One of my favorite college professors was a burly, bearded, larger-than-life, jazz loving, no-bullshit printmaker. He used to walk around the room in his ink-stained apron while students would begin carving away at their woodblocks. He sometimes would get frustrated with students who stared at their clean woodblocks as they thought of the perfect idea or hemmed and hawed between a few sketches they had developed. He would tell them to “Get to Work,” to “Dig in.” Some of the students would push back and explain how they were still working out the concept of their piece. He would listen, and then with his signature “guffaw,” dismiss their concerns and push them forward with the work. He encouraged students to jump into the project. He wanted them to immerse themselves in the process and not overthink the result.
As art students, we wanted to shape the world with our ideas. To move mountains with our profound vision – every project an opportunity to showcase our talents. Sometimes, however, we would be victims of our own ambitions and our lofty aspirations would prevent us from beginning the work. His response to “Dig in” was cold water on our faces – a refreshing “Snap out of it!”
I appreciated this “Get to work” attitude, which recognizes the solution is often worked out in the process. Immersing yourself in a project – rolling up your sleeves and “digging in,” allows you to make mistakes and new discoveries. It allows for building momentum and having one idea feed off of another. It promotes the idea that driving to one pre-determined destination may create tunnel vision and prevent you from seeing a different route to a better place.
The lessons I learned in that print shop have been invaluable. Rolling up my sleeves, getting blisters on my hands and getting lost in the process is still something I value today. I always want to achieve the best solution for a project. Starting with an idea of where I want to go and a solution in mind I “Dig In” and “Get to work” with the understanding that the process should be organic and fluid and may lead to a new destination not seen from the beginning.