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Coping with perfectionism

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Matthew H.:
… I'll confess, this is a slightly tricky topic for me. I’m a recovering perfectionist (although, some days, I wonder if I’m still closer to the latter than the former). I’d also love to become a professional calligrapher some day. Perhaps my greatest worry about making that leap, though, is knowing when and how far to reign in my perfectionistic tendencies.

As much as I'd like to pretend otherwise, the precision calligraphy requires is one of the things I enjoy most about it. (Well, maybe not on those days when it’s all going wrong!) But I'm mindful that professional calligraphy involves more than just writing (hopefully ;D) beautiful letters, but also things like handing in work on time and working within a budget.

And so I wondered – do you struggle with perfectionism, and if so, how do you cope with it? What do you consider realistic to aim for in your work? If you were, say, three-quarters through a long piece of prose when – horror! – you included a bad space or a shaky stroke, would you begin again? What would be your threshold for rewriting something shorter like a place card?

More than anything, I think I’m just hoping to understand what’s realistic and, maybe more importantly, what’s sensible.

Erica McPhee:

--- Quote from: Matthew H. on October 09, 2023, 09:49:26 AM ---
As much as I'd like to pretend otherwise, the precision calligraphy requires is one of the things I enjoy most about it. (Well, maybe not on those days when it’s all going wrong!)

--- End quote ---

I could not agree more! ;) I would waiver a large percentage of calligraphers are perfectionists. I liken it to golfers - you are always striving to make the next stroke perfect. Otherwise, what is the point. It reminds me of Pam’s Meemaw in the Office. Pam says, “Nobody’s perfect.” And Meemaw says, “Well, I wouldn’t care to live if I thought that.”  ;D

One of my least favorite quotes is “done is better than perfect.” Is it though? Because I don’t think it is.

It is only in the past decade humans have decided perfect means unattainable. I feel like this whole ‘perfect isn’t good’ movement stemmed from a false sense of humility. The feeling of “not being good enough” is somehow tied into creating “perfect” work. So if nobody is perfect, we are all good. While there is no perfect person, perfect to me, in an assessment of art or pizza, or any given experience, is a subjective measure.

Perfect by definition can be quantified in regard to calligraphy. Perfect: to be without flaw, corresponding to an ideal standard, faithfully reproducing an original. That is not only quantifiable, but doable. Even if it is only perfect to the person doing the assessment! What is perfect to me may not be to you and vice versa.

I don’t think perfectionism is a flaw. Perhaps it harks back to my days as an HR Specialist when in interviews I would ask what someone’s weaknesses were and the stock answer is ‘I’m a perfectionist.’ My response was always, ‘tell me how that is a weakness’ to which I would get the deer in the headlights look.

I realize the issue is when it goes too far. And I am guilty of that - once having written a capital M over 500 times until I felt it was just right. That is past perfectionism to obsession.

Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I do struggle with perfectionism, but once you start doing calligraphy for money, it is a different mind set than while practicing or even doing a piece for your own satisfaction. Time is money and so are supplies. So you learn to let go of the small imperfections - even to embrace them (well that one takes some time). But part of letting go is progressing forward because you give yourself the freedom to make a mistake or less than perfect letters and energetically that shifts something.

There are ways to make corrections in a long piece but if I have done something and my eye is immediately drawn to it, I will do it over. I never made corrections on envelopes, I just did them over - but shaky strokes and bad spacing didn’t justify a redo. Those you have to let go. The exception were envelopes that had lines that crammed up against the right margin with big gaps on the left or something similar. For the most part, the person receiving the envelope will be so enamored by the calligraphy, they won’t see what you do.

A placecard would deserve a rewrite from me if a letter lost its form or if I ran to the edge on the right with a huge gap on the left. Some leeway was allowable. As you develop experience, this happens less and less. Keep in mind, there will be jobs where you only have 2 or 3 extras so mistakes aren’t an option. You learn to let go of perfection and settle for acceptable in those cases.

From one perfectionist to another - don’t wait until you think your work is perfect to start taking jobs. Otherwise, you will never do it. But take an honest look at your work and assess where your skill is. You don’t have to be John Stevens (whose work I consider the very definition of perfect)  to start taking on jobs.  :-*

brose:
Acknowledging the goal or purpose is a key thing to accept what you are doing or have done.
If the goal is perfection, look at what some of the pros do for a perfect outcome. Many iterations of layout planning and utilizing all reasonable tools at hand to achieve it, stroke drills, lightboxes, projectors, etc. I am relatively new to calligraphy, but Shiela Waters "Foundations of Calligraphy" shows some iterations of planning a project. It gave me an appreciation for the hours and thought and effort that went in on the back end, that no one will see, to get to a really nice final product. If you do not make multiple iterations considering all aspects; Why would you expect it to be perfect without all that work?
If the goal is perfection, barring all else, then digitize your one off perfect lettering and ligatures (oversimplifying. Or better yet, make a font), Printers make perfect replications, so the challenge becomes layout design.
Most of my projects are taken in the spirit of: If I am not putting in that back end work: Why would I expect perfection? My overriding motivation and goal is the relaxing meditative process. (I've done this uncial 'O' countless times. If I take it for granted and don't take the 5+ sec focusing on it THIS time, should I be surprised if it is a bit off?)
The joy of doing this as a hobby is if I find something inexplicably interesting, I will spend the time to perfect it. If not interesting, its time to move on for a while, if not permanently.
Mental state is important, some days I don't work on an in progress project if I'm not in a calm place physically and mentally.
If you do make a mistake, it is a learning opportunity to get better for the next time. Try to correct it. If you find it ruined trying to correct it, now you know a little more about what you can and cannot correct to make the next time go smoother.
Keep the long game in mind, the goal is a process, not a one off thing. As the process gets better, perfection gets closer. If you make a mistake, it is time lost, but you can make another, and that is more time for the meditative practice (my goal).
@Erica McPhee There is an odd juxtaposition of art and the perfect lettering to me. I am in the camp of unnecessarily striving for perfection and some of the modern scripts make me very uncomfortable. Good point on the differing level of mistakes and MISTAKES. I will make a mistake that unnecessarily bothers me and point it out to someone else and they don't even notice it. I am purposefully keeping calligraphy as a hobby, mad respect to you pros.

Mary_M:
I’m a hobbyist calligrapher but absolutely have struggles with perfectionism. I’ve only taken one class, Engrosser’s Script, with David Grimes. He always emphasized that there’s no such thing as perfection in calligraphy. If we commented on someone else’s work saying “It’s perfect!” He would kindly remind us not to use that word in the context of calligraphy. So now I try not to use the word.
I am quite critical of my own work even though it only matters to me. We all have different levels of what we think of as good work. How we handle our mistakes and failures is personal. You’ll learn what’s acceptable for you.
 It’s nice to hang on to a few beginner samples so that as you improve you can see how far you’ve come. It’s also nice to throw “garbage” in the recycling bin and start again.

Erica McPhee:
Great advice Mary!

Also, I absolutely disagree with David on this. (And many others.) I have a dear mentor who always said, “we don’t do perfect in this class” to which my thought was, “speak for yourself.”  ;D By that, I’m not saying my work was perfect, but I absolutely disagree that there is no perfection in calligraphy (as noted in my post above). That is the exact false modesty I am talking about. David has created some pretty perfect calligraphy (by the definition I posted above and by the majority of standards) and I hope he would recognize it as such. It’s OK to say sometimes - hey that’s a perfect letter!  Or perhaps it is really about setting an unattainable standard. “The don’t try to be perfect as you’ll never get there” argument. But I think it’s disheartening and discouraging. I just see it differently I guess.


--- Quote from: Mary_M on October 10, 2023, 12:11:49 PM --- I’ve only taken one class, Engrosser’s Script, with David Grimes. He always emphasized that there’s no such thing as perfection in calligraphy. If we commented on someone else’s work saying “It’s perfect!” He would kindly remind us not to use that word in the context of calligraphy. So now I try not to use the word.

--- End quote ---

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