It was a short conversation that one of my favorite Krav Maga teachers had with us when he gave us our workout for the day. There was no list of posted exercises on the board. It simply said, “Do what sucks.” He elaborated with an explanation that we should pick 5 exercises that we hate doing and make them into our workout. Of course, this meant that everyone would be doing burpees.
The mentality he had was that the stuff we want to do the least is what we should be doing the most. The stuff we don’t want to do is what we should be fighting through our own mental blocks to make ourselves embrace. Much like the Marine Corps mantra “embrace the suck”. You have to force yourself out of your comfort zone so that it can be ever expanding so that you can be in a state of constant growth. You embrace your situation so that you can always be comfortable being uncomfortable.
When you learn to tattoo, it doesn’t matter what your background is as an artist, you will be forced to learn to approach drawing with a very line centered focus. You are taught the importance of clean lines. This is the foundation all tattooers get from a solid apprenticeship. Many people never leave this. They will flow into an area of specialization that doesn’t push them to develop as an artist. They will become dependent on those lines. Everything else beyond working within their prescribed tattoo style will “suck” because it is out of their comfort zone.
This is one thing I really respect about Jake. He has developed a very painterly style because he works outside of tattooing and makes art that stretches how he draws and paints. He steps outside of the normal line centered approach and lets his painting style influence his tattoo style. Of course, this is just another way of making our constantly repeated point here at Fireside that you should always look to step out of your comfort zone as an artist. You should always look to gain knowledge and experience in areas that you may or may not be comfortable with.
In my time passing through the tattoo industry, I did everything I just described. I learned to draw clean lines and apply them to a variety of tattoo styles. But my heart was really rooted in the love of expressionist painting that drove me to go to art school to begin with. As I recently found myself holding a paintbrush again, I found that I was still starting things from the perspective of a tattooer. Everything was line based. I was doing work in my sketchbooks that was basically paintings of tattoo imagery. I had fallen into the trap that most tattooers hit when they try to move their art off the skin and onto a canvass or paper. I was painting like a tattooer.
This obviously didn’t sit well with me. I have no problem with doing my art that way because it is still valid art. However, if I was no longer constrained by the need to make clean lines for an image that I would be putting on a person, then I wanted to be able to do that. I wanted that freedom of expression. I wanted to find a way to use my tattoo influences but in an expressionist approach.
I won’t lie. It sucked. Clean lines had become my comfort zone. I must have done a few hundred Japanese cloud patterns before I could finally paint what is traditionally a Japanese tattoo mainstay in an expressionist way. I can’t tell you how it feels to work in that way. I reached a goal by forcing myself to do what sucked at the time so that I could find myself back in a mindset of expanding beyond my comfort zone.
So, whether you are specializing in a specific style tradition, developing your own style, or even doing straight up flash, I suggest you take some time this week to evaluate your work. Ask yourself, “what could I be doing that I absolutely don’t want to do to improve my work or just grow as an artist?” Do what sucks.
….until it doesn’t suck anymore.
Till next time
Also, I’ll be expanding my personal artist site to include an art blog that is an ongoing artist statement. If you want to see just how nerdy I actually am, you can stop by and see how I approach using Fibonacci patterns in my Japanese clouds. More importantly, you can give me feedback. I may be ever moving forward in my attempt to find balance as a writer and visual artist, but I will always cherish the support and feedback from the tattoo community.