“I showed my piece to grown-ups and asked them if my drawing frightened them. They answered, ‘Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?’ My drawing did not represent a hat. It was supposed to be a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.”
~ The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Getting ready to paint can be just as scary as looking in the mirror. It is hard to share those intimate parts that the creative process reveals. It feels like spilling my guts onto a canvas for all to see.
Looking inside this place, I call self takes courage. It is easy to create flaws that are not there. It is hard to accept the flaws we see. And with this process comes the fear of judgement.
When we judge, we are pushing away the parts of ourselves that we cannot accept. I admit there was a time when I pushed my creative self aside. The fear that my art would be rejected was immobilizing.
I remember sitting through art critiques in college. Each piece of constructive criticism felt like an attack. I could only see the negative side of the feedback I received in these circles. While other artists were inspired to create better work, I only felt the pain of rejection.
Instead of creating for me, I started creating to please the group. I lost sight of the creative process. Instead of it being a journey to reveal my true self, it became a war between what I wanted and what I perceived the group wanted.
My fear of my work being misunderstood was so great and so painful that I abandoned my artistic side. I wanted a safer path in life, one where I did not have to feel. One that was safe and free of judgment.
So I starved myself creatively, emotionally and physically. I plunged into a colorless world of anorexia. I left my canvas blank because it was perfect. No one could critique it, no one could judge it. For what is there to say about a white canvas? It’s just a white canvas.
I grew sicker and sicker and sicker, and weaker and weaker and weaker. Until, I could no longer feel. I could no longer see my true self. And one day, I woke up and I was sick of being sick. I knew I was ready to paint. I didn’t care about the end result; it didn’t matter what it looked like. I was painting to be me.
At first, none of the colors on my palette appealed to me. I searched for the colors that I was drawn to and avoided the ones that repulsed me the most. As I searched, my mind traveled to distant places. I saw soft pale blues. I felt the gentle breeze as it rose off the ocean. I tasted the salt on my lips.
All was calm until I looked at a bright coral orange. It was loud as a siren blaring in my ear. The sound annoyed me. I felt trapped and I just wanted to scream. I reached for the obnoxiously bright orange and the cooling cerulean aqua blue. I dipped my brush into these polarizing hues and exposed my guts onto the white canvas before me.
It was easy to start with the blue—the brush flowed across the canvas like a wave cascading onto the shore. I became lost in the blue and the peacefulness I felt when I am surrounded by water. Now it was time to add the orange. Once again, I was stuck. The blue was so pretty—so soothing. I was afraid to disturb the zen moment with the garish orange.
It was harsh and sharp, piquant like a chili pepper. I was angry at it. I felt heat rising in me like a fire. It was impossible to gently brush it on the canvas like I did with the blue. I had to throw it on. Splatter splash. Sometimes I even used a pounding staccato rhythm.
By painting, I worked through my fears and I came closer to my center. And with repetition, I began to see my true self. By embracing my quirks, flaws and scars, I accepted myself. With this acceptance, judgement becomes less painful. For it is judgement that skews my perception.
But it is this creative process that sets me free. By releasing my emotions, I stop revolving in the same emotional patterns that hold me back and make it so scary to add color to a blank canvas.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Author’s own