Perfect in our imperfections

Letting go of my need for perfection was just one tower of belief whose foundations I needed to shatter in order to feel confident about sharing recent portraits I sketched from friends selfies.

As my regular readers may know, over the last 6 months since my move to Amsterdam, my full-time job has had two parts – both interconnected:

  1. working on overcoming old patterns of belief and behavior that hold me back from achieving my full potential, and…
  2. creating stuff – drawings, sculptures, painting, sewing etc.

As I work on one area, it opens up something in the other.

What I share here is a strange connection, but I will share what I understand of it. This experience illustrates I think, this quote about how everything we need lies within us, not outside. This may involve releasing and letting go of some things in order to revive or reveal other things.

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This occurred in a week where I felt huge lake of anger just below the surface of everything I was experiencing. I wasn’t able to dig deep enough to understand what it was about (maybe I was afraid to?), I just felt its presence.

It finally showed itself one morning during my at-home interval training. I was aiming to get past the 2 weeks of just doing 13 press-ups to hit 15 press-ups; I was at 13 then got fierce with my body, growling like a demon as I pushed out the last 2.; by no 15 I was howling and screaming like a werewolf at full moon, but I did it, without any physical damage/pain either. I felt like a beast! (Did I beat my chest and punch my fist in the air like a Spartan warrior, I wonder?!) I shouted, growled and swore and roared for a few moments afterwards. It was like I had broken through to that lake of anger. The tears then came. Tears of rage. Deep fiery rage; anger like a pool of hot molten lava – all directed at one person. It was like I felt each moment of suppressed anger was finally bursting forth. Anger that I buried each time I was threatened to keep silent ‘or else’; each time I was hit with things or words; each time I was never able to fight back; each time I had to unwillingly submit to this person’s control over me. Its like I had become possessed by some demon as I sat and crying in rage as I beat the floor with my fists, allowing this latent anger in me full expression.

Somehow that extra physical exertion had released some of that anger that was trapped in my body. I got a pen and paper and began to write out all i was feeling, in the form of a letter. This outburst had given voice to a part of me I had rarely (if ever) displayed or let loose. And never directly focused on this particular person. I had extened understanding and forgiveness to them, but never gave my anger towards them any outlet. I had convinced myself I was ‘over’ being angry, I had risen above that. The details of who and why I was focused on this person I will not share here.

After I wrote the letter – it was a nasty letter full of what my raging demon would do to this person if I ever let her loose physically – I then took a shower.

I felt a kind of peace rise in me that I had never felt before. A calmness. The undercurrent of anger I felt all week had faded. Like my outburst had brought her forth, given her a form (I drew a couple of sketches as well as writing). After my shower, as I was getting used to my feeling of new calmness and joy, a thought came to me. “I want to draw a portrait”, I heard myself thinking.

Now, its common knowledge that I have been an art teacher for 18 years and done many life drawing classes etc. yet one thing that I do NOT do unless under duress, or cannot find a way of avoiding it (its part of a course or exercise I’m teaching or doing) is draw faces. I have always tried to avoid them. I’m still not sure why. I can only imagine its because I am a perfectionist and I also fear criticism. I am also my own worst critic, so have done very well over the past few decades bullying and judging myself into believing I am crap at drawing portraits. Even when I did my life sculpting classes, I never took sculpting the head very seriously and constantly joked and mocked my own efforts during the class. So why oh why this thought sprung into my head all of a sudden after my anger/rage episode? I can only imagine that it was some kind of somatic release that somehow brought me to such calm I decided to tackle one of the biggest fears of my creativity.

Image from http://bit.ly/1xyf37R
Image from http://bit.ly/1xyf37R

So what did I do? Living alone, I have no ready subjects to sit for me, so I started browsing on Instagram (avoidance tactics maybe?). One of the people I follow is an artist that manipulates people’s selfies on his ipad then does paintings of them. I thought: “Hmmm, maybe I can find some of my friends selfies and draw them?” I immediately remembered two photos recently posted that struck me and I began with one. My first idea when I studied the photo of actress and friend Tanya Moodie was to do a water-colour. I thought that too huge a leap, so I just picked up the nearest black pen, drew out some guide lines and proceeded to sketch. I put on music and found myself ‘in-the-zone’ scribbling away with the pen while studying the image I’d enlarged on my lap top screen. A couple hours went by when I decided to stop the first and move onto another. I was drawn to the energy in Tanya’s selfie and how she cropped it. Her features claiming the space in all their power and beauty. I wanted to capture the essence of the expression. I was not focusing on technique and proportions. I did a second sketch about 5 days later of the same selfie and was unable to recapture the energy of the first one. With the second attempt I was thinking too much about proportion and less about essence.

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After completing the first sketch of Tanya, I was on a roll. I found a photo my sister Ekua Bayunu shared with me that I found so beautiful. I started remembering some basics, like using pencil to make guidelines and initial sketch BEFORE starting with the pen. I felt drawn to paint her in oils, celebrating her as a classic beauty, but that’s not so do-able in the heat of the moment! (I never EVER considered using oil paints before – they were always a no-go-zone for me – so that was another breakthrough thought!) I wanted to capture again what I felt when I studied the selfie – beauty, vulnerability, classical, exuding a strong presence, a power within all these qualities.

IMG_6175Just as well I can draw what I mean – words sometimes fail me! I continued drawing late into the night and continued the next morning, completing Ekua’s and then starting a third. The third turned into a pencil sketch as my pens were running out! I’m not a fan of pencil sketches. I find when i do them, I cannot get enough depth like with pens. The drawings tend to look flatter.

Given my fears around drawing portraits it seems such a contradiction to then feel more comfortable sketching with a PEN  where mistakes cannot be rubbed away. Am I such a sadist to myself?!

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I enjoyed working on this pencil sketch. It took me some time to get the depth necessary. I had to really PUSH myself to keep working the shadows darker etc. It was challenging, yet also enjoyable. It was like i was my own teacher, coaching myself through techniques I know and have taught to many others over the years, yet never sat and really taught myself. Not in the same compassionate way that i did with my students. I would never have judged a students’ drawing as rubbish, not good enough like how I have judged my own work over the years. Writing this, I realise how very harsh, cruel even, I have been towards myself. As much as i have tried to be the best teacher to my students, when it comes to teaching myself and nurturing my own creativity… hmmmm. Time for some forgiveness work.

Its like I had entered a strange portal where I was actually enjoying sketching from these photos and the critical judgemental voices were nowhere to be heard. I felt pleased with my efforts and shared them with my sister and eldest daughter for some feedback.

NOTE: when you defeat fear in one arena, it raises its ugly head in another!

Thankfully now that I have some tools to assist me: my Buddhist chanting; my NVC practice; my now regular use of EFT, I am able to identify when I get stuck in fight/flight/freeze and work though it. I have the time to work on these things. Something I am extremely, deeply grateful for. The ugly fears revealed themselves again, when it came to writing this blog and sharing the drawings online. My fear was of being ridiculed: I was afraid of what others would think of me and so it was not safe to share them publicly. These are all old patterns of belief based on conditioning over decades of my life.

Rationally, logically, of course I agree with you there is nothing for me to be afraid of, or to feel unsafe about. I know people will not be standing in the streets pointing and laughing at me because I’m the person who did that weird portrait drawing where the nose/eyes are wonky! These limiting beliefs only become powerful and significant when they hold us back from following our hearts.

So using EFT, I voiced my fears to myself, gave myself some compassion and assurances I needed to feel safe and confident. I connected sharing the drawings with a fear of revealing/sharing my vulnerability. Tapping on this revealed a need for safety. I then tapped to change these beliefs about it being dangerous for me if I shared the sketches. As well as the EFT, I assured myself also by imagining the worst-case-scenario (in this context it would be poisonous judgments and comments like what you read everywhere online, my friends and others pointing and laughing at me, saying what an awful artist i am – I played all of this out in my head!). I then took a leap of faith. I finally shared Tanya’s selfie drawing with her. She loved it and shared with me how the sketch touched her and why. It was beautiful for me to hear that because even though a drawing is not perfect, it can still have the ability to touch someone’s heart. This is a huge lesson for me to remember, and a huge nail in the ‘it-must-be-perfect-at-all-times’ coffin!

I know these fear gremlins will continue to rear their ugly heads in the arena of my portrait drawings and in other areas. I am much better at sniffing them out and dealing with them now. In the meantime, I am also on the look out for more interesting selfies to sketch.

You never know. Your next selfie may be my next portrait 😉

Tanya Moodie. Pen on cartridge paper. 2015
Tanya Moodie. Pen on cartridge paper. 2015
Ekua Bayunu
Ekua Bayunu. Pen on cartridge paper. 2015
Man with hat. Pencil on cartridge paper.
Man with hat. Pencil on cartridge paper. 2015

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