This post originally appeared on my blog in January of 2012. It remains one of my favorites....
Last week I was looking for some of my artwork that I did a few years back, and found that my storage drawers were a complete wreck and totally disorganized. I figured that while I was looking for a couple of particular pieces, I might as well just organize everything.
What began as an organizing chore became a fun look back on my creative journey. I found a lot of old stuff that I had completely forgotten about it. Some of it- I still really like. Some of it- well.... let's just say it really has been a journey! It was good to see how far I've come since I started painting about 16 years ago. I WILL NOT show you that older stuff. What I thought was pretty good all of those years ago is frankly just horrible!! And I found SO MUCH that I had totally forgotten about. I did way more work than I thought. I thought about all of the hours and days and months and years represented in those drawers. I realized that I really have worked really hard to get to where I am today.
Sometimes we are not happy with the work we are doing. It just seems to be not good enough. Sometimes it is missing something, but we don't know quite what, and we don't know what to do to fix it. Creativity is not just a fun hobby or job, it is a learning process just like everything else. If you are not quite happy with your work, I suggest looking back at some things you did a few years ago, and my guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised at how far you've come.
I did throw a lot of stuff away- mostly stuff that was incomplete and I knew I'd never finish. It was a good purge- making room for the new! But I kept a lot of the stuff from my "Early Ugly Period" (I am thinking that when I'm dead and then finally become a super famous artist, that's what the historians will call it.....)- it is a good reminder of how much I've improved.(I even labelled the folder for them so it will be easy for them to archive.)
It reminds me of a couple of quotes. The first is by Ira Glass:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
By the way, I don't think this is just true of beginners. As we progress, and our work improves, it can still get even better. As long as we just keep making stuff, it will get keep getting better and better. More mature, more aesthetically pleasing. Even though I am light years ahead of where I began, there is still so much to master... I look forward to the unfolding journey in the upcoming years....
The second quote that I am reminded of comes from Zechariah 4:10:
(paraphrase) Do not despise the day of small beginnings.....
Do not despise where you are today! Keep on working and then enjoy the fruits of your labor!
(And don't despise your Early Ugly Period, either. Even Michelangelo had to start somewhere....)