My Top 10 recommendations for embracing fearlessness in painting:
1. Be kind to yourself
Choose wisely how you talk to yourself about your painting. Our minds can be likened to a muscle: What you say to yourself becomes stronger with repetition.
Imagine yourself as a tiny, budding plant. The thought of exposing this tenderness to harsh sunlight or a tempest of rain is asinine if this plant has any chance of growing.
The same is true with our painting. Be mindful of what you expose it to. Self-criticism is a harsh element. It can scorch and drown a budding artist. We don’t have control of what other people will say about our painting, but we can control how we talk to ourselves about our art.
Acceptance, encouragement and patience are just a few of the ways that we can be kind to ourselves.
2. Let go of expectations
Most of my students can be divided into two categories: Those who have expectations for their paintings, and those who don’t. Aside from a few notable exceptions, students who don’t have any expectations usually have more fun in the process, and end up creating more paintings they like.
Simply stated: Having a fixed idea of what your paintings must look like will change the way you paint, and may even constrict the flow of creativity.
When we allow expectations to be in the driver’s seat, we allow our heads to lead our experience. The process becomes more calculated, less fluid.
When we create without expectations, we allow our intuition to be in the driver's seat. We become open to experimentation, exploration, new ideas and spontaneity.
3. Paint like a child
Picasso said: “It took me four years to paint like Rafael and a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Observing how children create is one of my greatest inspirations. Give a child a piece of paper or a blank canvas, and they don’t hesitate. (The younger they are, the better they are at this.) Kids don’t ask: "What should I paint? Is my idea good enough? Will anybody like my painting?"
Kids just begin. They surround themselves with their favorite colors (Why would they work with colors they don’t like?) and they don't hesitate. They are focused, completely present, and they know exactly when they are finished. Either because they feel like they’ve said what they wanted to say, or because they get bored and move on to something else. It’s inspiring to watch. I also love the way they are so proud to share the work that they've done by asking you to display it in some way.
When we learn to paint like kids, we will have no fear.
4. Give yourself permission to change your mind
Forcing a painting makes a painting look forced. If we want to create a painting that flows and looks effortless, we must embody those sentiments.
Sometimes, the best thing I can do is to allow myself to change course, rather than making myself travel down a path I don’t want to travel down any longer. This can express itself in simple and complex ways. For example, I may have been in a “blue” mood yesterday, but today I am in a “red” mood. Rather than telling myself I must paint with blue today because I've already made the investment, puts a lot of pressure on myself. Honour the present moment by giving yourself permission to change your mind.
5. Give yourself permission to create something “ugly”
Having to create something “beautiful” is a heavy burden to carry. Begin to dissolve those expectations by giving yourself permission to create something “ugly”. “Beautiful” and “ugly” are completely subjective anyway.
Instead, challenge yourself to experiment and have fun and in the process. You’ll be delighted, and instead of dreading your next studio session, you’ll begin looking forward to it.
Try this: Assign at least one of your canvasses as your non-preconceived/fearless canvas. All your other canvasses can have pre-conceived ideas. All but one. Try it and see for yourself how you feel while you create and compare the results.
If you feel like you have to explain or justify your work to your friends and family, I give you my whole hearted permission to blame it on me by saying something like this: “My instructor told us to paint an “ugly” painting, but experiment and have fun in the process. I did just that!”
6. Do it for yourself
Painting my personal truth (another way of saying this is painting with authenticity) is the best way I know how to make work that is meaningful, sustainable, fresh, magnetic, beautiful and inspiring.
So every once in a while, I like to check in with myself and ask the following 5 questions to help me make sure I am on the right track:
The second question is one of my favorites. Being extremely honest about the kind of art we would make if no one was looking is a powerful exercise in truth telling. It gives us the best chances for creating art that is uniquely ours rather than trying to adhere to preconceived expectations.
7. Enjoy the process
One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle said: “When you no longer need for your story to work out, it actually works quite well.” The same is true in art: “When you longer need your painting to work out, it actually works out quite well.
When we focus on the end result, rather than the process, it can often feel like the proverbial “dangling carrot” unattainable and forever out of reach.
Immerse yourself in the moment and enjoy the process. That, in and of itself is success.
8. Indulge your creative urges
I believe we are all creative individuals. At least, we all started out that way. As children we were all naturally creative and fearless. Even as adults, creativity is trying to talk to us all the time!
What ends up happening is that we numb ourselves to creativity. When we get a creative urge or inspiration, we tell ourselves: “No, that’s stupid. That’s too messy. That’s not going to work. That’s not the idea I was looking for.” With repetition, we have the ability to silence our creative urges. Then we wonder why we are stuck! Creativity has been trying to talk to us, but we’re not listening!
Why do we do this? We don’t realize that engaging with an idea gives rise to more ideas, and that ideas build on top of other ideas, and that sometimes, ideas only happen as a result of making a mistake or having to solve a problem.
I encourage you to “indulge your creative urges”. That means, do you get excited thinking about what would happen if you sprinkled glitter on your painting, do it! If you think about how fun it would be to incorporate your old journals in to your painting, do it! If you keep thinking about a color you want to try but it just won’t match your couch, do it! This is what creativity looks like.
I urge you to accept your creative urges and indulge them. I promise it will begin to transform your work and you’ll have a lot more fun in the process. Eventually, your creativity muscle will be so strong that it might not want to shut up!
Do you think you would be reading this if I had told myself that painting with a roller was ridiculous? Or that tossing my color wheel was a bad move? Or that using water to spray the canvas was going to be too messy? Accept that inspiration might not come in the form you expect, and it may require lining your entire living room with plastic to protect your walls and furniture!
9. Learn to accept compliments
Begin training yourself to accept compliments about your work. For some of us, this can be excruciatingly difficult.
Abstraction is about allowing the viewer to respond to your paintings without you getting in the way. Instead of simply allowing others to have their experience, sometimes we can’t keep our mouths shut. We feel like we have to explain how we began with this one idea, but that idea didn’t work, and everything went wrong, and we didn’t have the colors we wanted, or we used too much water and then this happened. You get the point. Allow the viewer to experience your painting without you getting in the way.
Often times, accepting a compliment about our painting can be empowering. Next time someone compliments your painting, instead of feeling like you have to justify, explain or minimize your work, try saying: “Thank you” instead.
10. You have nothing to lose
Whether we have days, months or years ahead of us, we are all headed in the same direction. We are all going to die. No exceptions.
What would you do if you had a limited amount of time left on this Earth? (We forget this is a certainty!) How would you wish to spend your time here?
To put it into context: How would you paint if you knew you had a limited amount of time left on this earth? Would you be kinder to yourself? Would you enjoy the process more? Would you have an easier time letting go? Would you paint "Fearlessly"?
Do not allow fear to get in the way of your uninhibited self-expression.
This blog was created to share my belief that the art-making process is a catalyst for transformation and personal empowerment. I am living proof.