By nature, I’m not a patient person. I’m compulsive about getting things done immediately whenever possible. I worry that if I don’t do a task as soon as possible, that I’ll end up with an overwhelming amount of things to do and something will ultimately get missed. That’s my inherent character, but I’ve learned throughout the years how important it is to have patience as an artist.
Right now, my RISD Project Open Door students are working on linoleum block prints based on Op-Ed articles from the New York Times. The process is very time consuming, and will take about 6-7 three hour classes to complete. There’s brainstorming, thumbnail sketches to make, the carving of the linoleum block, and the printing process. The pacing of this project is odd. In the beginning when you’re sketching and carving the linoleum block, the process is really slow and at times it feels like you’ll never get there. Carving the linoleum blocks is not a process you can rush either. Not only is rushing through a safety hazard, but everything you carve is permanent, so you have to be very deliberate and confident about where you choose to carve.
When the linoleum carving is finally finished, and you ink up your block and pull the print, it’s a magical moment where your image suddenly appears in an instant. It’s a startling experience, because you spend so much time sketching and carving, and frequently the printed image looks very different from what you anticipated.
After pulling that first print, students give me puzzled looks when I tell them that they’ve still got a long way to go. I’m always pushing my students to spend more time with their pieces, and to truly bring their works to a full finish. I find that many students are fundamentally doing very good work, but many of them stop prematurely. It’s as if you were running a marathon, maintaining a good pace, but then stopped at mile 10 and didn’t bother to cross the finish line.
Ultimately, when you work professionally, bringing something to a full finish can be more critical than the quality of the work itself. If an art director is on a tight deadline, and they have to choose between an illustrator who who can pass in a finished piece and an illustrator who can’t finish by the deadline, which do you think they’ll have to pick? I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, and at one point she describes a poster they have in their office that says “Done is better than perfect.” Ideally, I want my students to achieve both quality and finish, but it’s important to realize when you work professionally how crucial the finish part is. If students never have the experience of completing an artwork all the way while they’re in school, learning that lesson while you’re on the job is an unpleasant surprise.
I’m always talking to my students about developing patience in their work. I have to push them to find the motivation they need to continue working on a piece they thought was done. Sometimes that extra hour or two on a project can be all the difference in the world. Although I am well aware of how important that extra time on a project can be, it’s still so hard for me to apply this principle to myself.
In my projects, I always have ongoing questions in my head that asks whether a project just needs more time, or whether I’m beating a dead horse and really should just get up and walk away. It can be very trying to tell yourself to stick with something when your impulse is to get up and leave. I think the hardest part is that to have patience, you also have to maintain a strong faith that your project will keep moving forward in a positive way. So maybe faith is more important than patience here, because as long as you have faith, the patience will come.