impressions of Spring” kept going through my head, the unofficial name of whatever I was trying to pull off.
So the little jerk piped up and alerted me: You’re going to ruin it if you try to add something else.
Yeah, mmhmm, I know.
And I added it anyway. I mixed up pink for a dress and yellowy-gold for hair and took brown and yellow and red to attempt a peach color that might be close to my skin tone. I wanted a Little Me in that picture.
There is no way that skin tone is going to work. You put way too much red in there. It looks weird. It’s gonna be a sunburned little girl.
I panicked when the dress didn’t look right at first. I panicked when I put the skin color on the page. I panicked when the hair was see-through and looked stupid. But I adjusted the lines of the dress and added more color at the bottom. I moved the paint around on the legs and arms and it turned out to be just right. And I added more yellow to the hair to make it less transparent and blended the edges a bit to get rid of the lines underneath. And suddenly there was a Little Me in the picture.
The little jerk made one last attempt. It’s not perfect.
I know. That wasn’t the goal for once.