Who knew color would be such a challenge?

By Carol / April 5, 2017 /

A box full of color with so much potential.

Anxiety. Hopelessness. Despair. These are the feelings I experienced a couple of months ago, not because of some major life crisis, as you might expect; instead because of the pastels art class I’m taking. This class is the first time in adult memory I’ve found myself in a situation where I have not the first clue what I’m doing.

In the first weeks, with my box of pastels so fresh and ready, I waited like a small child for the instructor to tell me every single step to take. Except I was completely unlike a child. A  child would have jumped into all those beautiful colors and done something.

I admit, as a writer with a lifetime of experience behind me, I’m used to being confident taking on a new project, even when it’s in a new genre. The underlying principles are there; I simply need to use them in a new way. With color, I recognized no underlying principles to rely upon.

The reasons I took the pastel class – to learn something new, to have some fun, to follow through on my life-long desire to ‘do art’ – were lost to me. No matter how often I sought to remind myself to relax, to be open to the experience, to let the learning process unfold as the instructor meant it to, I reached the end of class tired and unhappy.

Then I remembered the 10,000-Hour Rule. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in a field. How could I think I’d know anything, let alone be able to create a passable work of art, when I’d only just begun?

We were a couple of weeks into the course when I lamented to the instructor, “In the context of 10,000 hours, I feel like I’m on hour one. Still,” I added, “I can see I’ve learned a couple of things.”

In a deadpan serious way, he responded. “Just wait till you get to hour two.”

Indeed. I’ve grown up knowing the rules and following them. This art class could be no different. But the 10,000-hour perspective, along with my instructor’s humorous response, helped me relax. I could go easier on myself. I could take some time. I could be in the moment.

Since then, I’ve opened up to the experience as I hadn’t before. Two months into the class, I’ve internalized some of the rules. I make a conscious point after each class to take a step back, breathe, and consider what I’ve learned. I’ve made mistakes and learned more. I’m also having some fun.

Have you tackled an unexpectedly difficult new task? How do you gain perspective in the face of a challenge?

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  1. Merril Smith on April 6, 2017 at 6:35 am

    I think it is disconcerting to those of us who are used to being in control, or who already know well how to do things, to then be in a situation or experience where we are beginners without a clue.
    At the same time, as you said, a child would not have hesitated to jump right into those colors. Perhaps there is a lesson there? Perhaps not. But it sounds like you’re glad you’ve stuck with it into “the second hour” and beyond.
    Those colors are yummy. They do make one want to dive in.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 6, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      You’re right, Merril. I am used to being in control and I have expectations no matter how often I tell myself not to. To regain the playfulness of a child who’s willing to try anything is a worthy goal. I am glad I stuck with it. And got to the point at which I started – to try something new and have fun doing it. It’s all good.

  2. Paulette Mahurin on April 6, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Just wait till you get to hour two from your instructor sounds familiar to what I experienced trying to learn water coloring. And still what I produce looks at best like a kindergarten class. Hugs to you.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 6, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      A water color class is on my list, Paulette. People who do pastels say water color is difficult. People who do water color say pastels are difficult. At least I’m warned. I’ll share some of my pastel works in progress. One of the most interesting things to me is how the colors get layered – so what you see at the end looks nothing like the phases along the way.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on April 6, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Congratulations on tackling something unfamiliar and sticking to it in spite of the anxiety you experienced! I’m taking a lesson from it! It reminds me of two challenges I faced as an adult in my mid thirties–learning how to swim (I was terrified of water having experienced a near-drowning as a teenager) and learning how to drive. I never really learned how to swim, but I got over my fear of the water and can float and dog paddle. I drive when I have to! But I tackled two seemingly insurmountable tasks, and they made me feel good about myself. I gained self confidence and learned that you’re never too old to try something new! Good for you, Carol!! It’s the process that’s important, not the end result!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 6, 2017 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks, Elfrieda. I chuckled when you mentioned swimming and learning to drive. Both of those were challenges to me, too. I took swimming lessons on Saturdays in the summer when I was a kid and came away knowing very little and having no comfort level in the water. When I reached my 30s, I felt as you must have – that I had to learn. So I got into lessons again. The water still isn’t my favorite place to be, but at least I know a few strokes. It took me three tries to get my driver’s license when I was a teenager because I couldn’t satisfy the officer with my parallel parking. Now I love to drive and I can parallel park anywhere. There are many life lessons in all of these experiences.

  4. Marian Beaman on April 8, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Your note to the Chincoteague gang reminded me to check on you here.

    As you practice, why not let Granddaughter Eliza lead the way – or a grand niece. Then watch your right-brain take over as you lapse into another brand of fun.

    I still remember those paper folds you helped us master last year. 🙂

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 9, 2017 at 11:54 am

      Good idea, Marian. Spending time with the granddaughters is always a reminder to play with abandon.

      Last week I came across the last of those colored napkins we used to make the lotus flowers. Another fun memory. And since we’re close to Easter again, perhaps I’ll make more.

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