Category: News

Fear of Ruining It

I wrote in a previous post that Jean-Michel Basquiat didn’t seem to have any fear in his art making process. Maybe in part because he was constantly making things. I suppose if you were making new drawings and paintings every day, they wouldn’t feel as precious. I don’t work nearly that much, and when I start to make something that I like, leave it, and return to it, it occurs to me that I might just ruin it. Or it occurs to me that it’s very likely that I”ll ruin it.

I read in a book by Françoise Gilot that Picasso would start his paintings, then when they reached a turning point he would have his assistants make copies of them so that if he didn’t like what he did with them, he could go back and start over. That would be ideal, wouldn’t it. I guess you can do that if you work digitally. Or if you have assistants.

Here is a drawing I am currently working on. I started it working freely, the way I do when I’m doing journal drawings. My goal was to begin working that same way in larger formats. This is 23″ x 19″. I was trying to do some Basquiat things and took out my oil paints, which are at least twenty years old, but still seem okay. The tubes are a bit sticky. I got this far several weeks ago and then became paralyzed. Well actually I also got busy with other things, but I’ve had opportunities to work on it and have chosen safer things.


Here is is after further work:


And here it is finished:

I don’t believe I ruined it, but I would love to go back and do a few sections differently. Still, I think the making of it is the most important thing. I need to make more paintings and not expect them all to be works of art. As they say:)


This fox arrived the other day and reminded me of how much I like foxes. They must be my favorite animal (after tigers). I have never met a fox, so this is all in my imagination. I did see a coyote trotting down my street the other night at 9:15 pm.

You might note the effort at shading. I still need practice. She appears to be hoeing something.

Here is another fox I drew a few years ago called “Booty Fox.”


I figured out this very cool thing over the summer. It’s obvious perhaps, but it had never occurred to me before. On our vacation to Acadia National Park, we stayed at an AirBnb in Bar Harbor, Maine. The owner, who was an artist, had an extensive collection of art books. I browsed through the one she had on Jean-Michel Basquiat. I didn’t know too much about him at the time except that he had written a children’s book with Maya Angelou. I also had seen an exhibit on his notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum a few years ago.

I really liked this art book book she had, and I was trying to figure out who the author or publisher was so I could buy a copy for myself. I searched for it in the Boston Public Library catalog, but there were so many entries and with similar covers that I couldn’t figure out which one it was. So I put a bunch of the Basquiat books on hold, and went to the library to look at them, as they don’t allow you to check out the big juicy art books.

First of all, the Boston Public Library is a beautiful space. If you haven’t visited, you should check it out. They offer a free tours, too.

Years ago when I was writing, I used to go to the Library of Congress  reading room in Washington, D.C. to work.

Main Room of Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The Boston Public Library has similarly awesome spaces in which to work. I went there, collected a bunch of Basquiat books from the art desk, and hauled them over to this room.

Boston Public Library Reading Room

My initial intention had been to simply figure out which Basquiat book I had been looking at in Maine, but it turned out I got to look at a ton of Basquiat’s work. Of course they are just reproductions in a book, but they are fine reproductions, and there was so much to see. It was like going to my own private art exhibit on Basquiat. I also learned a bit about his career. Dang he was prolific. He worked for nine years, from 1979-1988, and made up to 1000 drawings and about 1000 paintings. That comes to nearly a painting every three days.

What I am most interested in is how he seemed to work from his gut and without fear. One of the books wrote that “from a very early age Basquiat discovered that drawing was a process of ‘channeling’ in which he essentially functioned as a medium. In so doing, he also learned about a freedom from editing. That is, as impressions, observations and thoughts passed through him, he recognized that he did not need to prioritize or judge them.”

“In presenting all that he portrayed as being of equal value, Basquiat presented himself as that nonjudgmental observer who approached his subjects with a certain detachment, without an agenda, a need to separate out, to choose or select.”

I succeed in drawing this way in my journals, but as soon as I get to a painting, I seize up with fear of ruining it. What I really want is to remove all fear from my process.


What I really need to learn how to do is to shade my illustrations in a convincing way. That’s a large part of why I wanted to learn how to draw properly. Today I did two drawings of a felted bowl I have. They are not very good, but it got me motivated to keep working at it.

After the bowls I did a free journal drawing and then tried to shade it– at least the dog part of it.  I really want to be able to shade these invented characters. So much of what the drawing books teach you is to draw what you see, but I don’t actually see these things before I draw them. I think I need to learn how to imagine them more clearly in a three-dimensional way with light hitting them.