March 12th, 2014 (Lessons Learned)
by Steven Townshend
Universal Lessons About Art Learned from Painting Miniature Spaceships:
1. The hardest part is figuring out what it’s going to be. What it’s supposed to look like. Lots of tentative brushstrokes in various colors, painting over the last, each one an experiment. Sometimes the model reveals tiny details or opportunities for intricate design work, which turns out to be too complicated for one’s personal level of skill. Try. Fail. Paint over the attempt. Move on.
2. There is no creative project that can’t be botched by overcomplicating the smallest thing, struggling for perfection, obsessing over a single minute detail and, as a result, making a gigantic mess of the whole thing.
3. Sometimes “good enough” is what you want. You may be going crazy trying to fix things that don’t matter, that nobody will notice, and that you won’t notice once you step away. You can spend forever obsessing.
4. Focus on the thing at hand. Do that. Forget everything else. It’s no use worrying about anything but what you have the power to affect in the moment. Do that task. Finish it to the point that it looks okay. Then move on. It’s not ever going to be perfect. You do what you can. Most important: you DO what you can.
5. You very rarely need to start over from the beginning. Sometimes you’ve muddled so badly there’s no other course but to begin again. Usually that comes from adding on layer after layer after layer in an attempt to fix something you shouldn’t have tried to fix in the first place.
Ship-painting continues. Halfway through the project I feel far more confident than I did when I began. The more I do, the more satisfied and well adjusted I feel. In some ways I feel like I’m doing nothing. It’s strange to think that over the past couple weeks I’ve painted over 100 miniatures spaceships. Certainly a personal painting record for me. Strange to feel creatively blocked while at the same time pouring out work in a different medium.
I’m having dinner with an old friend I haven’t seen for maybe 14 or 15 years. It is strange. We became friends when we were teenagers, at a time I was at my most intense, most over dramatic, my most self-righteous and opinionated. When I perceived myself as “good” because I followed rules. Any rules. All rules. Family, church, state. We were both idealistic small town kids back then. We were good friends in that time between the end of high school, through college, and right up until married life. I’m looking forward to spending an hour catching up as grown ups.
I finished watching Breaking Bad this week. It ended very differently than I has imagined. In large part because of this I was satisfied with its conclusion.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
On Monday, after finishing up one of the most difficult paint jobs I’ve done yet, I found I was missing one of the tiny spaceships. I searched the office, then went home and searched the house. I looked underneath everything, through the garbage–every rotten vegetable and avocado skin–through the recycling, through the vacuum cleaner bag, through the vent registers, but it was nowhere to be found. Hopeless, I gave up and after a time decided to prepare dinner. As I was about to run the water in the sink, I lifted the plug on the garbage disposal and heard a slight click. I peered down the drain, and there at the bottom of it was the missing spaceship, fully intact. The cat was acquitted of the crime.