Today’s post is in honor of Dear Reader susie, whose Comment from last week — in response to this picture of my first ever illustration —
You hear and see all over it doesn’t take talent,
I don’t think so, if that’s your first shot out of the box.
I read that and I had to prove the one thing I know for sure about life. This one is for you, Dear susie:
Talent is Overrated.
To start, I want to show you all a photo I took in Monet’s garden at Giverny, France, when I spent three days in the little village in May of 2013:
I like the color scheme here, and I really liked those bright tulips. (I snapped this photo just as a passing breeze ruffled some petals.) I chose this picture somewhat at random for today’s post, because today’s post is all about how terrible, how truly terrible and awful I am at painting flower beds.
Oh, sure, I’ve made little bitty watercolor try-outs of flower beds:
These are studies I made of Monet’s flower beds, picking out patterns rather than actual fleurs.
I’ve even painted bits of Monet’s Giverny garden before:
I’ve also copied directly from Monet himself, in various Triscuit forms …
But this is not the same as actually being able to paint Monet’s FLOWERS. The reason I do not paint Monet’s flowers is because I have no talent at painting flowers but is that lack of talent going to stop me? Non! Well, not today, at least. Because it doesn’t take “talent” to paint — because talent is overrated.
Talent is Overrated is the title of a book written by Geoff Colvin (published by Penguin Group in 2008). It’s about how the majority of people in the world never achieve excellence (or even proficiency, at their job, their avocations, their hobbies, etc) because of their notion that excellence is possible only thru talent, and talent is a freaky, DoG-given gift that nature has not bestowed upon them.
In fact, Geoff argues, talent is the least part of excellence. Stick-to-it-ness is the only thing that matters:
One of the most important questions about greatness surrounds the difficulty of deliberate practice. The chief constraint is mental, regardless of the field – even in sports, where we might think the physical demands are the hardest. Across realms, the required concentration is so intense that it’s exhausting. If deliberate practice is so hard – if in most cases it’s not [the least bit] “inherently enjoyable” – then why do some people put themselves through it day after day for decades, while most do not? Where does the necessary passion come from?
Geoff spends a lot of the book answering that “Where does the necessary passion come from?” question, which interests me not in the least. I don’t care where “passion” — just another word for stick-to-it-ness — comes from. You know it if you have it. That’s all that matters.
I only care that if you have that passion, that desire to stick to it, then you know the secret that I know: you know the great quantity of horrible, boring, unpleasant, discouraging, and vexing work it takes to make “talent” happen.
And so I am going to paint for you today, because I can’t paint flowers for shit, and I dearly, desperately want to be able to paint flowers.
Specifically, I’d like to paint flowers like an Impressionist. And actually, Monet is not my favorite FLOWER painter, even of his own garden (excepting for the lilies, he couldn’t paint flowers for shit, either):
Claude Monet, view of his garden at Giverny.
No, I greatly prefer other Impressionists, such as the American, Childe Hassam:
This looseness with paint is foreign to how I do things naturally, as a fuss-budgety painter of Tricsuits. So I know, and rather dread, that it will take a lot of deliberate practice until I get it right.
And so, with a sigh of resignation for what I am in for, I begin:
I paint fast and loose and this is what I got:
I swear to you, this is NOT me trying to paint ugly. This is me trying to paint pretty, using skills I DO NOT YET HAVE.
So I do it again, this time starting with a quick little drawing/painting of the tulips:
I got this far when it became clear to me that the painting was OVER:
So I tried a different tactic. I used my masking fluid to mark out the flowers, and I swirled a verdant background all over them (because it’s a technique I ave used before, with some success)…Fun! Loose! Free! All the things I am not!:
I dropped in some more background texture:
And I lifted off the masking fluid and painted the flowers:
I am beyond frustrated at this point. I dislike painting ugly pix, and I loathe it when I do not know what I am doing. Of all the ways I’ve tried, so far, to paint an impressionistic flowers bed, none of them has felt like “me”.
So I do something that IS “me”. I try to paint an Impressionistic Triscuit:
Nope. Impressionist Triscuits are not “me.”
OK, then…let me try doing a hybrid, mix a bit of Impressionistic blurriness with my natural fuss-potty attention to detail:
I think the result looks…unhappy.
At this point I would like to quote from another Dear Reader whose Comment from last week’s post was right on the money. Barb Hutch wrote:
I don’t believe we know if you are completely self-taught or how you came to have such remarkable abilities. “Hard, relentless work” could be the explanation, based on all that you have shared.
Well Dear Barb, as you can see, I am indeed what you would call “self-taught”, and by “self taught” I mean I have learned how to paint through “hard, relentless work”, and being willing to paint one bad picture after another.
Now, I’ve done this yellow tulip flower pic five times now, and I still havn’t figured out how to paint it. But am I ready to call it quits? Am I???
Because I have it in me to try one more time.
Again, I start by laying down masking fluid, then doing a light wash, into which I will drop shots of “flower” color:
Although I am not happy with this pic, I am most unhappy the way the background comes on too strong. So, since I dislike this pic away, I’m going to try something that might become a new “tool” for me, a new way to tone down bad painting:
Don’t think I’ll ever try that again.
By now I am thoroughly sick of this scene. Stupid yellow tulips. With their stupid red streaks. But am I ready to stop painting flowers??
Well, for now I am. But I am not ready to quit my search for the Way I Paint Flowers. I’m already eyeing a new photo of Monet’s garden at Giverny, one that I like better (probably because it has no yellow tulips in it)…
Yeah. Maybe it was the reference photo’s fault. Stupid yellow tulips.
Maybe all I need is a super-pretty pic to get me in the groove. Pink tulips! Yes!
All I have to do is hang in there, withstand the discomfort of being really, really bad at painting flowers until the day comes when I can be good at it. But I am done for now…
…and in the meantime, I can still paint all the Triscuits and Squints my heart desires. And today, my heart desires to give away this lovely Squint of the Long Island Sound to the Reader who picked Top Cat’s Squint Number between 50 and 100. The number that Top Cat chose was …
“Right in the middle”, is how he explained his pick. SBut snce nobody picked No. 75, I went with the Dear Reader who came closest to that number without going over, and that Dear Reader is…
Please email me your address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, and I will post this out to you PDQ.
Thank you, everyone, for sending in your numbers!
Will I ever learn how to paint a damn tulip? Will there be a half-way decent Monet flower garden picture painted by next week? Or will I explain the secret of how I’ve seen hard working people like you and me become brilliant illustrators without having an ounce of “talent”?
Only the next seven days will tell.
Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.