When I was in fifth grade, art class was my favorite subject in school (I'm not sure that has ever not been the case). It was an hour and a half long and we met every other week with Mrs. B. She was obviously my favorite teacher. The class flew by and I always felt so sad to leave, even though she gave us skittles (plus one if you said thank you) as we were departing.
Every other week, I would sit on my bench with anticipation over what the next project would be. When we were younger, it would be sculptures in clay, or Eric Carle-Like collages. As we progressed through elementary school, we had more freedom to choose our subjects and mediums. At that age we weren't playing with oils or acrylics yet, but I figured out a lot of wonderful ways to use tempera, oil pastels, water colors, and Mrs. B's magnificent kiln.
I will never forget an artistically life changing moment when I was about 11 years old. I had drawn an oil pastel portrait of a mom and baby mountain lion. I remember I loved the way the paws turned out, and the mother's closed eyes, but I never liked the bland lack of interest in the mothers front leg. I did not do the background yet and had decided to paint in the sky with a bright tempera blue. Mrs. B was walking around, monitoring our progress, and stopped when she got to mine. The blue was too garrish and had no resemblance of a realistic sky.
Before I knew it, she snatched up my painting and held it under the running water of the laundry sinks that lined the side of the room! I was horrified! I watched the sky disappear under the water. (The water didn't affect the oil pastel drawing) and felt the eyes of everyone else on me.
I'm sure some people reading this may think that was a little harsh, especially for an 11 year old. However, I don't remember my hurt feelings lasting long. If I'm honest with myself, I was probably mostly upset that I didn't do something perfect the first time, something my mom could probably attest is my earliest known vice. She dried off the paper, brought it to me, and then we had a conversation about mixing a more realistic sky, including white and complementary colors to help gray the obnoxious hue that came straight from the jar. She was right. The new sky looked infinitely better and the painting was complete.
I will never forget that lesson. It wasn't about making a perfect painting (those don't exist), or even how to paint the sky. It was about letting go of expectations about starting over, and finding freedom in doing so. Instead of feeling hurt, I recall being a little flattered that she cared enough to make such a strong point. As I have grown as an artist since then, I feel even more grateful to have learned that lesson for the first time at such a young age. I still wipe out paintings (or parts of paintings), probably half of all attempts, if not more. (Except nowadays it's with a rag and mineral spirits instead of a laundry sink!) It's always a little scary to erase sometimes hours of progress, but without fail, I am able to paint the second (or third) attempt with more confidence and clarity. I have had the blessed opportunity to keep in touch with Mrs. B, and she is still one of my favorite teachers .
What in your life needs a pass under the laundry sink? What could you gain by allowing yourself to rebuild? What could you learn in the process of starting over?