I get awfully tired of being an adult all the time.
I get exhausted just thinking about the list of things I have to do to keep my life operating on a more or less even keel, much less actually doing all those things.
Like always having to be competent. And responsible. To have to at least appear like I know what I’m doing and to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
The striving to accomplish my goals and making constant headway on my plans. Being an adult means more or less having my shit together. Dealing with stress. And things going wrong. Being strong. And organized. And at least somewhat in control.
Like I said, it often just plumb tuckers me out.
Which is one of the reasons that I so love being creative. It gives me a break from all of that real world pressure and anxiety. It gives me an opportunity to just play. To stop thinking and worrying and planning so much and just be in the moment with whatever creative project I might have going.
In particular it’s the main reason that I fell in love with intuitive process painting. I started painting intuitively in 1989 at around the same time that I was getting my graduate degree in psychology.
Being in school meant dealing with a lot of pressure. To perform. And be graded, evaluated and scrutinized. Writing papers. Giving presentations. Making logical and rational sense. Which put my judging mind into total overdrive because I was trying so hard to be a good student and do everything right.
I desperately needed a way to step out of all that relentless left brain activity.
And I had always been drawn to the arts. But I knew that I didn’t want to take an official art class where I would have to learn more rules and have to worry about having to be good enough in another arena.
I just wanted some time to play with paint and get back to the place of being a child again. So I found an intuitive process painting class in my area and was transported to another world where I didn’t have to think or perform or be capable at all. It was a little piece of heaven on earth.
And I’m totally convinced that it’s what got me through graduate school with a modicum of my sanity still intact.
As well as completely changing my life.
Because once I got out of school and was faced with another 2-3 years of internships and hoop jumping I made a choice which had huge ramifications for my future. I could either continue on down the path towards professional licensure and a certain kind of respectability or totally switch directions and become a wild-assed, kind of out there, on the fringe intuitive painting teacher.
Which is of course what I decided to do.
Mainly because I wanted to help other people discover the freedom and joy that I was able find through the simple act of putting paint on paper in exactly the way I wanted to do it.
But letting that inner child come out to play unhampered by adult expectations is much easier said than done.
Most of us have lost touch with the simplicity of the creative impulse. We get all bound up by rules and expectations and adult concerns like looking good. Being proficient. Constantly achieving and accomplishing. Managing things.
All of those things that are ultimately wearing us out and causing us to be cranky and overburdened in the first place.
So one of the easiest ways of getting back to that childlike ease with creating is to use children’s art supplies.
When you come to one of my classes or workshops, what I make available to you is an abundance of tempera paint ( which is also known as poster paint. Or kids paint), brushes and paper. The paint is water based and non-toxic so it doesn’t need any kind of special attention or expertise in using it.
The whole point of this process is to let go of the “I’ve got it all together”, worldly, sophisticated part of ourselves and just get back to simply creating.
And the good news is that painting in this way is the most natural thing in the world.
Children know exactly what to do when you hand them a pad of paper and some paint. They just begin painting. And even though you are now in an adult body you can still do the same thing.
When children are very young they don’t worry about doing it the right way or the wrong way. They don’t know that there is such a thing. They are just drawn to and fascinated by what happens when you take these bright and pretty colors and put them on the paper.
It’s creation in it’s most basic form.
You start out with an empty white surface, you add some color and now something exists that didn’t a moment ago. You have created something. You get to experience yourself as a creator.
So this is essentially what we are going for in this process. The original impulse. The spontaneous, untrained expression.
And it’s scary and risky to just do that. We can get completely hung up on worrying about wasting paint or wasting time.
We can become mesmerized by the twin gods of efficiency and effectiveness that seem to rule this culture. And we can find ourselves immobilized when we don’t have a plan where everything is all mapped out.
And we have a hard time with embracing the child’s mind otherwise known as beginners mind. There are so many issues that come flying to the surface when we try and paint in this way like fears about being good enough and knowing what we are doing. We are easily triggered into a place of shame or inadequacy if we aren’t proficient or skillful at something right away.
Which is one of the reasons that we use very simple art materials.
If you start your life as a painter by investing in expensive oil paints and large canvases you are asking for a world of pain and trouble. You can become all too easily intimidated by the materials themselves. You can find yourself becoming crippled by a whole host of expectations that gets set up.
There’s the expectation of needing to become a “real” artist, which means that you have to be incredibly good and talented so that you can then sell your art, get recognition and become famous. And before you know it you’re thinking about finding a gallery and an agent and “Oh my god, how long will it be before I can see my paintings hanging in the MOMA?”
This little train of thinking might sound crazy but it happens all the time. It’s part of the cultural expectation and mythology of making art in the Western World. It’s all bound up with the unconscious archetype that we all carry, right or wrong, about being an artist.
And it is a complex of ideas and expectations that has a life of it’s own and can completely take over the psyche. Leading to abject terror at the monumental size of the task you have set for yourself and a numbing paralysis that won’t even let you begin to create.
And the thing that is so interesting about this whole cascade of thoughts is that it happens to people who don’t even really want to become professional artists. Because it’s the only archetypal game in town. People don’t know how to think about or relate to making art in any other way except through this mindset.
So that’s why we start with children’s materials.
Because we are trying to invoke another archetype which is that of the inner child.
When I start with a new student the first thing that I suggest to them is that they let themselves paint as if they are four years old. And when they first hear that instruction the relief is palpable. Something in them relaxes.
Being four is something that they know they can do. It invokes the attitude of it’s OK to just play. It’s OK to not know what you are doing. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to be silly or whimsical or to paint stick figures if that’s all you know how to do.
Using the children’s supplies helps because it alleviates the pressure to perform like an adult and to be a “real” artist. You can’t make serious art with poster paint and non-archival, card stock paper. You have to let go of those expectations.
Although, believe me, even with the kids supplies, people still go off into fantasies about the MOMA. But it’s harder for them to take those fantasies seriously.
The paintings become less precious because the materials are less precious.
Which gives you the space and the freedom to experience what is really precious. The unhampered creative expression of your own spirit and soul.
So get yourself some poster paint, make your adult take a nap, and see for yourself if your inner child artist might just feel safe enough…. and invited enough… to come out and make some wildly unsophisticated, colorful, incompetent but ultimately freeing art.