The image above is one that I sketched from a book (The Story of Paintings – a history of art for children by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom) while sitting on the beach watching my girls mess around in their inflatable row boat. (Until the oldest one, Chloe, became convinced that she saw an Eagle Ray in the water and they came hot-tailing it back to the safety of the beach, filled with imaginary fears of the small Eagle Ray puncturing their inflatable boat with its barb.)
I sketched Shen Zou using a fountain pen – a temperamental one that I really, really, really dislike. But because it is the only fountain pen I have, and it was the only pen in my bag on the beach with me, I was forced to use it.
I wasn’t enjoying the sketching process, mostly because of the uncooperative pen, and because I was so busy scratching lines into the paper, forcing the pen to work, I lost all sight of proportion. It was like a bad writing day, when I have an idea in my mind, but find myself struggling to get the right words to express it.
Shen Zou, well known for his paintings that included imagery and poems, sketched in tranquility, in gardens and in nature. He would never have left indents on his page out of frustration and stubbornness. I imagine he would have simply accepted the pen for what it was and perhaps tried another.
I’ve made this error – trying to force creativity – not only in sketching but also in writing. Insisting that an idea just has to work, even when it refuses to. Trying to force images or comparisons in where they don’t really belong, just to breathe life into something that seemed good in the shower, or in the middle of the night, but one that was clearly less stellar on the page.
I find that the best way to deal with seemingly good ideas that just refuse to work on paper, is to let them go. Like I let the fountain pen go – straight to the bin. Sometimes, it’s a great idea, but the timing is wrong, and other times, it’s just a bad idea. Learn to let them go.
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