This is not the first time I’ve touched on the need to let go of perfectionism in art and daily life, and it certainly won’t be the last. There is such a fear of creating something unpretty, or less than perfect, when we set out to do something. Sometimes such a need for perfection sabotages our creative voice. We need to learn to celebrate and love the things that are substandard. No one does everything perfectly all of the time. So taking some time to deliberately set out to make something horribly imperfect is absolutely essential to learn to let go of this quest for ‘good’. To embrace the pure creativity of the process. I often complete this exercise when I find myself becoming too focused on aesthetics, and less focused on expression. And guess what? The more I let go of the need to make something awesome, the more I love what I’m creating.
Last week, I taught a creative journaling class to a group of young teen girls. This need for making things absolutely perfect begins early. The frustration and inner struggle is visible on their faces as I watch them battle the “I can’t” and “This isn’t good” demons in their minds. Two girls in particular stood out among the twelve that day. One was just so terrified to make anything that was not perfect, that she sat starting at the blank page in her brand new sketchbook that I had provided for a full hour. Just stared.
I didn’t push. I didn’t coax or cajole. After questioning her need to be stagnant, and her explanation that she was just afraid to do anything, I allowed her to sit and reflect. I quietly demonstrated with the other girls what fun and how liberating it is to just let go… and do. Finally, I said nothing as I observed her pull out her new paint set, and start to cover the page with paint. The hard look on her face gradually transformed into a softer, more peaceful expression. Doing something incorrectly was no longer her concern. She was absorbed in the moment. In simply expressing.
Another girl was drawing, but erased every single line she drew, growling in frustration. After watching this futile exercise in redundancy for close to an hour, I decided to take a different approach with this individual. I took action to force her out of her notion that she has to make something flawless. I picked up a pen, not pencil, and scribbled across her page. The entire class gasped and the look on her face was that of such surprise. I handed the pen to her and said: “There. I’ve made a huge mess of your page. Turn it into something.” At first, she got to work and grudgingly started drawing around my lines and scriblles. She wasn’t happy with me at that moment. Gradually, though, she started to see things in the mess, and became more and more involved and invested in her drawing. By the time the class was finished, she was sitting there silently, intent on completing what she now called her favorite art ever.
How many of us have sat there staring at the metaphorical blank page. Too terrified to do something imperfect, so we opt to do nothing at all? Becoming so petrified by the notion of failing, that being stagnant is the preferable option.
The exercise I propose another effort to create a complete and utter mess. To go forward, sometimes you have to go back. Or sideways.
Choose an image of your choice, and set out to draw it in your journal. Using your non-dominant hand. Complete your drawing by colouring it in, using whichever method you prefer, be it paints or crayons or markers. Also using your non-dominant hand. You’re going into the exercise without expectations. The focus is on simply creating.
The image you see has been completed entirely using my non-dominant hand. I wrote, drew, painted, cut, and pasted, entirely with my almost useless left hand. It was challenging, and I caught myself reaching for my pen or paint brush a number of times with my right hand out of habit. But in the end, I found myself focused more on the process. I was enraptured by the colours and shapes and lines. They were all perfectly imperfect. And I loved the result. It may just be one of my new favourite pieces. Not because it is perfect, but because it captures my most basic spirit as an artist. In all of its scribbly glory.
By letting go and learning to love the process rather than the result, we can learn how to be more present in our daily lives. Things will rarely end up precicely perfect in life. If you learn to revel in the experiences rather than the outcome, you will live life with more joy and less fear.
She worked as an Interior Designer in Calgary until her passion for art overwhelmed her desire for wealth and fame.When she is not chasing after her two young kids, she is teaching art to teen girls in need and creating dolls for her small handcrafting business, Lil’Zo.
Bri believes that art is a powerful outlet, and many internal issues can be confronted, exposed, and resolved by simply letting go and allowing oneself to be creative – even if they don’t believe they are the ‘creative type’. Everyone can benefit from getting over their fears, and simply putting pen to paper, paint to canvas, click a shutter, put hands on clay, or whatever medium one chooses. Find her online here.