One step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. One foot in front of the other. A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

Like children in the backseat of car, all these little cliches chimed in at once in my mind as I was scrolling through my photo library and came across these progress shots from a bird painting I did back in January.

Paintings, too, begin one step at a time. I can’t create one by willing it to its completion. I have to add stroke upon stroke upon stroke, many of which are just to hide ones I didn’t care for or ones that seemed right when the painting was just beginning but don’t quite make as much sense as it nears the end.

Last week I wrote about living in the present. This week I’m marveling at how little things add up. Today didn’t find me digging through an overturned trash can in search of the keys to a rental car, but it was just as logistically messy in that life-happens sort of way. This week feels less like a finished painting and more like the first few strokes– but those, I’m realizing, are not just good and fine, but absolutely necessary. When I was teaching art at a high school and we’d get to the unit on portraits, I’d wait until my students got the basic structure of the face drawn and then say, “Now we can do the fun part!” The fun part was adding color, life, and shadows to the formidable shapes they’d already (and sometimes painstakingly) rendered.

I lost that zen I talked about last week more than once this week, but I have found seeing new challenges as not-yet-finished paintings has helped bring me back a little. And if I’m not to the fun part yet, I at least know that if I keep laying the foundation, one day I will be.