Art without tantrums

Lu and I both studied art in college, but therein ends any similarity between our creative lives. She is an experimenter, happy to goof around in any medium, unfettered by fear of failure. I'm a perfectionist who must actively fight a personal imperative to surpass my previous efforts and make everything a masterpiece. As a result, when we do creative projects, she has fun, and I struggle with my stupid, mostly imaginary demons. 

When we decided to make paper mache masks a couple months ago, she slapped together a bunch of bottles and rolled up balls of newsprint and slathered on the gluey strips and - wham! - she'd made a fox head. It was so realistic (and tasty) that one of the dogs chewed off its ears a week later. I labored over some eldritch abomination that I dismantled halfway through and ended up with something hateful and misshapen that I called a vulture simply because that was the closest thing it resembled. 

I like to think that my tendency to lash myself to the mast has served me well, particularly when it comes to crafting tight prose and meaningful stories. In fact, it has probably just made me a less happy person. Maybe it's accomplished both, which may be a reasonable bargain. 

So it was with a little trepidation that I went along with Lu to a morning-long pastel painting class. I'd never even liked pastels as an art student. Honestly, I never really liked drawing. Why? Because I wasn't perfect at it. 

Perhaps because expectations were so low, I was able to mess around with the medium and enjoy the process. I attempted to reproduce a scene from Molasses Creek on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, and by the time I was done, I rather liked the result. It was no masterpiece, of course. 


Lu painted a fantasy version of a church I'd photographed on Portsmouth Island, an abandoned village on the outer banks of North Carolina. I watched her as she worked, and it looked like it was going to be a complete disaster long past the moment I would have thrown up my hands and pitched a pastel crayon across the studio. Then she did some sort of magic, and the picture assembled itself and was done.  

I never really bothered to evaluate whether it was a masterpiece - I just liked it. Why is it so rare that I can see my own work that way?