Like most creative types I have an ongoing love affair with art supplies. It still thrills me no end to go into an art store and walk up and down the aisles looking at the multitudinous tubes and colors of paint, fondling the different sizes and types of brushes, inhaling the scent of the waxy oil pastels and flipping through art sketchbooks large and small,full of empty, white,virginal paper and that delicious sense of creative promise.
And I don’t stop with just looking and browsing. I shop and I buy and I collect….multitudes and piles of creative gear. Between my home and my painting studio where I teach my classes I probably have enough stuff where I could open up a shop myself.
I love these things with an unholy passion and it makes me insanely happy to be surrounded by so much artistic possibility.
But I have a dirty little secret and a still unhealed wound around my creative collection of art paraphernalia.
The scary, spectacular journal.
A number of years ago one of my students gave me a gorgeous journal that she had made by hand. It has a soft, green suede cover, subtle purple stitching on the spine, a beaded strap that wraps around the outside to keep it closed and it opens onto creamy, thick paper with artfully torn and distressed edges. This journal is a true work of art, created with love and inspiration.
And in all the years that I have had it I have opened it a few times. I have caressed the buttery suede and pressed that rich, luscious paper to my face. But I have never, EVER put one mark on any of those pages.
The darn thing is so exquisite that it intimidates me. I’m afraid that I can’t live up to it. Because it is so lovely in and of itself I feel like I can only put something in it if that something is superb and spectacular.
Goddess forbid I mar those perfect pages with a laundry list of ongoing whines about the difficulties in my life. What if I begin a collage and and get unwanted glue all over that luxuriant, wondrous paper? Or I begin to paint and instead of the hoped for masterpiece what appears is all weird and trite and juvenile?
So I don’t do anything at all. I have this beautiful journal stored in a pile with a bunch of other beautiful journals all waiting for that day when I feel I am worthy enough to put something in them. And up to this point that day has yet to come.
At least I’m not the only one.
The really sad news is that I am not alone. I can’t tell you how many people have confessed to me that they have drawers, closets, ROOMS filled with art supplies. That they will occasionally go and visit their ever growing paint collection or reams of gorgeous fabric and experience a certain kind of wistful pleasure that these things exist. But something holds them back from actually squirting the paint onto a palette or getting out the shears and cutting into that shimmering bolt of silk.
These clean tubes and empty sketchbooks speak to endless creative possibilities and potentials. Having all these amazing supplies ready and waiting for you is like being at that point in the creative journey when anything can happen.
And it gets way, way worse when the supplies themselves are expensive. If people who have never painted before start out by buying themselves high end oil paints and stretched canvases I’d be willing to bet that those objects will never, ever get used. The things themselves have become too precious. These paints and paper are like hoarded treasures that in and of themselves become cherished and adored.
If you have sprung for art materials that have cost you a lot of money that means you have to create a painting that you can at least feel proud enough to hang in your living room if not the San Francisco MOMA!
So what happens for a lot of people is that they get kind of stuck in this potential phase.
I hate it when perfectionism is so darn sneaky.
I think that this holding back is an unacknowledged form of perfectionism. Those paint tubes are just so CLEAN and unsullied. That uncut fabric is so beautiful and rich and whole. That green suede journal is a jewel just as it is. All of these creative accouterments are in a flawless and perfect state. And there’s just NO guarantee that when you start using your art stuff that you’re not going to completely mess things up!
When you start really utilizing those gorgeous treasures you have no idea what you’re going to end up with. It might be something you absolutely hate… or something that you feel disappointed in or ashamed of.
And that’s what holds people back.
It’s that fear of being confronted with something less than perfect. Less than ideal. So the paints stay all nice and cozied up in their shiny little paint skins and and the fantasy stays alive that someday…. at some point in the future ….. those art supplies will eventually become art.
Mess is not a four letter word… well it is but…. oh never mind.
When you go into a working artists studio you see very few unopened containers of paint. Most of those tubes are half squeezed, twisted, cracked and covered with paint themselves. They are often in a jumble somewhere, not lined up and color co-ordinated!
To be creative you have to be willing to make a mess. And to sometimes make a very BIG mess. One of the things that I love about my painting studio is the sense that it’s OK to lose control there. It’s a place where artistic chaos reigns.
That is one of the main reasons that I use kids paint and paper in my painting classes. People are much more willing to experiment and try things and make mistakes when the supplies themselves are not demanding something more.
Ultimately that fantasy of perfection ends up being pretty empty. Eventually that gorgeous paper in the journal will get moldy and yellowed and the paint tubes will end up only getting dried out and gathering dust. And your creative life will forever be on hold as you worship at the shrine of “someday art.”
I’ve been under a spell….. who knew?
So I don’t know about you, but I am ready to break that paralyzing spell that has been keeping me and my creative juiciness in its clutches for way too long now. I’m going to start USING that outrageous green journal. Today.
I have no idea what’s going to happen, but hey, isn’t that exactly the point? And I would love to hear from any of you as you take the risk of unearthing your treasure trove of too precious materials out from cold storage and start making some art!
Wrecking Journals Can Be Fun
This post has been partly inspired by the amazing Jamie Ridler over at Jamie Ridler Studios. She has been hosting something she calls The Next Chapter where she chooses a book on creativity and a bunch of women bloggers read the book together and write posts about their experience.
The book she is “hosting” right now is call Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith and even though this post is not about that particular book ( at least right now) I am offering these musings in the spirit of journal wrecking everywhere!
My First Podcast!
I have also been interviewed about my take on the creative process by the lovely Danny Hobson who is the director of the fabulous Arts and Healing Network which is a comprehensive online resource for art, healing and creativity practitioners from all over the country and the world.
She made me feel so comfortable and at ease during the interview process that I sound like I even know what I am talking about! You can listen to that interview, which is in the form of a podcast, by clicking here.