I recently found myself wrestling with my old nemesis, Procrastination. My struggle primarily revolved around the finishing, or more to the point, not finishing an illustration I had begun weeks earlier. I’d been really excited to work on it and to bring it to life on the page. I had some initial problems with execution and chose to scrap it and begin again. In spite of the fresh start, it still wasn’t coming easily. I felt like it was resisting me, or perhaps I had begun to get too precious with it, something I’ve run into with other projects and it stops me in my tracks, every time. I know this by another name, as well – Perfectionism. Perhaps, you’re familiar with it?
In the midst of my frustration, I recalled 2 of the most valuable questions I've ever been asked.
I consider these two questions whenever I feel I’m losing the plot in pursuit of my creativity. I first heard them, many years ago, when I interviewed for a new job in the corporate world. You may be familiar with them, yourself. The first question is this:
"What is your greatest strength?"
Well, since you asked, I think I have a few. I’m very organized, I’m punctual, I work well on my own, and I’m a quick learner. Boiled down, most of my strengths can be summed up in one characteristic – I’m detail oriented. That’s actually a very valuable trait to possess, as an artist.
However, once that friendly question was answered, the second one was rolled out and, as you’ll see, it flips the previous one on its head.
"What is your greatest weakness?"
My answer to that question has to be, “I can sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture” or, to put it another way, “I’m detail oriented.”
In the midst of my push & pull with the above mentioned illustration, I realized that I had been putting too much pressure on it to perform. In short, I had become too narrow in my focus, mired in the minutae and stuck in the details. The best thing I could do was lay down my paintbrush and raise my hands in mock surrender. I had to step back, create some breathing space, lift my eyes, and zoom out for a while. In other words, be less detail oriented.
Whenever I want to create art, simply for the pleasure it brings me, without it having to mean anything of any significance, I turn to the humble doodle. The doodle is imbued with magical powers that, when allowed out to play, will reintroduce an essential element of fun back into my work. But, wait. You’re not supposed to have fun when you’re an adult, right?
Aha! That's a lie, my friend. That is a lie.
I’ve spent the last several weeks playing like a child let loose with art supplies and no adult supervision. It’s been glorious. The tricky part, for me, is to resist the pull to be a ‘serious artist’. You know, respected and talked about in all the right circles, loved & adored by all. I mean, who doesn’t want that? The thing is, I can still improve and produce my best work without relegating my creative child to her room, allowed to speak only when spoken to. In truth, I can’t produce my best work without her. She’s my driving force and the go-go juice that makes it all worthwhile.
One of the techniques I’ve been playing with is portrait line drawings from reference images I find on Pinterest. The twist – and I do love a twist, don’t you? – is to draw them with my non-dominant hand, or in my case, my left hand. You know from the outset that whatever you draw this way is going to be bad, so you’re able to relax and enjoy the process. Still, there’s something oddly appealing about them.
You should try it.
Anyway, all this to say, while I may have stepped away from the corporate world, I brought myself along with me and the traits I had then are still an integral part of who I am, now. If I allow myself to forget that, I can wander around, directionless & feeling frustrated, until I reconnect with all the parts of me that make me whole – even my greatest weakness, because it can also be my greatest strength.
What about you? How would you answer these questions?
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