My former roommate did a silly thing. She asked me if she could commission her sister’s wedding gift. Ridiculous, right? I mean, of all people, she knows I’m a psychologist by trade – not to be trusted with such a venture. But she had seen firsthand the few paintings and drawings I did during graduate school when, miracle upon miracle, I managed to remember that I had passions outside of psychology. She has also seen pictures of some of my art from taking classes the past two years. I guess she knew what she was getting herself into.

The Logistics

Here’s something I’ve heard from longtime artists. Commissions are really stressful. Even if people think they don’t have a specific idea in mind, often they get pretty particular once they see the end product. It is much more desirable to have artwork available that people can pick from instead. I was already considering selling some pieces this way to avoid…ya know…stress. But when life hands you an opportunity, you gotta at least consider it.

Fortunately, I know my former roommate well enough that I figured I could trust she’d be happy with whatever direction I settled on. She has always been very complimentary about artwork I’ve done, and she has seen a range of styles and mediums I’ve tried out. In other words, the perfect time to try out this whole ‘selling your artwork’ thing. Eek!

I was given free reign on the style and medium. She had a general framework of wanting something connected to her sister’s wedding and was going to provide pictures from the wedding day. We settled on a general size and price range (based on some research I did looking at similar products online) and discussed a timeline for completing it once I received the photos. And that was that!

Trusting Your Instincts

Keep in mind that art has been a ‘hobby’ for me, just to fill my own walls or to give a gift here and there. It is only very recently that I have started to see my potential as an ‘actual’ artist.

This commission was my first time figuring out the direction to take a piece of art based on the subject matter. Usually, I would start with the medium I wanted to use (like my recent venture into acrylics) and then find something to draw or paint. This time it was all about seeing some photos and choosing my direction from there.

Oh, and then there’s the small detail of not having an art teacher there to help. This time all bets were off.

Based on our discussion, I figured I would be doing a watercolor painting of the bouquet. I was all set to do it. I had even gotten all my watercolors out and had started to wipe away the cobwebs with a little practice (since I’d gotten a little rusty after shifting to acrylics in my art class). Then I got the pictures from the wedding and saw a bouquet of white flowers.

Whelp – so much for watercolors (emphasis on colors)! Granted, you can add a fun background to make it pop, but I just wasn’t feeling watercolor inspiration. Whomp whomp. But wait! Have something fairly monochromatic that you want to add a little dramatic oomph to? Enter charcoal, my old friend.

Some hours later, after becoming charcoal covered from fingertips to shoulder blades (don’t ask me how I managed that one), I had a charcoal drawing of the bouquet. The best part? I’m actually super proud of it. My gut told me where to go and it did not let me down.

Don’t Overthink It

What advice can I give following this experience? Don’t overthink it! I get that this is hysterical coming from me, but it’s the lesson I continually find myself grateful to learn.

You want to do something? Yearning to take it to the next level? When the right opportunity presents itself, go for it! I’m getting better and better about getting out of my head and not worrying about if I’m good enough to do something. In the past, I would have been more stressed about how this would go. Instead, I decided to trust the process. Will it always go as smoothly as this one did? Well…no. But you have to embrace a little risk and stretch yourself to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment. And now it’s got me thinking about where to go next. All pretty exciting if you ask me.

One thing people often guess about me is that I grew up as an innocent goody-two-shoes. I am uncomfortable breaking the rules, even though I believe some rules are really, really dumb. I am convinced that if I step out of line, someone will catch me. Not to mention the guilt or embarrassment I feel when I think I’ve done something wrong – soooooo not worth it. Because of this, there were only two times that I was grounded as a kid. They were both for lying about practicing my violin/singing.

Had I been more compelled to practice when I was growing up, I do wonder where I would be today. It isn’t one of those wistful “if only” thoughts, it was what it was. I was a happy kid, exploring my passions with the steady support of my parents. If ever there was the opportunity, I had it. I just merely did not have the desire at the time to put work into those areas, so my life went a different route. Interestingly, now that I am settled into the adult life, that desire has emerged.

But that means practicing. Bleh.

The dreaded bar chords – your finger becomes the capo.

Why Practicing Sucks

OK, this is where you may start rolling your eyes. This is not a gloat-session, I swear. But I have a theory about myself that is important when talking about practicing. That theory is that I’m spoiled.

I am generally good at a lot of things just naturally. (Unless it’s sports. I have poor depth perception – like as in tested by eye doctors/physicians. So…yeah, not my thing.) I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty great being able to pick things up quickly. However, the drawback is a tendency toward relying too much on natural ability. It results in impatience and trouble tolerating the process that is important for growth and development of additional skills over time.

I often wonder if those who have more natural talent may be at a disadvantage, namely of not having a good ability to grow in a skill. The equation in my mind is this: artistic prowess = talent + the ability to grow it. And I think that the equation comes out the strongest when the two parts are well-balanced. We often believe raw talent is what counts, but if you can’t harness it, then what?

Here’s my problem. I just want to be good at something. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind putting in the time and energy, and I love learning new things. But for me, practicing feels like a shift from learning to sheer repetition. It goes from the excited energy of something new and innovative to the humdrum of a broken record, doing something over and over and over and over and over again until it improves.

Because of this, I have a bad habit of seeing practice as a means to an end. When the bad news (for me) is that it’s ALL meant to be a process. No beginning, no end, just continual learning and evolution. Even when you are crafting/creating a specific item like a scarf or a candle, technically you can always find something to refine – it is a conscious choice to find an end point where you are willing to step away and call it “complete”. UGH.

Trial batches of cookies to test.

Why Practicing is Awesome

In the words of Mike Myers, now let’s put the emPHAsis on the other sylLAble.

Practicing is where the magic happens. Putting in the rote time, trying and trialing over and over, zeroing in on the techniques behind the art. These seemingly mundane tasks allow your brain to process and to click in ways it wouldn’t if you had just focused on creating your end product. There is this cool point where the motor memory and the creative flow finally click and you finally go from repetition to elevation. It’s awesome.

Also think about this. When you are practicing, it’s all process. In other words, there is no such thing as ‘messing up’. EVERYTHING is fair game. How cool is that?? It is one of the only areas of life where there is no pressure to get it right. When you trial something out, you can toy around and not worry if the chords clash or the colors murk. They say that brainstorming in its purest form is when there is no such thing as a bad idea – you are just riffing and coming up with any possibility. Practice is where that happens.

Not convinced? Sigh, me neither – not 100% anyway. But whether it’s psychology or art, performance or creation, the theme holds steady. We have to allow the time and the space to practice, to try, to flub, to refine, to start again.