Afraid of making your mark?

One of my intentions for 2021 is to get back into painting. I used to draw and paint all the time when I was younger, but somewhere along the line I became afraid. I believed that if I didn’t get it right the first time, it was evidence of a more global failure.  

Even in moments when I really wanted to get crafty and creative, I couldn’t overcome my mule-headed resistance. I’d rather stare at a wall for hours than pull out my paints. Fear and longing and self-rejection, all mixed up together, shut me down for decades. 

Over the Christmas break I picked up some cheap paints, paper and small canvasses. Signed up for a couple low-commitment online courses. Started small and reminded myself it was simply play time. Gave myself permission to create ugly paintings. 

I’ve had a blast throwing paint around, making a mess, and delighting my inner 8-year old. And I’ve created plenty of ugly paintings. 

But here’s the really fascinating part. 

My first few paintings turned out more like wallpaper… low contrast and no clear focal point. The other artists in my class have the same fear when it comes to making bold marks. We’re all timidly tiptoeing around the canvas. 

What’s showing up on the canvas is our own minds. Our inner fears. Our desire to hide out in safe territory. 

Like everything else in life, the outer world mirrors the inner. 

The fear of making a single bold mark on canvas is a direct reflection of our fear of making our mark in life. We’d rather hide than be seen making a mistake… or be seen at all. 

The visual clutter, and the lack of open white space, is a direct reflection of an inability to set boundaries and a willingness to say yes to everything. 

My compelling need to add (piles of) geometric lines and shapes reflects my exceptionally fluid mind’s craving for structure. 

My tendency to exuberantly throw paint on a canvas reflects my years of failing to be intentional or to listen to myself. I’m learning that creating art is a back-and-forth dialogue of what wants to show up, and what needs clarifying.

Just like life. 

I’m able to overcome my resistance to painting now because I’m utterly fascinated by the psychological nature of this process. 

I’m starting to be more intentional about slowing down, listening, creating open space, and making bold marks. As I pay more attention in my art, I’m paying more attention to my own mind. I’m attending to what wants to be seen and heard within myself. 

And as I get more comfortable making my bold marks in the privacy of my own home, I’m also more comfortable with making my bold mark in my life and work. 

Like the Zen enso circle*: bold, simple, clear. A tall order for a brain that’s dazzled by too many possibilities, but a worthy goal. 

What about you? 

You may have never played with paint or taken an art class. But if you’re curious, I hope you’ll try it. Like the Inner Compass work that I do with my coaching clients, art is a way of externalizing what’s going on in our minds. When we externalize it, we can see it. And if we can see it, we can work with it.

And no… I won’t show a photo of my artwork right now. Maybe after a couple months of practice 🙂  

PS. I just kicked off the first cohort of Intentional Rebels, a life/work redesign group coaching program. If you’d like to be notified about the next cohort, you can sign up on the wait list here

*Image courtesy of St. Lawrence University. I have had the pleasure of being on retreat with Sensei Kaz Tanahashi, although did not fully appreciate the Zen calligraphy practice at the time. 

Leave a Reply