Retirement. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. This is the year I’m going to quit doing graphic design and be an artist full time. It worries me a bit because I’m starting all over again and there are some things that I have to put in place if I want to be happy with my decision down the road.
The one thing that I have had as a graphic designer that I won’t have as a fine artist is instant feedback. When I save the day for a client by putting an ad together in fifteen minutes using only a low res bitmap file and a logo scanned off a cocktail napkin, I get a little surge of serotonin in my brain that feels like, “Oh, yeah! Who’s the kickassingest graphic designer now, baby? You, that’s who!” followed by an email thanking me in ALL CAPS WITH MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!! I mean, woot! It’s the best feeling and I’ve gotten used to that after 30 years. I crave it, even. What do I have to replace it with? Nothing! Or at least, nothing that doesn’t involve a controlled substance like alcohol or potato chips.
So I need to build those attagirl moments into my day. I need rewards!
Something like the little ditty that plays after I’ve successfully completed a crossword puzzle, or the maybe a little “Genius!” icon that appears whenever I get all the points for a Spelling Bee game. I don’t know. But I need something that triggers a deep sigh of satisfaction and a feeling that all is currently right with my world.
Painting is hard. I never know what I’m doing. Each painting is one stroke away from disaster, although to be honest, sometimes I don’t notice I’ve wrecked it until I’m many strokes past the destined-for-the-trash threshold.
With graphic design, I know how to do everything. And if I don’t, I know where to go to find out. With painting, I don’t know anything and every artist on the internet has a different idea about how to solve a problem.
I was teaching a pastels class for Deb Borema at LACA last week and there was a seven-year-old in the class, the youngest person in a group of eight kids. He’d never used soft pastels before and he was curious about what you could do with them. He started out by doing the same painting that every one else did and then he started seriously playing. He tried smearing the chalk with his hands. He used a stomp. He splashed water on the paper. He folded the paper. He did everything to the paper using the chalk that he could think of. He went through several sheets and tried all the different kinds of pastels there were to use. And then suddenly he was done with pastels and made shrinky dinks for the last fifteen minutes of class.
All the other kids were very careful with their materials. They all wanted to make a good picture. Even though they were welcome to use as many of the pastels and sheets of paper as they wanted, nearly all of them did one piece and one piece only. They felt they had to do it correctly, and a few asked for help so it would look more like the demo. The youngest kid did not want any help. He wanted to do it all by himself.
Young kids can really teach you a lot as an artist. They don’t care whether they get a good picture or not. They’re playing with the materials. They’re exploring everything about it. They use their hands, they try out all the tools, they use lots of colors, textures. They play.
And when they’re done, they’re satisfied. They don’t say to themselves, “I need to master this medium,” or “This stuff is expensive, so I better make it last,” or “I’ve put so much time into this picture, I’ll be sad if it doesn’t turn out.”
The playing is the reward for them. How do I change so that playing is its own reward for me? The way I look at it, my new job will be figuring that out.