Journalfest Explored

For the last three days, I have been in classes at Journalfest in Port Townsend, WA. It was a memorable experience for many reasons, but the one I wanted to point to, before I collapse into bed, exhausted, is the benefit of risking. It’s hard to stay open and curious in a class full of talented artists. The normal inclination is to compete and do the “right” thing–to use the talent you have to create what you know how to do. In all of my classes, I chose instead to risk making mistakes, to risk people laughing at my work, to risk not liking what I created. It’s hard.

Gesso, watercolor, collage, conte crayon, charcoal risk. Result? Truth.

In one class, I was asked to use a conté crayon to sketch a frog puppet. On the paper I was using, the stick felt scratchy and dry, unpleasant. But I risked and sketched the frog. I didn’t like the result, either. It was the wrong proportion, the wrong shape, just wrong.I could have torn out the page and started over. Nope, I pressed ahead. Risking.

In the next section of the class, we learned how to work with an unsuccessful image. I obliterated all but the eyes of the frog. The technique was good, but I didn’t like the result. I rotated the page, and the image shifted dramatically. I continued working on the technique, feeling ahead blindly, not knowing what would happen. Big risk.

Three techniques later, I had created an imaginary creature–part koi, part salamander, part dragon and part . . .fun. In the process I had made choices, abandoned dead-end paths, made peace with bad decisions, accepted the simple force of putting hand to paper. In the end,  I liked the creature. Not for its realism (there is none) but because I could like a figment of my imagination that was neither perfect nor real. Most of us fail at drawing because we put an object in front of us and draw it. Ahhh, certain failure. The two-dimensional rendering will never look just like the three-dimensional object. So we hate ourselves, then say we can’t draw, then quit doing art.

Instead, I started from a place of not knowing, reached into what appeared on the page, and imagination, created the unknown. In that case, the result could not be wrong or imperfect. The drawing defines itself. I like the result, not because I think it’s beautiful, but because I think it is true. I recognize my own truth revealed in it. And that is the heart and soul of art.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.