I started a watercolor painting class a couple of weeks ago. I’ve always been an artistic person and I thought I might like to create some watercolor paintings of a few photos I took last year in Door County, Wisconsin. I expected to learn how to paint, but instead, I was taught a very different sort of lesson.
It had nothing to do with the instructor, who is lovely and English and very patient with the students. And my issues certainly didn’t stem from the other students, who are all friendly, supportive and welcoming.
No, as it turns out, the problem was with me.
My inner perfectionist had been unleashed and was running around out of control. Remember the original Ghostbusters movie, when the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is conjured up and goes stomping through New York, crushing everything in sight? Well, he’s nothing compared to my inner critic.
I must admit, it stunned me. I know I’m a perfectionist, especially when it comes to my work, but I haven’t experienced emotions like this in quite some time. Last week I found myself fighting back tears of frustration as that harsh voice in my head reviewed my efforts.
The last time perfectionism handcuffed me like this was when I was writing my book, You Have to Say the Words. To help silence my inner critic, I had to make a rule that I wouldn’t re-read what I wrote until I completed the entire first draft of the book. I realized I needed this rule when I’d edited and re-edited the first 40 pages over 20 times, without adding any new content. Perfectionism was keeping me from moving forward, I had to muzzle my inner critic or I never would have finished.
Clearly I need to do something similar with my watercolor efforts. I started this for fun, but I’ve managed to drive all the fun right out of it, and it only took me three classes to be miserable, (I admit this with a strange sense of pride.) It’s definitely time for an adjustment.
Do you have a fierce inner critic? I don’t think I’m alone. I’m sure many of you hear the voice of your inner critic loud and clear, especially when you’re trying something new. I think if you can recognize when it’s happening, and change the expectations from perfection to something else (anything really), you can start to free yourself from its power. Then, as an act of self-love, forgive yourself for not being perfect.
My next class is this evening, we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully my awareness will help to moderate my critic. So for tonight, here’s my pledge to you:
I promise to evaluate my artwork using the yardstick of fun rather than perfection.
I promise not take myself, or my artistic creations, so seriously.
And I promise to say yes this time when they offer me a glass of wine.
UPDATE: The photo that goes with this post is of the painting I did at the next class.