I'm part of a small group of life-drawing enthusiasts that meets every other week for 3-hour sketch sessions. In our tiny town I am grateful to have found a lovely model willing to pose nude for us. We had a newcomer attend recently and a comment he made led me to today's thoughts. I'd asked him if he'd drawn from the model before and he replied that he was just a beginner and hoped that was okay. I chuckled to reassure him saying, "don't worry - we are all beginners here."
Now, I'm in my late 50's, and I've been making pictures since I was old enough to hold a crayon. So what was I saying when I said that I too am a beginner? Each time I stand before the stark intimidation of a blank sheet I am starting anew. While I have acquired a handful of skills and techniques that give me confidence to face each new challenge I don't often feel I know what I am doing. The first stabbing mark on the virgin surface is a testament of faith... "leap, and the net will appear." (Thank you Julie Cameron....) I have no idea how the work will progress, I'm not really in control of the process at all. Things go best when I can allow my conscious mind to wander down other paths while my hand and eye take over on their own. Every now and then "I" check in on the work and am either amazed or dismayed by how it's progressing.
While I am often uneasy about the not knowing - at the same time the constant ambiguity is what fuels the adventure. "Where IS this going to go?" A big reason I am moving away from landscapes is that they were becoming predictable to me. The challenge wasn't there like it used to be. I was beginning to develop tricks and gimmicks, and I felt my art was losing it's freshness. I think it was Delacroix who said, "A painting must look like a battleground..." by which he meant it should give some indication of the struggle the artist has in accomplishing a piece. He finished up the remark by adding, "... but it must also look as though the battle were won." My last couple of landscapes stopped showing signs of struggle - the life had gone out of them. They sit unfinished while I seek fresher battles.
My nudes consequently have become that new warzone - full of disasters and defeats, with the odd small victory. The confidence that comes from a lifetime of making pictures carries me through the darker horrors with a promise of the sweet taste of something well accomplished. And with each sketch and painting I learn and grow. It's what being an artist is all about. History doesn't remember artists for the obscene prices their work fetches; it remembers them for rising to the heights of their creativity. That can only come from overcoming challenges.
Another comment I have made to newcomers to our life drawing group is that in three hours of multiple poses none of us are likely to create a masterpiece. The sessions are about gaining valuable experience. It helps to accept that every sketch is only a beginning - that it's okay if it doesn't end up on someone's wall. Each and every one of those sketches - those battlegrounds - adds up to the victory that IS being an artist.