Module six: the value of making mistakes & Overcoming Perfectionism

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
 *this photo was taken by my 13 yr old son, Ari, of my daughter. You can find more of his exploratory, experimental, just trying new things photos on his  Instagram page here . 

*this photo was taken by my 13 yr old son, Ari, of my daughter. You can find more of his exploratory, experimental, just trying new things photos on his Instagram page here

I talk and write a lot about making mistakes and the need to overcome perfectionism. I think it's worth repeating many times, until we all allow it to be part of our minds and way of talking to ourselves. 

In my creative practice, I've worked hard over the years to 'embrace my wonk', to work within my own way of working, and not wishfully look at what others are doing. While it's great to look out and be inspired by someone else's "perfect creative work", I think it's massively important to look inside and find joy - pure pure joy - at looking at our own wonky lines. It's the edges, the wrong-way, the not perfect where you find the true real beauty. 

In life I have never wanted to be pretty. I would much prefer to have an edge of ugly that shows itself as beautiful. Does that make sense? I think the ugly / beautiful juxtaposition is where things get interesting. I personally think that pretty and nice is sorta boring. In an art or creating making sense. I'm aiming for more than pretty and nice. I'm hoping to push myself past that. Past the perfect stitches, past the right way of doing things, past the rules. And past someone else's idea of how things should or shouldn't be done. 

How to be not perfect

For me to find the real truth and rawness in my personal creative work, I need to tap into something deeper than the surface of the making space. I need to find some solitude and reach down to find inside myself. I need to stop talking about what I should do, and start having a conversation with what's happening in my artwork. Stop trying to dictate the outcome, but instead to allow the process to flow and the piece to almost work itself. 

I love the idea of Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (here’s a fun trick to remember his name: “Me high? Cheeks send me high!”) talks about it as a state of complete absorption in the current creative / artistic experience. When you're there, you know it. For me I have that just slightly not-quite-drunk feeling, where the world is a teeny bit blurry and I'm seeing things in a super clear way, but with a different part of my brain. Not the the over-analysing everything part of my brain, not the rule-making part. But the part that is seeing things, letting them evolve and flow. 

I haven't read a lot of his works, I know I should add it to my list, but there are some good words and summary here. So, with the idea of 'loosing yourself into the flow of your work', I find instinctual mark-marking & making mistakes to be a beautiful way to develop a level of flow that you can begin to understand how to tap into when you need. 

Following on from the Mark-Making project - have you done it yet? If not, please please do. Here's some ideas on how to develop flow, and from this you'll develop a sense of enjoying your work for the process rather than the outcome. And from that, you'll learn to enjoy and love what you create regardless of it's perfection or not. 

The art of Improv

Have you ever heard a musician pick up an instrument, one that isn't their normal one to play, and just start creating sounds, music, a little tune, strumming.... it doesn't matter what they do. Often it's just the simple out-flowing of their inner creative flow. Somehow it's a little easier to pick up a guitar and strum isn't it (well, not for me, but perhaps for someone musically inclined). As opposed to picking up someone else's paint brush, sewing or weaving tools, camera, drawing book, etc etc.

But it's the same thing, the same process that I'm asking you to tap into. To pull from. To immerse yourself into. But with your own creative tools and outlets.

What I'm talking about here is:

  • allowing mistakes to evolve and happen
  • being immersed in the flow of your creative work
  • improvising
  • stop trying to be an expert
  • don't look for the final outcome, but be with the process
  • have fun & play with the work you're creating
  • move beyond your fears into curiosity
  • engage in a conversation with yourself, your process & your materials

If you are the type of person who needs a recipe in the kitchen, I encourage you to begin to explore cooking with no recipe. Instead use your memory, your instinct, your  sense of taste and smell, draw upon your previous experiences, experiment and explore different options. Perhaps you'll cook something you've cooked before, and without the exact recipe you may find it turns out a little differently; sometimes not quite as good, sometimes even better. Once more, with feeling....

Ways to try and move beyond perfectionism

Turn off your phone, and any other distractions. Go for a walk and begin with a mandala making session, either in the forest / the park / your garden or in your studio / kitchen / whenever you work. Find that internal quiet that comes when you move into this state of flow.

Settle into the moments, the space, the void... whatever it starts to feel like. The more you do this, the quicker it is to find how to slip into it. 

Drawing upon this internal quiet, this sense of flow begin your work. Whatever your work might be - your usual creative work. Don't question yourself, don't edit yourself, don't force or stop or alter. Allow the mistakes to happen, allow your voice to flow out and say what it wants to say. You can go back later and edit, if you want / need, but for now.... don't think about the result or the end work, simple be where the conversation is happening right now. Don't ponder what you're going to say next, just say it.

How I do this:
In my hand stitch work or my weaving:

  • I have my space ready. I don't need to tidy up or wonder where my supplies are. This distracts too much from the flow we're aiming for.
  • I choose my colours & materials, in a similar colour tone that feels 'right' or pleasing to me at the time. I don't measure or cut accurately, I use my hands & eyes to measure a piece of fabric. I don't gather all my supplies at once. I might add more or subtract... I don't know when I begin. I have a vague notion / a fleeting idea or soft image in my head of what I sort of want it to look like. But I don't go with this. What I do is:
  • I begin. I put yarn to weaving loom. Anywhere on the loom, not at the bottom or the top, not at the beginning... but somewhere that feels right. So I no longer have a blank page (loom / fabric). I simply start. 
  • From there I work outwards, adding what feels right beside the last colour / shape / pattern. I allow the piece of work to tell me where to go, I try to be part of the conversation but not to lead it or guide it or force it. Simply to enjoy it.
  • Of course, there's distractions - being a mother means my quiet time at the weaving loom is never as long as I like. So this allows me space to come back to my piece. And from that place of not-flow headspace I can look at the work.
  • I can consider what I like or don't like. And importantly why! To change or alter it is ok... that's not a worry, but not during the state of flow. Only after. (Unless the conversation allows moves towards change, altering... which often happens - but it's not so much edit as simply alter). 

I would love to know what you're working on. What happens when you sit in moments of flow and don't dictate the answer, don't force the result. Please share - because this is something that feels deeply connective, and something that we can all communicate our own personal experiences around.