I haven’t painted since I was at school. It was one of my favourite subjects. I could spend three days painting the one picture, lost in my flow. Even a picture of a gate.
But I wasn’t encouraged to do art at university. Both my teachers and parents persuaded me it wasn’t a useful subject to take. So instead I took history and didn’t paint or draw a thing for over a decade until…
I was moving house I came across some old paintings and remembered how much I’d enjoyed making art. I really wanted to take it up again but feeling rusty I decided to sign up for a night class.
Over the days leading up to the class my excitement was building. Memories I hadn’t thought about in years came back to me. All the hours I whiled away with my paints, enjoying being lost in my own little world.
When the day of my first class arrived I was a bit nervous, could I even paint after all this time? I walked into the room and there on each table was a cabbage. I died a bit inside.
What a completely boring subject I thought and this was coming from someone who spent several days painting a gate. I left at the end of the class with a sheet of A3 covered in a swirl of grubby scribbles and charcoal all over my hands. Needless to say I wasn’t inspired to go back.
Over the years I tried a few different classes to no avail and it took me a long time to figure out the problem was me. I wanted it to be perfect or at least as good as I was at school but I also didn’t have the patience I used to have back then. I wanted to make exciting, ‘perfect’ art right off the bat. I wasn’t prepared to start from scratch again. I had no interest in cabbages or bowls of fruit. So I gave up.
Then lockdown came along and with little else to do the art bug started scratching at me again. I gave in to the itch and browsed around looking for a new course. That’s when I came across one for abstract art.
I’d never understood abstract painting. Where did the images come from? How did the artist know how to arrange the shapes and colour with no references? What was the difference that made one piece rubbish and another amazing?
But I needed something to occupy my mind and I wasn’t going back to cabbages so I jumped on it. I took comfort in the idea that this was an art form where nobody would know if it looked the way it was intended to or not. It felt freeing to experiment and more importantly I gave myself permission to be shit.
The first few paintings I made were utter garbage. Yes you can tell even though they’re abstract. But I honestly didn’t care. Just painting again felt so good and I even felt free enough to post my pictures on social media and here.
A real light bulb moment happened for me when I entered a challenge to paint over the same canvas every day for 30 days. It was fun to see the different paintings appearing and disappearing before my eyes. I couldn’t be precious about any of them because they wouldn’t be around for long.
It also made me realise if I made something crap I could just keep going, layering over the top until I found something I liked. Who knew putting tinsel on a turd really does work?
It dawned on me this, giving myself permission to be shit, was something I already did in other areas of my life like my writing, without even thinking about it. I was fine with having a ropey first few drafts and I actually enjoy the process of editing over and over.
Giving myself permission to make rubbish has made a big difference to my mindset and productivity. I don’t beat myself up when something doesn’t look right or read right. I know it’s all part of the process and I allow myself to enjoy it.
What difference would it make to you and your art if you gave yourself permission to be shit sometimes? Maybe just for a half a day or an hour to create without expecting anything from it.
Try making it your goal to produce something regardless of what it looks like, how it reads, sounds or feels or even tastes. Enjoy the colours of the paint, playing with the words, mixing a new concoction. Allow yourself a sense of satisfaction for just having made something. What new areas of experimentation could it take you and your work into?
If you’re gut clenches at the thought of producing something less than perfect maybe examine that. What’s the fear or belief there? Is it serving you or holding you back? Email me if you need some help with that.