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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Battle to Terminate the Perfection Imperfection


Ironically, as a trait, it is a glaring IMperfection.  Not just imperfection.  It is paralyzing.

I have long been a perfectionist.  While it affects both my analytical side and my creative side, I have found perfection to be absolutely devastating to my creative side.


*  Re-writing the same scene, chapter, or book over and over, culminating in a refusal to submit it for publication even when you've had others tell you to go for it.

*  Getting bogged down with a plot then finally throwing your hands up in frustration and walking away for months or years because you can't come up with the perfect plot nuances to bring your wide-sweeping story together.

*  Attempting to draw or paint a picture and becoming so frustrated with the perceived inadequacy of the project that you hide your sketchbook or canvas and toss your supplies, never to pick up pencil or paint for years.

Aside from the loss of productivity, even worse is the thought of reaching the end of life and not having accomplished my artistic goals.

So recently I asked for some advice from other creatives on how they'd bust the perfection cycle.  I got some really good ideas, and I got some not-so-helpful philosophical ideas (I wanted hands on recommendations).  In the end, I went with my gut and decided the visual arts, not writing, would be my "therapy" for busting perfection paralysis.

Why did I choose the visual arts?  Because, while I enjoy both writing and visual arts, it is my intention to make some income, no matter the amount, off my writing at some point in the future. Therefore writing adds even MORE pressure than the visual arts.  I want to pursue drawing and painting as a hobby because I enjoy doing them.  While I may be extremely hard on myself when doing visual arts, I feel the pressure level is slightly less than when writing.

The next obvious question is HOW will I implement this process of busting perfectionism paralysis?  Simple.  Each week, I spend a little time either painting or drawing (or both if the fortune of time is upon me).  No holds barred.  No criticism.  

I have ample sketchpads that have been laying around un-used for years.  I got myself a cheap starter set of acrylic paints and brushes and a handful of canvases with some gesso.  I borrowed some books from the library on the basics of acrylic painting (I took a class over 30 years ago but essentially forgot everything I learned).

And today I did what grabbed me most.  I'd been wanting to prime a canvas with black gesso and play with colors on a black background, intending to do a desert nighttime scene.  I fooled around with it but wasn't impressed.  But you know what? That's ok.  With some very fine sandpaper and a couple base coats of white gesso, I can re-use that canvas, no harm, no foul.

Then I took a white gesso primed canvas and began the outlines of a sunrise sky.  I didn't finish it.  But that's okay. At least I STARTED.  I put the mostly unfinished canvas on my bookshelf to glance at it over the next week and come back to it and experiment some more.

I've already learned a few things I need to improve--obviously gaining the skill will be a long, on-going process, but there ARE things I can do to centralize the painting medium in my mind like studying the color wheel and beginning to intrinsically understand how to mix colors.  I'll continue to practice mixing, playing with brushstrokes, palette knives, sponges, just to see the effects on canvas and what the possibilities are.

And as my last project of the day, I sketched a TV character.  For some reason, I feel driven to learn to pencil draw humans though I haven't been tempted to try and paint a human---probably too chicken right now.  Somehow it feels "okay" to waste a piece of sketch paper doodling out a human profile.

Do you see the theme?  The key to my busting perfectionism paralysis is giving myself permission to screw up.  Don't berate myself for wasting supplies, making an imperfect picture, or spending my time doing a hobby.  It's all okay.

Week by week, I'm going to take steps to solve this problem (along with a few others I'm working on in the career front).  The only way to bust the perfection bubble is to hit it over the head with a hammer.  

Let's hope that over the course of the spring and summer, this will make me more creatively productive and moving forward better than I have in a long time.  Creative pursuits aren't just for primary schoolers.  They are meant to be enjoyed for a lifetime.  And who knows what pleasant surprises pursuit of the creative arts may bring?

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