Someone invited me to a painting meditation the other day. My first reaction was horror. That was the least relaxing thing I could imagine doing. How on earth could I meditate while painting?! Needless to say, I didn’t go.
I haven’t felt like drawing or painting in YEARS. I distinctly remember the last time I tried to paint, I felt totally inadequate. I was trying to put all the jumbled, stormy emotions that were in my head out on the canvas. When I was done, it looked like mud. Everything was mushed together, chaotic, unclear. Mud. I was more angry and distressed than when I started.
As I think about it now, I did succeed in painting my emotions. My head and my heart at that time were muddy, chaotic, distressed, disorganized. And that’s not what I wanted to feel. I was trying to cathartically get all my emotions out and force them into some kind of organization on the canvas. It had worked for me in the past, why didn’t it this time???
Years later, I don’t really care about “why”. Those emotions are in the past. Today’s emotions are similar and different. I’ve learned that they come and go as they please. I’m still learning to be okay with that and let them do their thing.
Why haven’t I gone back to art? Because for years I have struggled with the flaw of perfectionism. I know, we joke about it being a flaw. In job interviews when people ask us what our biggest weakness is, we “humblebrag” about how we struggle with perfectionism. It’s the most socially acceptable flaw, and a prospective employer might even see it as a strength, which is why we pretend it’s a flaw in the interview.
The thing is though… it is a very concerning flaw. It is a weakness. It holds us back. We are the kid who is so terrified that she can’t ride the bike perfectly, she would rather miss out on the fun with her friends than fail in front of them. Perfectionism is like a disease. But it’s a disease that is encouraged and praised. We pretend that it helps us. But it’s actually holding us back (further reading on the topic in a book that has completely changed my life: “How to be an Imperfectionist”).
I haven’t sketched, or painted, or sewn much in the last 5-8 years because I am thinking more about the end result and what people will think of me. I think my deepest fear in life is that people will laugh at the results of my passionate and creative energy – which they have and do. That hurts. So my perfectionism protects me from their laughter by building a beautiful, socially acceptable cage in which my creative energy slowly dies (read more about creative energy in another book that has changed my life: “Creative Confidence”).
Through the two books mentioned (and many others), and really focusing on personal growth and development, I feel like I am finally coming back to myself. I’ve been making more choices for myself in the last couple of years. Small, mini-choices, here and there, to say I DGAF what you think of me. This is who I am. Some people will say that rebellion is for angsty, hormonal teens who will eventually “get over themselves” and “grow up” (read: assimilate).
Those that don’t, get laughed at. Whispered about. Bullied (yes, as adults: ostracized). So you see, my deepest fear is well founded. The question now is, do I care? Can I let that creative energy out? When someone inevitably laughs, how do I react? My old habit is to curl back up in my beautiful cage and say “Never mind. I didn’t mean it. How silly of me. I’m quite comfortable in here. Nobody wants to see or hear who I really am.”
This week, as I mindlessly scrolled through Pinterest, I saw the cutest little watercolor picture of a hedgehog. Curled on his back, holding his toes, smiling in an irresistibly cute little contented way. Instantly something snapped inside me. I wanted to copy the picture. So I doodled a little sketch on a piece of paper. When I was done, I took a breath. Something felt really good about that drawing. It wasn’t “perfect”. But I had tapped into a part of my brain that hadn’t been used in a looooong time.
Since then, I’ve made several other sketches of cute little fat animals with sassy expressions on their faces. Something about them resonates with me. Now, I want to find my watercolors. I’ve started searching for watercolor ideas on pinterest, saving them to a board so I can practice with them later. I’ve noticed a pattern in the kinds of pictures that I like. They are more abstract or impressionistic. The subject matter is quirky and a little “off”. The colors are rich and decisive. And there is a lot of “white space”.
White Space. It’s the space in-between things. In abstract art, it tends to be in the form of gaps between lines and shapes where in more realistic art there would be something. Like this painting of a cat. The feet, head, and tail are all physically present, but the body is made up of white space. Our imagination easily fills in the space without the artist’s intervention. And it takes a great deal of restraint on the part of the artist to leave that white space there.
I struggle with white space. I love it – but I have a hard time leaving it alone. If there’s an empty wall or a corner in a room I want to fill it with something, anything so that it doesn’t feel like a void. And yet… nothing calms my mind more than being in a minimalist room with only the essential pieces of furniture and carefully restrained decor (watch out, there can be perfectionism here too). It feels so peaceful. So I feel at war in my mind.
In the white space, the Perfectionist sees both lack and contentment. Neither one can it stand. them. For the Perfectionist cannot be content. The work is never done. And seeing a lack in anything is too frustrating for the Perfectionist. They must fill the apparent need.
But when we tell the Perfectionist to be quiet and leave us alone for awhile, then we tip toe out of the cage and sit in the beautiful, quiet, white space, and breathe. The white space is creative freedom. In the white space, there are no expectations, no measurements, no lines that could be accidentally crossed or moulds to squeeze ourselves into.
We can fully expand and be.
I used to approach art as an exercise of perfectionism. It was another area for me to control. I used art as a means to emotional release, a way to bring order out of my chaos. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But now, as I slowly gain the confidence to let my emotions do what they are going to do, and step out of the cage which protects me from mockery, I can embrace the white space that is creative confidence. I can embrace imperfectionism. And I will draw all the fat sassy little creatures that I want (thank you very much!), and many other things besides, leaving plenty of white space for anyone who is brave enough to come and rest with me.