When Your Work Stinks


Brushes Painting: 24th Mansion
Originally uploaded by anselm23

Yesterday, after I got weary of grading papers, I did some experimentation with Brushes, the digital painting program for my iPhone, and did this miniature of the 24th Mansion of the Moon. The Angel Abrinael watches over this image, which is that of a woman giving suck (or comfort, or milk) to her son.

I’m not thrilled with the image. In fact, I think it’s terrible. The woman is too tired, not at all enthusiastic for this child in her arms. This is supposed to be an image of prosperity and vigor, and instead it comes across as a world-weary and beaten-down image. I hope it’s received in the mindset which it’s supposed to convey, and not in the way I actually created it.

It is of course, a type of the Madonna and child. The hair is similar to the hair of a gal I know who has dreadlocks, and the dress is the blue I associate with the Virgin Mary. There are things about it that I like, but it definitely needs some serious re-working.

It’s also the first time I’ve really used layers in an image. This image has three layers — the lettering, the woman, and the border. All three layers really need more work (and I wish I had the ability to grid or make straight lines in the image, but BRUSHES doesn’t allow for that kind of fine control, unless you have that control in your hands.

I’ve written about this problem before, though — as has Ira Socol and lots of other artists and performers and writers and theoreticians and so on. One’s first efforts rarely live up to the hype of the initial intention. I’m no more capable of painting a Leonardo DaVinci Madonna masterpiece than Leonardo was when he was five years old. I’m still learning my tools, I’m still learning the underlying artistic skills that go into making something beautiful, possible.

So often, when we teachers give a student a bad grade, we’re discouraging them from continuing to produce great artwork or great writing. But this is in fact the opposite of what a master artist would do to a student, isn’t it?

The master artist, or master magician, or master teacher — the master, regardless — says, “here, do not draw her body this way, as you have here… draw it this way. Tug the line of her mouth upward, and narrow the shadows on her neck. Use different pigments and hues to color her face. What is the source of the light that illumines her? Where is it? How does it strike her to create shadow?”

The work continues, regardless of whether or not we become perfect artists or magicians or students or writers or poets or scientists. We do not achieve exactitude — we discover instead that there is more to learn. The first painting of a Mansion of the Moon is an initiation, a starting place for further refinement and further lessons, not an end point.

Welcome (back) to the beginning of the work. AGAIN.

Via Flickr:
The 24th Mansion of the Moon, an image of a woman with her son, was used for the increase and protection of herds of cattle (at least according to the explanatory text). I’ve never done the 24th Mansion before, and I’m not particularly happy with how this version came out. But yesterday I had a tiny baby in my arms who was not even as long as my forearm. I think this woman looks too tired, and not up to the challenges of raising the baby — a little too down, perhaps, for an image representing the increase of prosperity. So I’ll be re-doing this image the next time that I have time to draw when this Mansion comes around.

One comment

  1. The only way to get better at anything is simply: Do the work.

    There’s only ‘suck’ when you choose to give up.

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