Saturday, November 23, 2013

Superstitions - How they make us good at our jobs

Lucky Green Shirt
I have some superstitions that must be upheld in order to secure success. Do you? If so, do you embrace them or do you feel weird about them?

I've always loved art, and have been completely unable to resist its call, no matter what time it is, no matter what my obligations might be for the next day; if I feel the call of drawing, painting, or writing, I must answer. 

HOWEVER! I am a bit weird about it - have been this way since the beginning, when I was about 11. When I first started drawing and painting seriously many years ago, I would put on my lucky green shirt each time, and the paintings or drawings would turn out great. If I didn't have it on, the pictures wouldn't turn out well. As a result, I wore the original green shirt for years and years during creative bouts - but eventually of course it wore out. I kept it so that I could at least touch it before starting a project or after a while, just look at it. Eventually just knowing it was there worked. (Shades of Pavlov going on here I'm sure.) After several years I had to consign it to the ragbag, so searched to find a replacement. Ta da, the soft green shirt above serves very well (it's a bit too big for me but I bought it anyway since it was similar to the original and they didn't have my actual size), but I've no longer a need to put it on, look at it, or touch it to have a picture turn out well, however, knowing it's in my closet is a good and comforting thing. 

Superstition #2 The Paper Towel
Painting with watercolor is as much about laying the colors down as it is about blotting them up. Control of the medium is very important. I always use a paper towel, but have some superstitions about this paper towel. It can take between 20 and 40 hours to complete a watercolor painting, comprising several sessions. And the thing is, I have to use the same paper towel throughout the whole process wherever possible, I have no idea why. Occasionally I need to get a fresh one, and I can never throw out the old one til the fresh one is in my hand. Something about carrying the energy over. Silly, huh?

Superstition #3 The Sacred Water Jars
I am also very particular about what containers hold the water that I paint with. When I start a painting I fill up two jars (organic spaghetti sauce jars from several years ago). One jar holds cool clear water and the other holds water with a bit of dish detergent in it so the brushes can get really clean when they need to. Yes, I do think I could paint with a different container for my water, but it comforts me to know that these jars hold the history of prior paintings and I like to use them each time. The little images on the glass must be facing a certain way (front) and I don't refill with clean water until I absolutely must. I never leave them empty during a project. Weird, huh?

Time to organize! NOW! Chaos is reigning!
Now I'll tell you a story about the OCD Gurlzz Club that I belong to. You may find that you would fit in just fine, if so, join us for lunch and giggles. I have a couple of friends that I love to go out to lunch with because we have a lot in common, and one of these things is our penchant for organizing (This will relate to painting in a minute). When we first got together we shared hilarious stories of how we do things. We organize our closets according to color. You can see in the above photo that my closet is in need of rearranging which is definitely bugging me but I'm putting it off because since I've retired and started to devote myself full-time to my artwork I need to redefine myself and I'm not sure what to keep and what to put away or give away, so this project still awaits.

Some of the other things the OCD Gurlzz do is organize the grocery cart just so as we're shopping so that when we unpack at home things are together and practically jump into the pantry and fridge properly by themselves, labels front facing of course. Another one of us flips light switches in her home so that all the doubles are either up or down, doesn't matter which direction, but they must be the same. Kudos to our husbands for going along with our foibles.

Counting Buttons
Another thing I do that reflects this behavior of comforting the self by organizing information is count buttons. Sometimes when I'm watching TV I find myself doing this. Not a problem - but I can tell you that most men take five buttons from neck to waist to cover themselves up quite nicely. (Aside: once when I was driving to work there was a shiny silver truck beside me chugging along with lights on along the bottom. Guess who counted all those lights? Tra la la....)

It's all in the details
So now we get to the painting/creativity part. This is a pen and ink drawing I did of my cat Ivy as she was playing in the windowsill with a little spinning top. The drawing is composed of thousands of tiny strokes, each of which has a direction and a "pressure" that must be pulled from the ink pen. In order to be able to do this an artist needs a certain attention to detail that many people may be blissfully oblivious of. We look at the world differently. We take in masses of information and organize that information using the creative side of our brains to create an output that makes sense. This is a tall order.

I think that this process bleeds into our "outside" lives in the ways that are thought of as superstitions or compulsions. I think I'm trying to describe the underlying type of personality characteristics that make us good at what we do, which could be interpreted by some as "superstitious" or compulsive, or even weird. For a person to be able to take in masses of information and put out something that conveys that vision in thousands of strokes, from eye to hand to paper there must be some ability to observe, take in, assimilate, and convey "data." We find ways to comfort ourselves in the process.

My conclusion is that in order to be a decent artist, one must have this ability to organize massive amounts of data in a comfortable way, and it can work successfully for us in a number of ways if we can learn to control it. I think the "superstitions" and OCDness help us to do that and enable us to be good at what we do.

Now maybe I should go wash my hands?


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