Practice over and over again.

I want to be a great artist, funny I keep failing at it. I’m not Matisse. I’m never going to be Matisse. I suck and fail.

There’s a million ways to become a great artist and all of them take sitting on your butt and doing the work. But with the internet, kid, wife, house, the problems of life it’s really hard to find the time. We won’t even talk about all the anxieties of making work or the siren lure of chocolate beckoning from the closet.

So yes practice your art, make your art, but if you can’t concentrate how do you make your art? All practice starts with breaking down the steps into simple things that you can focus on and learn. Buddha wanted to be permanently happy, his really big insight is that it came from learning the most basics steps of paying attention to the world (concentration) and then progressively letting go of the internet, kid, wife, house, chocolate, art anxieties. He just practiced that’s called meditation.

And he set a very small goal stay focused on one small thing just his breath. He just paid attention to that one action breathing until he hit the point called Nibbana.

I’m a hundred million miles away from Nibbana but I have figured out I need to practice paying attention to my breath to get there. This whole series of posts is to take the process of meditation and apply it to making art. Writing is after all about making things clear to the writer first.

So how does the skill of concentration get developed and make it possible to sit on my butt and work, that’s the next step.

The Oxford Kamma

The second part of right intention is kamma or “karma” depending on the translator. Everyone knows that means what you did in your past life. When I was a Renaissance painter, then a middle linebacker for the Cleveland Browns so I have ended up as a schmuck in Oakland.

Reincarnation means every every cynic dismisses kamma as a fairytale . But Buddha never even talked about reincarnation. Buddha’s definition is “if this, then that”.

If you eat a dozen donuts every day then you get fat”. It’s cause and effect, the actions you take have a result. Everything you do has a result. Talk about what a great artist you are, the result is people wonder about your ego. Sit on your butt and draw, a finished comic is be the result. Spend all your time on Twitter bitching and you never draw.

Look at any action you take and you can see a result. From the momentary thought you have to scrubbing the toilet. It makes a lot more sense that if you lead a good life, are kind to people, charitable, and don’t harm anyone you end up becoming a better person. So where ever you go after you die is the result of the life you lead.

If you can see those two things, the 4 Noble truths, There’s stress, stress is clinging, It’s possible to end it and the way to end it is following this path and all of this is based on your actions, you have the first step of the 8-fold path.

“Artistes”

Why do artists suffer so much?We don’t but we like to think we do. When I discovered Buddhism I was overwhelmed and confused with lists, practices, mythology and a million other things but something felt familiar, that place where the suffering ended something seemed right about it.

Buddha talks about the end when all the fabrications fall away and you just live. Even calls it Nirvana as the coolest place to be. Obviously I hadn’t experienced that but something nagged at me, something felt like looking and drawing.

There’s moments when in drawing that all the lines seem right, it starts flowing out. Often it is in the middle of a project that working becomes a delight. I have built up skills and understanding and drawing is just drawing. No worries about anything but that immediate moment. I’m nothing but paper chalk and my hand making marks on the page. Then of course the worries of the world intrude, get kid from school, will it impress my peers? Will anyone buy it? Will anyone like it? Why are all the editors such idiots?

It’s only 12 years after practicing meditation (it’s not a quick fix) that I’m beginning to see that that is the Second Noble Truth. That moment when I stop clinging to a million things and just do whatever is in front of me.

Sadly Buddha didn’t teach drawing. But he taught a skill, and developing that skill will lead to the end of suffering. That skill is of course concentration. To learn it he used paying attention to the breath or might call it meditation.

The quiver of arrows

So Green Arrow shoots you. You can pull the arrow out bandage it up and go on with life. Or you can take you quiver of arrows and start pulling them out and stabbing yourself with them. Tell any artist that the corner of panel 3 isn’t so good and they will quickly contemplate suicide as the solution to why their art sucks.

That’s suffering or stress. How you handle pain is what causes stress. We all do it, a little pain and we bitch endlessly about it. Artists like to think we are the best at suffering but we’re not everyone does it. When we cling to something obsess over it and go around and around with it all’s we are doing is creating our suffering.

There is a solution to it of course, just drop it, you’ve heard it from your partner, your kids, your mother and father and all the people you work with and hang out with. It’s not important just drop it.

Admittedly the eating of the last jelly bean after Easter is a small pain but I was planning on really enjoying it. When it got stolen by my wife, I shouldn’t spend the next week fighting with her about it. So I should drop it right?

That ability to drop it leads to the end of suffering. Easier said then done and so that is why we need a path to the end of it. This is the most basic beginning to sanity understanding the 4 Noble truths

  1. There is Stress.
  2. It’s caused by clinging to “things”.
  3. You can end it by dropping those “things”
  4. There’s actually a path to dropping it, follow it and you can be a little bit happier. Don’t we all want to be a little happier?

The trick is to take action towards doing your goal and not cling to the crap in your head. Understanding the four truths is the first step.