How to Play Big When You’re Afraid of Wasting
August 1st, 2008
When I talked about playing on a big piece of paper the other day, a few people mentioned wishing they were able to let go and create like that. It sounds like a simple thing, but if you've ever been in front of a big piece of paper or canvas or hunk of clay and were afraid to begin, then you know it can be tricky. For many people, myself included, there's a fear of wasting material. We might think, "Oh, I spent 'x' amount of dollars on that canvas. If I just start playing and it turns out awful, what a waste it will be! I better do something good on this or forget about it." Those are some paralyzing thoughts! I don't believe that you should let the cost of the material interfere with your free-flowing creativity, but sometimes you need some tools to get beyond that ingrained fear of waste.
I remember in junior high, I used to try to cram all my math homework onto one page because I didn't want to waste paper. I had a fear of lack and didn't want to run out of materials and have to ask for more. Some of this came from the fact that my parents were divorced and money was an issue, but we could afford paper. I just didn't want to ask for anything, so I'd write teeny-tiny and try to make my paper last. I actually got graded down on one of my math homework assignments because of it. The teacher was having trouble reading the tiny numbers and asked me to please, use more paper. Heh. I started to get some clarity around my fear of waste and lack way back then and although it has continued to come up for me as an adult, it's far less often.
For me, the fear of waste with art supplies became an issue after college. During college, materials were required of you, so I didn't worry about wasting things. But after college, when money was tight, it seemed like a big risk to work on a canvas or use a lot of paint when I didn't have a lot to spare. Around that time, I started reading about intuitive art making, which involved letting your intuition guide your color choices and the flow of your work. This was the way I'd always preferred to work and having this as my intention really helped me to loosen up and let go. I also started working this way with collage. In both cases, I began with cheap materials, things I had readily available. If you have issues with perfection, lack, and wasting materials, starting with cheaper materials is a great way to begin. I used sketchbook pages, magazines, a glue stick, and cheap paints to begin. That way if I "screwed up", it didn't matter. I felt freer to experiment, to play, to go with my whims and I also gained confidence from the experience of creating from that deeper source within me.
When I moved on to better quality materials and had to face those fears of lack again, I found that giving myself permission to make complete and utter crap was enough to get me past the initial roadblock and into the flow of my creativity. It may sound silly, but I will literally say this out loud or in my head to myself, "It's o.k. to make complete and utter crap. You can throw it out at the end, cut it up, or paint over it in the end if you want to." And sometimes I do cut it up, paint over it or throw it out. And that's totally fine. Each experience leads to the next and having some "failures" are important too.
I recently bought two large pieces of paper for a project that I ended up not needing. So, I decided to devote them to playful creation with no plan or direction or purpose. I painted with a painting knife, making big strokes, looking for images that `popped out at me from the texture of the knife strokes and following my intuition as to where to take it. Simply having told myself that this paper was for play and that it didn't matter if it turned into a big page of mud was enough to get me started. And I think starting is the hardest part. Once you get started, the sense of fun kicks in and you lose yourself in the process. And if you find yourself stuck in fear along the way, a simple reminder to let go of the end-product is usually enough to get going again. The images in this post are all part of one of those big pieces of paper I'm working. It's still in process and I don't know where I'm going with it, but I sure am having a fabulous time making it! I've been layering, drawing, scraping, and playing all over the place.
The fun part about working big on a piece of paper, is that you often find lovely small pieces of it that you really like. And with a piece of paper you can always crop it into smaller compositions. When I first wanted to play big with cheaper materials, I went out an got a big roll of inexpensive white paper, tempera paints (less expensive), and some gloss paint to go over the tempera and make it more shiny if I wanted to do that. Big rolls of craft paper that you can buy at office supply stores work well too.
I feel like I've got loads more to say on this topic, but this is a good start. Try playing big (whatever big means to you), give yourself permission to make "bad art", and most importantly, have fun with it. Hope you have a beautiful, creative, and joy-filled weekend!