Embrace the Perfection of Your Youniverse!
Scott David James
Something I’ve learned in the course of becoming an artist is that things perceived to be flaws are often invaluable redirections. Perfection isn’t attained by recreating the same thing. Perfection is found in the singularity; unique and distinguishable; the propensity to stand alone, unmatched and identifiable.
There was a time when I felt an entire project ruined because I would become obsessed with creating something exactly how I envisioned it in my mind. Through the course of erasing and redrawing I would obliterate the medium leaving it worn and tattered. Eventually I would become frustrated, crumple it up and toss it out. Many a good start to an idea and project ended in this fashion because of my OCD.
Through careful self-analysis and discovery I realized this OCD had a profound affect on my work and the progression thereof. It took some time, thought and dedication, but eventually I was able to overcome this… to a degree.
Like any inclination toward an unrealistic superstition or paradigm that one has lived with for over thirty years, the effects are quite difficult to fully eradicate, if at all. The trick, I’ve learned, is learning to accept that these eccentricities exist within you and to teach yourself to recognize the triggers and supersede them with tangible objectives. For me this was facilitated by a method I like to call “trudging.” I learned this through a project of mine entitled; Don’t Judge Me!
I had an idea that I wanted to create for some time. The idea was to have a skull with nerdy glasses on, horn-rims preferably. The top of the skull would be open and a train would be bursting out of it. The notion was that it would represent a train of thought and it would be captioned; Don’t Loose Your Train of Thought! I spent months trying to draw the right skull without it looking overly imposing or ominous. Eventually my frustration won out and I put the project aside.
Months later I was sitting on my bed with a large sheet of drawing paper that I had graphed to be used as a grid for keeping track of individual NFL team scores and stats. The stats were face down and I was lost in thought staring at the back of the paper. In the grain and wrinkles of the paper I saw the outline of a pair of nerdy glasses and began to draw them. Then I saw the eyes and the brow. The jaw then came together and I had my skull. The only thing, however, was I had drawn the whole skull without opening the top. And it looked good. At this point I found myself deep in the quandary of whether I erase the top of the skull and try to redraw it for the train of thought, transfer it to a fresh sheet of paper and do just that, or leave it as it was because I like how it looked. With this I decided it was best to put the project away before I decided to start erasing and mess up a good start.
So here I was with a skull, as yet unshaded, but otherwise perfectly proportioned to my liking and uncertain where I should go with it next. It took several months before I worked up the courage to go back to it and attempt to allow it to weave itself into my mind in its own fashion. In this time I did a lot of introspection regarding my OCD and how I could either embrace it or work around or through it on projects like this so that a good start would not end up in the waste basket. And then it hit me…
I decided, almost in a manner of splitting my own personality and outwitting myself that I would allow every project from that day forth to take on a life of its own regardless of the incessant direction I desired to force it into within the vision of my own liking. But how to do this? How could I apply this in realistic fashion and function? After all I’d spent over 35 years living with the anxieties of thinking that things absolutely had to be executed in precisely the fashion that my mind sought as the ends or as the objective solution to the end.
With this I decided to completely step outside of my own original idea. Diddling around I drew a huge ear on one side. I liked it, it was different, original. Then I gauged the ear and decided it too was good so I drew the other ear. With this it became a project of its own, completely separate from anything I had imagined previously. I added a Mohawk and a tattoo on the forehead. Then I began to experiment with shading technique. I originally only wanted to pencil shade it and started the shading with this in mind. Then I saw a part that I felt the pencil wasn’t getting quite dark enough.
I grabbed a pen and started whip shading. This turned into outlining. This turned into regret and I thought I had ruined it by attempting to draw with pen, so unforgiving I thought. So I put the skull away yet again; my OCD was niggling, begging me to just throw it out at this point, attempting to convince me that I had ruined it irretrievably. Instead I put it away yet again, hoping that maybe later I could convince myself that I was talented and intelligent enough to repair what I had begun in ink.
For several weeks I twisted my mind around the technique of shading with an ink pen and practicing on scrap paper. Eventually I felt my mind had wrapped around a path to overcoming my notion of perfection. I went back to the skull.
This time I began by pencil shading, occasionally erasing if I felt the direction wasn’t right, then I would go in with a gum eraser and draw out the bulk of the graphite and return with the pen to follow the path envisioned in pencil. The skull began to come together and progressed nicely. There were points where I would have to stop myself from continuing if I felt something was wrong with the shade and move to a different area, building back to the point where I felt I had erred, drawing the eye away from that particular area. I found that I was on to something, my mistakes, I realized, began to have a profound affect on leading me into a cohesive whole; like the forest growing in chaotic fashion yet seeming to be in perfect harmony with its environment. Eventually I found myself looking forward to the next mistake to occur; ink bleeding out from the tip of the pen and smudging, forcing me to bring more shadow into an area; drawing for hours only to get exhausted and lazy and shoot a hard line out of bounds and have to expand an area to compensate, etc.
Eventually I finished the skull and added the words, Don’t Judge Me! Then I went in with colored pencil and colored the words, added green to the eyes and glasses and black to the background. It was done and it was perfect! I was dumbfounded at what I had created, what I had shaded. I could picture it on T-shirts, posters, post-cards, stickers. It became an entity unto itself.
I learned that if I could convince myself that it’s okay if the world is fucked up, I could unfuck it by simply accepting the mistakes and defects, moving fluidly in an unrestricted direction which allowed the painting of my life into a cohesive, calm and productive mindset. For the first time in my life I found a calmness I had never known before. I began to forget my OCD when I drew. I was free, at least as far as my art was concerned and this led me to create several more very intricate projects using the same process.
The defects and mistakes of the world, be them my own or others, became simply moments to be reflected upon, categorized and acclimated into my mental atlas to guide me through the next moment when my OCD tried to tell me that my environment HAD to be the construct of what I felt to be the objective environment; that a detour was unacceptable. I learned that the way I had been living all these years was according to the mindset that if there was a mountain in my way, the best direction was to blast right through it, without care or concern for the immense weight which lie above me as I did so. And I did this without consideration of the energy I’d spent attempting to chisel and blast right through these obstacles.
Because of one unexpected skull that resembles a skinned monkey head with a Mohawk and huge gauged ears I learned to take a step back, survey the reality of the landscape and calmly determine the most productive path leading to my ultimate destination. Which is always the most important goal, regardless of the course that gets you there. With one eccentric skull I all but overcame my OCD, and as a positive consequence, my superstitions as well.
Nowadays if I encounter moments where my OCD rear their heads I simply evaluate whether they have a positive affect on my environment, and whereof I embrace them; or a negative or unnecessary effect, and therein I simply laugh a little, shrug it off and move on. It’s still profoundly wild to me to be able to do this, but it is also comforting and empowering.
Instead of dwelling on the moments I have no control over, I trudge onward, generally with great success. And when I’m not successful in reaching my desired effect or destination, my success then lies in knowing the experience of that particular journey and applying it toward my next closest endeavor which correlates to the obstacles that prevented me from successfully navigating the previous path and using them as tools to navigate through to the end of the current path. With this, my life has become a perfect flow of next best things, each singularly profound in its own way, and all related to perfecting my harmony in my own personal universe amongst the rest of the stars migrating within their own Youniverses.