Paula Swenson

Muses Just Want to have FUN

In Art and Creativity on March 11, 2009 at 9:40 am


When I was learning to draw I was frequently very unhappy with the results.  I was doubly frustrated when the doodles, which I did obsessively in the margins of notebooks during classes and meetings or on the backs of envelopes while chatting on the phone, turned out better than my formal attempts at drawing!  If you ever feel this way, I’d like to suggest a radical move — make art destined for the dustbin!

“What??!?!? Is she crazy??” I hear you asking ” . . . invest my limited time and materials and then THROW IT ALL AWAY?!?!?!?” RELAX . . . and consider 3 things:

1) we often fail under pressure

2) masterpieces have been drawn on re-used paper with burnt matchsticks

3) 🙂 you can always change your mind!

Allow me to elaborate.

1) a blank canvas, a fresh sketch pad, an expensive piece of handmade watercolor paper, a block of Parian marble, a cherry wood burl . . . untouched, pure, intimidating . . . we feel immense pressure to “get it right” or “do something really creative”. . . sometimes it paralyzes us and sometimes we start, but then fuss too much and ruin it anyway — and occasionally we get it exactly right — usually when we are touched by a creative grace that pulls us along without too much “thought”.  If we release ourselves from the pressure of ‘getting it right’ we invite that creative grace into our lives.

2) tools don’t make the artist, nor do materials – don’t get me wrong, good materials are worth their weight in gold, and that’s often what we feel we’ve paid for them when we get to the checkout in the art supply store. Then we think “gee, I spent so much money, I’d better not waste any of this stuff” – more pressure — newsflash: NONE of this stuff is EVER wasted!  If it forwards the creative process, even if you throw it away, it wasn’t wasted.

3) If you produce something amazing on your kid’s lunch sack, you don’t HAVE TO throw it away (oh yeah!)

So, what’s the point?  The Point is to give yourself freedom and permission to fail . . . to be a kid with a huge stack of scrap paper from dad’s office and a coffee can full of crayons — try stuff, discard the “oops” and “yuck” ones and use the others to inspire your more serious artwork.

Color outside your mental lines.  The projects don’t have to be amateurish, but they should be ultimately disposable . . . it is the possibility to throw it away without guilt that frees your creative risk-taking self. It’s a lot easier to toss the flubs if it is only your time, and not expensive materials that you are tossing out.  Furthermore, if you can create something you like a lot with basic, cheap materials, just think what you can do when you take that same idea and do a ‘second draft’ with better materials! 🙂  . . . (and no, you won’t just ‘mess it up’ the second time . . . if you did it once, believe me, you CAN do it again.)

Few of us would even consider writing something for public consumption, without doing drafts, and yet somehow we often feel compelled to sit down and magically ‘create’ an artwork without the benefit of ‘rewrites’ — give yourself a break.  

I’m not suggesting using materials so inferior that they frustrate the creative process, but I am in favor of simplicity . . . get out the crayons, the colored pencil or the tempera paints.  Use the backs of gift boxes, the reverse side of watercolors or drawings that didn’t succeed, butcher paper, grocery bags, scraps of matte board . . . I’ve had a lot of fun with shopping bags from expensive boutiques, which are often made out of really NICE paper and usually only have a small, discreet, classy logo on them — cut them up and play!  Go crazy, experiment — you were going to throw it out anyway . . .

Freed from the pressure of not wasting materials and not having to “get it right”, you may find that your muse visits you a lot more often, after all, muses just want to have fun!

~ originally published  at Live Journal (online) February 2009 republished at Divine Caroline (online) March 2009  copyright: Paula Swenson, feel free to link to this article, but please do not republish without permission.

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