The Confusing Lines We Draw

A good, meditative exercise is to load a watercolor brush with a primary color and then draw the thinnest, straightest line possible vertically on the page. After a few of those lines, start to add another primary color–yellow to blue, yellow to red, blue to red to get another color.The lines drift across the page, some really nice, some not.

After some straight ones, start to vary the thickness of the line by pushing the brush down, releasing more paint.  You don’t need a high-quality brush, you are not aiming for perfect, you are creating a space to listen.

We talk a lot in our heads. Stopping the talk to listen is the heart of creativity.

Anyone can do the painting, but the silence is a bit trickier. Because the Inner Critic shows up with one of the standard lines she uses.

Today while talking to a client, she told me about an experience that made me nod in recognition and laugh with her. The Inner Critic isn’t logical or reasonable, just always loud and threatening.

My client said the first thing the inner critic said was “these lines are crap.” And she believed it. Well, of course it was crap. Lines on a page. What else could it be? The client had a bit of a struggle, because she had enjoyed the exercise, liked the grounding and liked the simple pattern and colors.

“Well,” she thought, “then I’ll turn it into a journal page background.”

“NOOOOO!” screamed the Inner Critic. “Don’t ruin it! It’s ART!”

From crap to art, just like that. And she suddenly saw the purpose of the Inner Critic–that no matter what you do, no matter what you choose, to the Inner Critic, it’s wrong. You are wrong. Your Inner Critic will chase you in a circle, just to watch you get dizzy and fall over.

The Inner critic says both “it’s crap” and “don’t write over it, it’s art.” There is no appeasing the inner critic. It’s wise to listen, and also wise to choose a path that moves away from the voice of the Inner Critic. Choose a direction you can believe in, and get busy working on that direction. The Inner Critic is not you and is not your compass. You own that. Follow your own wisdom.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book on conversations with the Inner Critic. She’s having a lot of them.


15 thoughts on “The Confusing Lines We Draw

  1. My son and his family stayed the weekend and we all painted. Big drop cloths on the floor, jars and tubes of cheap acrylic, old credit cards, stamps from corks, brishes and sponges. So what did I learn?
    The 4 year-old has no inner critic and does what ever she pleases with whatever takes her fancy.
    The 7 year-old has no inner critic but has simple ways to cover over something she doesn’t like (cut it out or paint over it). This girl is a driven artist and has been since she first started balancing blocks and picked up a crayon.
    3 adults + 4 year-old + 7 year-old working side by side = no ICs have a chance of getting a word in edgewise! The 7 year-old is too busy saying ‘that’s cool’ or words to that effect!

    • Young children are all artists and you are right, they have no inner critic. Yet. it reminds me of a story about a 7-year old who father was a college professor. One day the child asks her father “what do you do at the college?” And the father replies, “I teach college students how to draw and paint.” The little girl is horrified. “You mean they FORGET?” Yes, yes we do.

  2. This was what I needed to read tonight. I am having a pretty good fight with my inner critic this week. I want to apply to be in a boutique later this fall, but my inner critic keeps telling me I’m not good enough. I need to quit listening to her, or at least quit letting her win. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. So true and had me chuckling as we all know the critic. Also made me think of Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly which has Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech passage. Are you familiar with the passage? Thanks for being in the arena Quinn.

  4. Quinn,
    As usual, you hit on a vital topic of well being: listening (or not) to the Inner Critic. It is absolutely ironic to me how nonsensical the inner critic can be, going from one extreme to the other. It’s really rather chaotic. And if we actually listen to its intimidating, obnoxious voice, we become chaotic as well. I love your final line: Follow your own wisdom. Indeed! Our past #JournalChat Live was about making wiser choices, so this resonated, no doubt.

    I have chosen your post, The Confusing Lines We Draw, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 9/14/12 for all things journaling on Twitter;
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal:

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter.

    Thanks for drawing our attention to what we should not be listening to and trust our own inner wisdom.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

  5. We should all have little buttons that say self destruct,if we could push them everytime our inner critic rears its head and give ourselves mini electric shocks ,perhaps we would realize how futile it is and how we put ourselves down so many times a day, how we make excuses that we are not worthy of the time and space to create that would make us so much happier. Many people have reached and surpassed their realizations,it sounds like a lot of us are still on the learning curve. Thankyou Quinn for your constant encouragement and for saying out loud those conversations we have within ourselves. Time for action,I am a bit bored with my own lectures!x

    • My next book tackles this issue head on, Jain. The Inner Critic and what needs to be said. Blowing him (or her) up doesn’t work, but the book will have a whole raft of suggestions of what to try.

  6. I am excited about your new book. I have been an artist for years..and sadly to say through the description of another. These thoughts run through my head of what I want to do..I can see myself doing them..and the inner critic hushes them..actually silences them and tells me they are not for me. I am not to do that. And sadly I tuck away the pads of crisp paper, colored pencils and paints.
    I understand why I think the way I do. You do not have to have the past I have had to doubt oneself always. You do not have to be told that everything you see and hear is wrong..and you are messed up; to make one believe they are stupid. I understand the predicament inside my head.
    yet scared totally..I have decided to take a journey and “create” something everyday. I gave myself permission to do three months.
    I wonder..will I ever allow myself to say I have created beauty…?

  7. Such a great post, Quinn – thank you!! Literally minuted before reading this, my inner critic pounced on my satisfaction with a finished piece, belittling my accomplishment and squelching my joy. You put her right back in her place – She is NOT me and she is NOT my compass. She is just a pesky fly.

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