Coffee Highlights


Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Love, Pray fame)says that “perfection is the enemy of good.” No, wait, someone else said that. She says, “Done is better than great.” No, wait again, that’s not an exact quote. I should stop and Google this. No wait! The internet will surely jam up the flow of my brilliance. Must I get those words exactly right? Perfection is also the enemy of “getting the gist”.

This morning I am drawing my coffee cup. To begin, I lay in some light pencil lines. I want to get the curves accurate. After all, a man-made object drawn inaccurately looks more off-base than something organic.

A cup is all about ellipses, circles viewed from an angle. For a sketch artist, ellipses might be more important than circles. After all, how many perfect circles are really out there? When you think about it, we look at life sideways. Usually we’re busy with the day-to-day — and then out of the corner of an eye, an observation, a realization, a moment to pause.

I decide to head into pen — give my cup some standing in the world. In the air above the page, I trace over my light lines. Then I commit. And wobble. And wiggle. By the time the plate below the cup is also inked, I have lost control of the situation. The pencil lines were fuzzy, so at that stage, my image was easy to read and seemed accurate. In loose pencil, a drawing looks like a nearsighted view sans glasses. As viewer, you don’t know what you are missing, so it all seems fine. But now the ink is definite. And a mess.

But my goal is just an impression of the mug. If I wanted something perfect, better to take a photo. The challenge now is to just keep going. Trust that the gist will emerge.

But what even is the gist of something. It’s really all about what stands out to me. In the case of this particular coffee cup, that’s the white high lights on the mug and on the surface of the liquid.

I ponder that: I never knew that all liquid shows highlights. Of course, light glimmers off puddles on an asphalt-dark street or in the wavelets on a lake. But in coffee? The laws of physics intrude into my early morning bubble.

And somehow, in this process, the gist has changed. The ellipses don’t matter. Nor do the extra ink lines I added to round out those ellipses. (In fact, all those lines just retreat into the background.)

Instead, I am ready to start my day.

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