Ah, the blank page.
Everyone, especially artists and writers, is familiar with the daunting, cringe-worthy pain that comes along with facing the vast blankness. The potential for great success is shadowed by the potential for great failure, the realization of which results in agonizing paralysis for many of us. That all sounds a bit a dramatic, but you get the idea. We’ve heard so many tips, tricks, and tidbits on how to combat the problem.
“Tone your canvas!”
“Just write whatever comes to mind.”
“Remember that failure is your FRIEND!”
All worthy pieces of advice in their own right, but not terribly effective for people like me whose crippling perfectionism will never be able to gloss over the blatant vulnerability, no matter how small the failure may be (is there such a thing as a small failure?!). At least not without some practice.
One method that’s helped me is planning. Meticulous planning. To give an example, I had this idea of a painting I wanted to create for a friend. I had the subject matter in mind already, and I created a couple pages worth of thumbnails to work out the composition. I knew I wanted a whimsical color scheme (think storybook, here), but I wasn’t really sure how to tackle it. I’ve yet to master color, and a younger, less-evolved (*snicker*) version of myself would have put it off for weeks only to most likely never make the thing and ended up giving said friend a nice pair of mittens instead. So much last minute gifting has resulted from my creative procrastination.
I make quick little color studies. Obviously not going for exceptional rendering here, and focusing on ONE thing. Color. This allows me to play around and experiment without feeling like I might ruin the piece and end up wasting my time. It allows me to lower the risk, and therefore I’m more comfortable starting the project.
Except, even with planning…sometimes (most of the time) the painting still sucks.
We’re going to fail. A bunch. I hate using that word, because it sounds so severe. I can think back over just this past year and point out so many things I’ve done that didn’t turn out how I’d planned. Small things, like using the wrong color on a painting, to BIG things, like totally uprooting my life and moving to a different state when it may or may not have been the right thing to do. I’m learning to use little workarounds where I can, and hopefully as time goes I can be better at “failing” gracefully.
Planning is therapeutic. It comforts us, it helps us be brave, and it gives us a way to process and visualize outcomes. It’s tool to help us make better decisions, but the real trick is knowing that all that planning might still result in a bust. At least life is interesting. If everything you set out to do goes smoothly…Well, let’s just say nobody would read a book about your life. If every piece of art you set out to make looks perfect…I don’t know about you guys, but the artists I love to follow most on Instagram are the ones that share their progress. I want to see that crappy work from two years ago, and how it’s evolved. I want to see the painting before it’s starting to come together, when it still looks like a disaster. Actual studio practice is grueling, messy, and embarrassing. It is NOT just excreting perfectionism onto canvas while wearing one’s prized lingerie. Despite what some might have you think.
2016 has been a year of growth and life lessons. Some of them extremely painful. I’m looking to make 2017 a year of embracing myself–failures, flaws, and all that squishy stuff.