To save your art, kill the perfectionist

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         Today, artists around the world are wrapping up their 31 pieces for Inktober; an art challenge that encourages people to create one ink drawing a day for the entire month of October. The project’s purpose is to encourage people to get into the habit of drawing every day, but to me, Inktober has had a much more important role.

            When I was small, I would hide my sketchbooks and squirrel away scraps of things I had doodled on for fear of someone scoffing at what I had produced. Perfectionism crept in during elementary school and caused my eraser to carve ridges into my drawing paper where I had made what I saw as humiliating mistakes. Later, this mindset caused me to stop sketching and painting for weeks at a time; after all, if I wasn’t creating art, I couldn’t create bad art.

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In a high school art class, though, I found a solution. I abandoned graphite and other forgivable mediums as a personal challenge and experienced a freeing artistic experience—suddenly the mistakes I made couldn’t be hidden away with eraser scrubbing. Moments of sloppiness, misguidance, poor perspective, and inattention were trapped permanently on crisp white pages, demanding acceptance or at least tolerance. I began to love the messiness inherent in my pen and ink work. I enjoyed making art again because I wasn’t spending so much energy fretting about the final product. Instead, I gave my doodles, portraits, and gesture drawings room to move and grow on my paper and loosened the control I had taught myself to maintain. Artistic flubs that I had practiced scraping away for so many years began to blossom and shine in my work and I was forever changed as an artist.  

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 Now, I am nine-weeks deep into my first year as a middle school English teacher. First-year teachers are infamous for mid-class panic attacks and crying in school parking lots. When I’m neither panicking nor crying, I’m doling out high-fives, grading essays, and meticulously crafting lesson plans. Every weekend I devote hours to preparing materials and activities to help support my students’ learning, which sometimes means that I forget to devote time to my own learning. I’ve found my old perfectionist habits creeping back into my life as I try to avoid the mistakes I’ve been warned about in the classroom. But this month, Inktober and the pieces I’ve created for it have reminded me to make space in my life for art, imperfection, and growth, both inside and outside of my sketchbook. I hope they can do the same for you.

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Text and artwork provided by Sami Austin.