“He was a great painter, but he stared endlessly at the edges of his work. The brush strokes, sketches and marks that never hit the canvas…I wondered why?” Oregon Taylor Fields
At the height of my business career, the many stresses of meeting needs left me feeling like a machine simply turning out product. You always had to conform to both company and client needs. To keep myself sane, I decided to start a side business. Since my job was all about selling services, it seemed natural to combine my growing interest in art with helping other artists sell their work.
I rented a small studio on the second floor of an old converted hotel in the arts district of the city. The building overflowed with painters, photographers, music teachers and even a recording studio. Just what I needed to take me far away from the drum beat of large business routines.
Overtime some of the artist became my clients and friends. Eric, a talented painter, had the studio next to mine. I often talked with him, sharing art and life philosophy. He already was an art success, making large reproductions of famous contemporary art for restaurants and hotels. Eric’s work always impressed. When I walked passed his studio, I sometimes saw him staring at scraps of canvas he had thrown on the floor and even at random marks on his easel board. All his sold paintings were leaned against the wall and seemed to stare at him as he glanced at these scraps that held the edges of his work.
When curiosity got the best of me, I finally ask Eric what he found so interesting about all these scraps. He looked at me and without hesitation said, “These are the best of what I do. The parts that never hit the finished client canvases. They are the rough edges of my brush strokes, the splotches of color I see and wild imaginings. My client would never find them desirable but they are me, painting beyond myself, unconstrained. It’s the passion in me wanting to be free.”
I thought about this for a long time and realized business in many ways was like this. You work with market forces driving solutions that will fit the narrow range of your client or boss’s needs. The edges that fall from this work are where inspiration is. It might be the idea that did not fit or the conceptualization that would stretch the envelope of the business situation. They end up on crumpled pieces of paper or side notes or even doodles. Most have only short lives beyond your normal activity.
We don’t often take time to revisit or savor these edges after an assignment is finished. The ideas, the dreams and the wild solutions we imagine get washed over by the next assignment. Maybe like with Eric, these edges can be inspirations for the future. Ways of showing our true selves in work. Maybe setting us free…