When I was a teenager and still drawing and painting birds, I was given a beautiful gift that made me feel utterly defeated. I hadn't yet learned that it was normal, natural, and necessary to be bad at things for a while. I certainly hadn't learned that it was acceptable for me to spend time and resources on a project that didn't work out. I just had to be good at a thing in order to justify time doing said thing. Nevermind that that's not how this works. That's how it had to be in my mind.
The gift in question was a brand new, full color, oversized, glossy, hardcover copy of Masterpieces of Bird Art. I probably could have used some basic instructional books, but I understand that this was meant to inspire me to greater things. Sadly, that's not how my brain worked, and all I saw was color plate after color plate of Things I Could NEVER Do. I gave up birds after that, but I did use the background foliage for reference for other artwork for the next several years. In fact, it became my go-to for leaves, vines, and branches, and so it survived every book purge of the last 25+ years. The birds may have felt unattainable, but some of the leaves were inspiring without being intimidating. I gravitated toward some of the more lifelike images with curling, twisting, blowing leaves that looked like they might fly off of the page, and I used them often.
Well, today I needed to add some leaves to a pencil drawing that I'm planning, so I pulled out my trusty reference for the first time in a few years, and I went looking for my favorite page of leaves. I couldn't find it. I paged through a second time. No dice. Frustrated, I went back more slowly, and it began to dawn on me... My frame of reference has changed so much in the last few years that I wasn't going to see the art in the same way that I saw it 27 years ago. I wasn't even going to respond the same way I did a decade ago. The art is still the same, but I am not.
To be sure, I can find some acceptable reference images in the book, but nothing that will leave me feeling like the artwork is unattainable. I'm not even seeing leaves that feel particularly challenging. In many cases, I'm thinking that I could start there, and then embellish.
Mind you, the birds themselves are still pretty awe inspiring, but now I feel like maybe I could learn to reproduce them or match their level eventually. I'm nowhere near that level of artistry, but the older me sees a path to get there, where younger me saw no path at all. That shift in the frame of reference makes all the difference in the world. Maybe I'll check back with the book in another quarter century.
Beyond that, it occured to me that I have plenty of beautiful examples of leaves and flowers in my own photograph collection. For the last couple of years, I've been donating photos for other artists to use as references, but I tend to neglect them for my own work. I still haven't decided on the design for this piece, but looking back through some of my files has given me some great places to start.
And, knowing that I can get there eventually, a start is an awfully good thing.
Some inspiration from my own collection...