On art…and procrastination

I finished a painting yesterday that I’ve been working on, off and on, for over a year. It looks great. And it feels great to have it completed. Except that’s not how I planned to spend my day yesterday. I planned to read a book and write a presentation about it for work. And I am quite excited about the content so I don’t know exactly how I ended up spending the day completing this painting instead. The thing about me and procrastination is that a sure way for me to finish a long-outstanding-medium-priority project is to plan to accomplish something I want to do even less than that original project. If only I could harness this phenomenon to trick my brain to want to get stuff done. But it seems I’m only aware of it after the fact.

And believe me, I’m not an advocate of feelings dictating whether or not you should tackle something hard. Oh no. I’ve long understood the need to face hard things with grit whether you feel like it or not. And I’m good at it. With high priorities. But medium priorities? Danger zone.

The thing about my paintings is I’m never quite sure how much longer it will take to finish. Art is the bravest thing I do. That next brush stroke could make or break the entire piece and I won’t know which until I take it. I don’t know if it will take 5 more coats, 12 more hours, or 10 more minutes or another year of pondering.

I work, I rework, I recoat, I scrape, I mix, I mix, I remix, I spill, I curse a bit, I bless a lot and I am somewhere else – captivated, uninterruptable – thinking and worrying about nothing but that next brushstroke and what it should be and what it will do. I wait for it to dry, wondering what’s next. And once I know what’s next, I want to do it, right then. And then I work, I rework, I recoat…

And then quite suddenly, it’s finished. I see it like I haven’t been working on it at all – I’m surprised by it almost every time. Oh. We’re here. I have to stop.

“‘When are you most completely you…?…You weren’t thinking about yourself at all. You were completely thrown out of yourself in concentration…And yet you were really being you…when we’re thinking consciously about ourselves, we’re less ourselves…discoveries don’t come when you’re consciously looking for them. They come when…you’ve let go conscious control.” Madeleine L’Engle in A Ring of Endless Light