The Work of Building Muscles

I attended a workshop on sign painting. It was completely new to me and I spent days practicing the strokes and learning how to understand the brush and ink. I used page after page practicing the strokes, the brush, loading the paint, and building my muscle memory. The next day I did more of the same, and after my workshop this was the page I brought home to show off my work. Not very pretty or sexy or even interesting and yet I was filled with pride that my strokes were better than they were on day one.

Doing something new, learning a new skill or tool takes time. It takes patience, courage and the ability to welcome failure into your daily routine. For people who are already good at other things it can feel daunting and disappointing to fail over and over again. Failure is not something most people look forward to doing, let alone doing it over and over again day in and day out as they build new mental or physical muscles. It means accepting that you will do things badly and being willing to keep doing them badly until you can see progress.

Everyone wants to think they are perfect. Everyone wants the world to only see their best side. Everyone posts to the internet the version of them selves they want people to see. So being real with ourselves and facing failure can be tough when everyone else ‘seems’ to be doing everything so perfectly. Reality tells us that no one is perfect, no one has it all, and no one does things perfectly all the time; yet the things we read, the posts we see, the work other people are getting done only tells us how we do not measure up to everyone else who is perfect.

So I went back to the studio, kept my arm and hand busy making those blasted black curves telling myself that eventually I would be consistent. I told myself that even my teacher – as he often noted – spent many decades perfecting his letters. I took solace in knowing that he too struggled years ago with learning and eventually reached a point of mastery. If he could do it I could do it, so c’mon muscles fail often, fail fast, learn more, and then I can eventually move on to making complete strokes!

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