Chapter “A Yard of One’s Own”
There is a beautifully illustrated children’s book my son and I love to read together. It is a Chinese folktale, “The Empty Pot.” An Emperor has no heirs and announces that he will give his kingdom to the child who can grow the most beautiful flower. the children flock to the palace. Each child receives a seed and races home to plant it in a pot. One little boy, Ping, has an especially green thumb and is sure his flower will be the most beautiful. He plants it in rich soil, waters it faithfully, and waits excitedly to see it blossom. But nothing grows. A year passes. All the children return to the palace carrying pots with lovely flowers. Ping is ashamed. His pot is empty. His father encourages him to take the pot to the Emperor anyway. He says. “You have done your best, and your best is good enough for the Emperor.”
As the Emperor surveys the crowd of children holding their pots full of beautiful flowers, he frowns. Finally the Emperor confronts Ping with his empty pot. Ping apologizes profusely, telling the Emperor how hard he worked to grow the seed, but that the seed just wouldn’t grow. The Emperor slowly smiles and warmly embraces Ping. He tells the gathered crowd that he had cooked the seeds and that only Ping is honest and courageous enough to appear before him with an empty pot. He makes Ping Emperor of his kingdom.
When we take on the task of doing the best we can within whatever limits we face, there is often a rich reward. The results of our efforts may not meet our expectations. They may surpass them, or most likely, they will take a form so unlike what we anticipated that it takes time before we recognize them as our prize. Starting small with whatever resources are at hand works for most everything—writing a book, growing a business, learning to cook, making art. If there is no land for a garden, grow a flower in one small pot and see what happens.
When I was in my early twenties, I took a drawing class from a wonderful artist and teacher, Michael Meyers. I had a full time teaching job and worked additional hours on several evenings and Saturdays for community art programs. My resources were limited because I was helping my first husband through law school. I was frustrated because I had little time to draw or paint and had no studio or extra money for art supplies. By taking Michael’s class, I guaranteed myself a few hours a week devoted to drawing. Michael introduce me to a When I was in my early twenties, I took a drawing class from a wonderful artist and teacher, Michael Meyers. I had a full time teaching job and worked additional hours on several evenings and Saturdays for community art programs. My resources were limited because I was helping my first husband through law school. I was frustrated because I had little time to draw or paint and had no studio or extra money for art supplies. By taking Michael’s class, I guaranteed myself a few hours a week devoted to drawing. Michael introduce me to a method of working that has kept me making art over the years, even during difficult times.
He told me to work small enough to complete a drawing in whatever time I had available. For subject matter, he suggested I use whatever was convenient –my name in script, for instance. I began making six inch square drawings on white paper with colored pencils using shapes found in my signature. I would arrive home late from work, sit on the couch and draw. If I had only a few minutes and couldn’t complete a six inch drawing, I’d divide the square into grids and make one inch square drawings. Gradually, the drawings demanded more from me, and somehow, I found the time to give to them. I set up a card table in the living room and worked on two foot square drawings that took weeds of evenings and Sundays to finish. Whenever I could, I’d put a classical album on the record player and draw. The shapes derived from my signature evolved into marks and symbols inspired by the music. As the drawings became more dense and layers, I experimented with other materials, finally settling upon layers of plexiglas painted with acrylic and held together by frames I designed and had fabricated. One of those paintings was the first piece of mine exhibited in a museum show.
Over the years, I have returned to working small and within limits imposed upon me or defined by me. The “start small” method always serves to solve the immediate problem –which is usually how to keep making art in whatever circumstances –and it invariably leads to new insights and eventually produces a strong series of work. I heartily recommend the “start small” method. It’s easy to do. You just begin.