Over the last few months, I've been in the process of working on my next collection, and I'm focusing this time on sea creatures and boats (I've had quite a few requests for boat paintings!). While marine life isn't a totally foreign subject for me, it's one that I haven't painted for a long time, and I'm studying shapes and forms of different varieties of fish to understand how to render them in watercolor.
This guy up above is an octopus I spent time on last week in my studio and was quite pleased with how he turned out, considering I tried some "new to me" techniques: painting him upside down and scrubbing the surface of the paper with stiff brushes to lift out and blend color. This painting was based on a lesson from a new-to-me artist that I really admire, Berta Llonch
Then I remembered the last time I painted an octopus - January 2020, right when I first started learning how to paint:
At the time, I thought this was the coolest thing I made so far, and was really happy with how it turned out. When I compared it to my most recent octopus, that's when I realized how far I've come in the last three years:
After I finished my new painting, my inner critic started to nit-pick little things I could have done better. But it wasn't until I pulled out my old painting and realized that side-by-side, comparing the same subject matter in each painting, I've made a lot of progress in my skills and should find satisfaction in that fact alone. This is also why I keep almost all of my paintings: when I feel like my skills are stagnating, I take a look back through and see where I was six months or a year ago. Even the paintings that I thought were "bad" at the time look better with fresh eyes that haven't been staring at the paper for hours.
And that was the "ah ha" moment I had this week: it's so important to realize that growth in anything we try isn't always readily apparent to us in the moment, and it happens in small, incremental steps over time.
Even something like how the perennials in my garden change each year and get bigger and fuller isn't apparent to me in the moment, but when I flip back through photos from past summers, the progress becomes obvious.
So as I move forward with my painting practice, I will try to remember to give myself grace and kindness, and that each time I sit down with my brushes and paints, I'm always moving a tiny step forward in the right direction. I'm sure there's other areas of life that this can apply to as well