Practice, Not Perfect

Practice designs on an index card. Random now, but they'll show up again later.

Practice is not writ large in our world today. Practice takes time. Practice does not give immediate perfect results or personal satisfaction. Our journal pages can’t be practice, they have to be complete. No wonder some of them are half an inch thick with painted-over gesso to cover mistakes. We hate mistakes. We want that first-time perfect.

I am older than you. I have made more mistakes than you. I have discovered the secret to beautiful journal pages and it is called “practice.” OK, painting over with gesso works, too. But there is an easier way. And that is to draw something a few times before you put it in your journal. Even designs, even abstract ideas benefit from practice. You can dedicate a few journal pages to practice, too. It will help remind you that it wasn’t great the first time, although by time three it was improving.

Practice isn’t hard and it isn’t punitive. Practice is writing or drawing (or building or stitching) on a piece of paper until your hand understands what its doing. The proportions come together and your fingers get a chance to think. Grabbing a journal and expecting a perfect page without practice is asking for disappointment.

Still doubting the value of practice? Move the idea you have about yourself to someone else. Want a dentist who has never done a root canal to start with you because he’s passionate about root canals? How about your surgeon? Moving away from medicine, how about your pilot? Want the first-timer in your plane. Suddenly practice makes a lot more sense.

I grab my ever-present index cards and fountain pen I use for taking notes and do my practice. I jot down ideas and patterns, try to work them out, and make an effort to figure out what I’m doing, all before I get close to the journal. Using a fountain pen doesn’t allow me to erase, but it allows me to start over again several times with no penalty.

Practice is an old trick. Try it. It will help you work on your perfectionism. Promise.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. Her book, “Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art” will be published in June of 2011 by North Light Books.