You think you know someone, and then you listen to a podcast that launches your understanding to a brand-new level.
I just finished listening to Episode 14 , “Making It Look Easy” with Liz Steel and host Nishant Jain on his podcast The Sneaky Artist, and had to pause it at about 50 minutes (it’s a 90-minute interview) to sit down and write to you.
Liz is talking about how you get a much clearer understanding of what you know – and what you don’t know – by teaching. That was certainly my experience for the three years I taught at Kimball Jenkins. During that time I found myself stammering, then pointing, then demonstrating, because words simply didn’t show what I was trying to explain.
After years of collecting art instruction books and feeling disappointed in myself as a learner, I now understand that some things are much better taught through videos or in-person. Think about it: How could a single frame from Casablanca or The Godfather or The Color Purple tell you much at all about the movie?
Of course a lot can be taught through books, thank goodness! Take art instruction for example. Picture yourself reading one of those books right now; it takes you down a lovely country lane of learning, then you find yourself at a fork in the road.
The fork to the left is marked DRAWING. You can learn a lot about drawing from books. You can use graphite pencil, or colored pencil, or ballpoint pen, or fine-liner, or even fountain pen, and the instructions in a book will serve you very well. (I like to think I did that reasonably well in my book, Look at That!)
But the fork to the right says PAINT, so you add water and all hell breaks loose.
Can you imagine trying to learn gymnastics or equestrian prowess from a book? Only the very basics could be conveyed and then the wise teacher would find a way to say, “Come with me, I have something to show you, not tell you.”
I love books, and sometimes I love video-learning even better, but today I was shocked to realize that some things are conveyed even more clearly using just audio. The podcast mentioned above comes closer to revealing the heart of this artist than a book full of her gorgeous illustrations. Why? Because of one thing: The colors in her voice.
Listen to Liz in this interview. Over and over again you hear the bubbling enthusiasm in her voice, you hear her smile. You feel the “why bother” of creating a sketching habit in a way that no book or blog could ever explain, no matter how well written.
And isn’t “Why bother?” the most important question you could ever ask yourself?
Let’s zoom out for a moment: What are you doing habitually with your days lately? Why bother?
Yes, yes, there’s the food and shelter and dishes and laundry and bathing of daily life, but beyond that, what are you doing with yourself, and why?
I’m as guilty as anyone of binge-watching movies or a TV series when I don’t think I have the energy for anything else, but that’s a slippery slope, as we all know.
Daily living drains the well, so what are you doing to refill it?
I’ve discovered a surprisingly simple thing that changes the flow in my well from draining to filling: Change Tempo.
An example: my main meal most days is a very large complicated salad. I can rush through preparing it, annoyed that there are so darned many things to chop. Or I can slow my pace 50%, actually look at each vegetable or fruit or pickle or piece of tofu, and marvel at the journey it went on to arrive at my kitchen cutting board.
I can fold laundry just a little more slowly, and be amazed at how many years those slightly worn-out socks have protected me from my shoes.
I can sit just a little longer on the granite stoop downtown, where I must pause to catch my breath because my lungs are struggling a bit lately. I can be aggravated that I have to waste time sitting in the middle of my walk back from the market, or I can look up, really look at the street lamp that I’ve seen so many times, and I can think, “Wow, that lamp is so ornate! I thought I’d seen it before, but no, it’s far more decorative than I ever realized.” And instead of just pausing to catch my breath, I find myself pausing to sketch something that takes my breath away.
Once again, I’m not amazed at what I see— I am amazed that I see. It’s such an exquisite privilege to be able to open your eyes and actually see. Not everyone can do that. I’ve had more than a few adventures with dicey eyesight so I know. When I say, “Look at That,” I’m also saying, whoa, slow down, this life we have is more amazing than we know, especially if we’re rushing through a to-do list, acting like that list is our reason for living. It’s not.
What’s your reason for getting out of bed and participating in this day today? Why bother? What’s in it for you?
Have a good ponder— I hope your answer makes you smile.