Losing the Fear of Imperfection
Or: I discover playful creation when I dress up in costume and act in a children’s art festival
It started a few months ago with my 8 year old asking me to please help her draw background props for her class play. “Please Mommy, you don’t have to paint, just draw the outlines. I love your drawings.” Can’t really resist that, can I?
Fast forward and several plays later, I get a phone call.
“Hey,” my friend M, who volunteers at the school called me up. “I was wondering if you could help us draw and paint some props for the art carnival we’re planning for the community.”
She needed me to create props for a scene in an artist quarter. I had a free hand to choose the type of background and images, but it needed to bring the kids participating in the activities into the atmosphere of the artist colony.
And so I found myself with three wall sized cardboard props and two boxes of paint in my garage.
As you know, I often fall into this trap of perfectionism-procrastination. The whole family was visiting. A holiday came up. We were spring cleaning.
And then I had three days left. Berating myself for my ill time management skills, I went on a mad dash to finish the props with ample time for them to dry before the big event.
I started with google image search to find the location I had promised to paint. Sat down and painstakingly drew the scenery with a pencil and a ruler.
And so passed half a day.
Sometime in the early afternoon I realized that I will have to go pick up the kids soon, and nothing was done. It was time to get fast and dirty.
Interesting things happen when you have to get something done by a deadline: instead of perfecting each color, mixing it gently to the exact hue and trying to create an exact replica, I started mixing colors on four different paper plates, and moved the brush from color to color as I painted my scenes. The result was, that in my rush I mixed in and used colors I may not have thought to use in the first place. Gay stones became purple and pink and yellow, shading was done with blue and purple, trees sprouted, sky transformed into a maddening vibrant sunrise. It wasn’t a perfect replica of the real scene – it was a reflection of my feelings and movements about the place. And it didn’t matter – because it was just kid paints on cardboard, not pricey art supplies that had to be used sparingly and seriously. I could get silly. I could get crazy.
When the kids came home, I invited them to paint in some of the scenes. Worst case scenario, I figured, I could paint over if they made mistakes. But there were no “mistakes”. In a few hours, the garage floor was covered in vibrant, colorful props, out of this world. By letting go, and letting myself and the kids be imperfect, to paint the impression of the city rather than the exact photographic replica of it, we were able to create something magical which resounded with the artistic atmosphere of the city we were trying to bring to the kids.
As we were wrapping up, M called again. One of the actors called in sick, could I volunteer to dress up and greet the kids coming into the exhibition and explain to them a little about the history of the place?
(I can’t really refuse M)
Festival day found me dressed up as an artist, with my own easel. I was happy to discover that in our part of the exhibition were also some local musicians who were to play for the children and tell them stories. As I set up the room and chatted with the fellow volunteers, I realized that since I had an easel at my disposal, I might as well make some use of it. I took some cardboard and paints and got into character.
It was enormous fun, I’ll tell you that! I haven’t had that sort of laidback artistic fun since I painted and acted in our high school plays. Which made me wonder.
Why was this laidback “not-real” art more fun for me than when I actually sat down to a canvas to paint “serious” art?
Being fast, using inexpensive materials, and the fun atmosphere of the carnival, as well as pretending to be a different character, had allowed me to create without fear.
“Mom,” my son told me, “Do you think we can make ourselves an art studio in the garage? It was fun when we were all painting together for the carnival.”
Painting and hanging up our creations in our garage freed us all to be silly, to lose the fear of “perfect.” I know myself, and I know that it would be very difficult for me to let go of my paralyzing perfectionism in writing, but I’m making a promise to myself to at least try.
Are you ready to join me in this experiment?