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Monday, February 28, 2011

Free and Easy

Done as free and easy as one can with watercolor and no restraints. No pencil lines. No stopping for drying. Just water, a kid's watercolor pad set you can buy at the market, q-tips, sponge, paper toweling and a hair blower, my kit. This watercolor is by someone who is not only ambitious, but also impatient. It's a shame that watercolor paper ripples when it's whetted, cuts down on total spontaneity. I do like spontaneity. We live with enough restraints.

While I was reading Epstein's Ambition last night, glimpsing the Academy Awards, listening to Honey's critique of the actors' winded speeches, I took time out during the commercials to go back to the studio and draw-in some definition lines and spots. I don't know whether it was for better or worse? Actually, it looks the same, but definitions always make me feel better-- there's something to hold on to.

When I got back, I started to think about the Webster's 1980 7th edition, dictionary definition of ambition Epstein noted in his book. It seemed archaic. I know 1980 was a long time ago for a lot of you, but I don't remember that decade as being all that old fashioned. We were pretty wild as forty years olds at the top of our game. Anyway, the definition read: "Ambition. An ardent desire for rank, fame or power." The words ardent and desire seemed a bit romance novel to me. And "rank" reminded me of the military. The definition didn't read like ambition was a very good thing-- especially if it was militaristic and ardently so.

I had to look it up in my American College Dictionary (1981 edition): "ambition. An eager or strong desire [there's that desire word again] to achieve something such as fame or fortune; will to succeed." Well, I am definitely willing to put in whatever effort I must to succeed. I do strive for excellence in both my design work and my art work and I see nothing wrong with that. Why not be the best you can? Why not want to do everything you can to make things come out as well as possible?

I know we screw up sometime by overdoing. I could have lost the kitchen job if the client was a different sort or wasn't willing to listen to the why of my design. I might have overdone my little watercolor painting with one line too many--or one line too few? But I had to push what I thought would work best and did. Reaching for excellence is risky,you do fail at times, but it feels so good when you don't, when you look at your work with awe and think did I really do that? Wow.

Epstein's definition isn't wordy. He defines ambition as "the fuel of achievement." Short, sweet and to the point. I like it.

In every design I've ever done, I've learned something to make the next design better; the present fueled the future. Same with each painting. I do critique my own work. My conclusions are the force that drive me on to the next a bit wiser. When I critique my work, some might think I'm never really satisfied or I lack self confidence. Critiquing your own work has nothing to do with self confidence. It has to do with figuring out what was in it that was good and what could be better, then moving on to the next one with that knowledge in your pocket.

Now ambition for fame OR fortune, that's different than the ambition that keeps you striving ahead to do better work. That ambition involves the public arena--public validation of your work by others--marketing yourself, putting yourself out there, I've accomplished that with my design work. I have not gone after it with much enthusiasm with my art, with the exception of starting this blog.

Epstein says that we Americans have come to think of ambition as bad. "Oh he's so ambitious," we say with disdain. He said it was the Europeans' fault--ugly American and all that. He also thinks that's too bad, for it was the ambition of our people that put this country on top. The ugly American image around the world took a lot of the wind out of our sails. I think he has a point. I know he's got a point. But if we ever needed ambitious folks, we certainly could use them now. I'll tell you more about it as I read on. I find the topic fascinating; I hope you do too?


  1. I love this and it caught my eye right away. I like your drawing back into it. The only part I think is a little to dark- or maybe I just liked the blue - is the lower left flower.

    I kept an eye on the Oscars last night - by it amazes me how many actors can't speak. Although, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman and Colin Firth know how it is done.

    And your reflection on ambitious is spot on. It usually is NOT a bad thing at all. It all depends what your ambitious for, I guess. I also look forward to more of these watercolors.

    (Oh, and the quality of paper matters- I use heavy duty paper all the time - can't stand the cheap stuff. I order it from Dick Blick and use both sides if I am practicing. I buy a huge sheet and cut it into the sizes I want. I have not patience with paper that buckles.

  2. Thanks for the tips Margaret. My paper is cheap; I don't consider myself a watercolorist. So when I bought the supplies, I bought them as a possible quick sketch medium. Was I wrong! I may have to go back to pastels with my tendency for broad loose strokes? I think the flower's dark too. In real life, it's dark, but I should have left more white in that area. It's difficult doing watercolors when I think in acrylics and painting over is an option. But I'll hang in. I'll also get a couple of sheets of the good stuff next time shopping. Thanks again.

  3. I love the loose watercolors, and this is wonderful!

  4. You're very kind Christina. Thank you. I'm really such a novice with this medium. I really appreciate your compliment; your work is just beautiful--I loved your trees in your last post.

  5. Wow, an explosion of colours! Love it love it love it. It's also looks like it's done by someone with a lot of confidence.

    I think ambition itself is a good thing... but there is a trade off with other things in life, which unfortunately isn't such a good thing. But unfortunately, we can't have everything in life.

  6. Well Evelyn, I'd like half your talent. Your work is really special.

  7. Dear Linda,
    Thank you for the beautiful watercolor! I love this style so much. BTY, Shaun Tan won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for "The Lost Thing." He is a lovely picture book illustrator, who once encouraged me. Wow, he's the world legend now. Amazing.
    Cheers, Sadami

  8. Thanks Sadami. It was nice to get back into the medium. Watercolor is so different than acrylics, i.e.the approaches. And being nearsighted all my life, the dark to light approach of acrylics and oils comes naturally. But the medium so is lovely in it's lightness, (brilliance), it's hard to stay away.
    Congrats to your mentor. Will you follow in his footsteps? Film has always fascinated me and you've got the time and the talent to pursue it.