I’ve always found fossils fascinating as they provide a glimpse into life thousands of years ago. Though, in truth, they’re a touch morbid if you consider it’s a dead organism, trapped in layers of sediment, but still an amazing fingerprint of life. As I kid, I wanted more than anything to turn over a rock and find some image of an ancient creature on the other side. I’m equally certain, that at some point I was determined to become an archeologist, but that was mainly a side effect of reading too much National Geographic. In truth, I wanted to find a little dinosaur, but only succeeded in discovering wormy looking things. The most popularly stated number of years it takes for something to become a proper fossil is 10,000. The same number they use to describe how long it takes to master a craft of some kind. 10,000 days. Since I only spend an hour a day on watercolor, I guess I can hope for full mastery in 25 more years. To me, that’s comforting as it just means that I have plenty of time.
These time periods are simply theories, of course, and not everything has to follow the same path. If you’re naturally talented at something, the road to mastery is much shorter. And if you’re a lobster egg in a laboratory, scientists can fossilize you in their lab in just 2-8 weeks. Like most things in life, you can’t really put a single number on it. Right now, I’m in a mood for experimentation with my watercolor, but I’m not entirely sure where I’m going to take it next. I find it interesting when people talk about mastery in art because that implies there’s a specific way to do something. There’s really not. But if you want to be “like” the masters before you, you’ll likely know when you’ve achieved it. If instead, you venture down your own path, it’s far less obvious to know when you’ve mastered anything at all. Once you remove comparisons, mastery doesn’t mean anything anymore.
So, or anyone reading this who finds 10,000 days to master something a little overwhelming, you can relax. It’s not always the case and better yet, not really even the point when it comes to art. As we artists know, we’re on an endless and fabulous journey. There’s that amazing day where everything clicks and you feel like you’ve conquered something and that next day when you want to dunk your head in the paint water. But each little layer of paint we apply, captures the world and life in ways that only we can see it. Sometimes, I think my little doodlewashes are a bit like little fossils. Capturing a frozen moment of life. Though since it’s my opinion of life, I doubt they’ll serve to help scientists in the future. But they might just make someone, years from now, who happens to discover them, smile a bit. For my part, I’ll just keep right on painting a little thing every day, throwing mastery to the experts, and blissfully enjoying the feeling of being lost in time.