New Year, New Habits

Others have no data for computing our orbit other than our past acts.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Twenty years ago, a business coach recommended I read the now out-of-print Nichecraft. The book convinced me to specialize—a lesson I’ve carried with me into my move into professional painting.

Specializing repels creatives, most especially scanners; it is to them, in Emerson’s famous phrase, “the hobgoblin of little minds.”

But, as if confirmation were needed,  the sales I made last year confirmed that I need to specialize. So in 2021, I will make it my habit to paint small floral oil paintings. I hope in fact to make it my trademark.

There’s a madness to my method.

Fifty years ago—in 1968, to be exact—my parents shelled out a small fortune so I could take a barrage of professional aptitude tests. It was the first time I encountered a computerized questionnaire—new in the 1960s. I filled in 300 circles with a soft Number 2 pencil, then waited two weeks to learn from the social scientists administering the tests that, of all the imaginable careers available to an ambitious, college-bound kid, I should become a florist.

I was too embarrassed to share the finding with anyone at the time, least of all my high-school buddies. I told them the test proved I should become a park ranger.

In hindsight, the test results were probably correct: I have a passion for poesies.

A second new habit I will adopt in 2021—forced on me by a broken ankle—will be to paint sitting down.

The change in habit will be tough. I have never sat while painting. Not ever. Not once.

I know lots of painters who do sit, and I admire their work immensely. But I’ve been taught to paint standing in front of the easel. Standing, to me, means mobility, muscularity and manliness. It means bravura. Standing lets me approach the canvas like D’Artagnan; now I’ll have to approach it like FDR. We’ll see how that works out.

I worry is that my paintings will reflect the mandatory change in posture—and change is something buyers don’t like. Other than previous works, they “have no data for computing our orbit,” as Emerson also said. But c’est la vie.

How about you? What new habits will you adopt?

Above: Young Painter at His Easel by Theodore Gericault. Oil on canvas. 1810.