Beginners Mind and Fire

The open, unbiased mind, no pre-programmed muscle memory, no years of experience ( positive or negative) yammering behind your ear – do this, do that. Periodically it’s a worthy state to reattain. We all start in art at this entry; whether it’s sword work or woodcarving.

I’m only turning out a few commissions a year at this point, so I have shop time to spend on that most daring of adventure opening myself to the potential for failure.

Failure is part of the beginner’s mind. We practice. Find that our muscle memory fails us. We have no priors to aid us. So, we fail. At that point, it’s easy to turn away and retreat to the certain. In my case, another eagle or ship portrait.
But, recently I was bored, and even my most recent ship portrait of the steamship Servia was very different than my previous ones. OK, I am cautious even while approaching beginners mind. I get my toes wet first, then dive in. That’s my way: I didn’t start sword arts until I was sixty. What is important is that at some point, you give yourself over to the new and untested. At almost seventy-three, I think its all about “unaging” yourself -rejuvenation if you will.
One of the recent experimental pieces is this Green Man. I don’t do faces or people. At least never before. Noses, eyes, lips- Oy. I took this on as a project to finally dive into the cold waters that scare me. I’ll learn as much from this one as I can, and start another on to apply the lessons learned until it gels. If it’s not too awful I’ll put it behind the dog’s bowl to see what a real critic thinks of it ( can’t do that to the cat – she’s automatically disdainful).

So here is the unfinished face of my first green man, because part of the beginner’s mind is often exposure.

Now, this is where the fire comes in. Very little goes to waste in a woodcarver’s shop. Even the dust and shavings that wind up in the dust collector go to the trails in my woodland garden. OK pieces are gifted to family and friends. Large scrap becomes spoons and spatulas. Real failed pieces get hung around the shop for a while as I study where I failed, and succeeded. When I have no further lessons to learn, and the dog wants new artwork, or the cat is done sneering, it provides heat in the stove or firepit.

And then I move on.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” ~Bill Gates