Finding Your Unique Artistic Style: Dare to Fail

For me the key to establishing an on-going, mostly regular practice has come down to two things: self acceptance and throwing out all the rules. I tend to make quite a few rule for myself without even realizing it.. We limit ourselves more than anyone else limits us! At first, I tried really hard to produce perfect scrap-book type pages with measured borders and crisp stamps. I tried and ... failed.  Mine were all.... well....sloppy! At first I was mad at myself.Why couldn't I make them "correctly?"

During this period I was suffering depression and I found  pleasure in the process of "messing up pages" and so had no alternative but to keep going even though the results were not what I had imagined.. After a few weeks I looked back over the wild, colorful and messy  pages and suddenly realized that, while each page was imperfect, the pages taken together made a book that was undoubtedly beautiful! I thought that if I found two journals on a park bench--one perfect, neat, organized and full of perfectly legible handwriting and one bursting at the seams with color and jumbled collections of life, I would always prefer to explore the wild one. And now I was creating just such a chaotic and artistic book!


It took me more than a year to understand that through my "sloppiness" and apparent randomness my own artistic style was emerging. In fact my "style" was growing stronger and stronger until even I could recognize it. What I perceived as failure, in reality had become my greatest success as my own intense voice and vivid style struggled to emerge. 

 The more pages I finished, the more I wanted to try painting and collaging outside of the journal, I craved training and education on techniques of drawing and painting.  The little practice of slapping stuff on a journal page for an easy background to a wild scrawl had, over time, made it easier to  take risks in online drawing and painting courses. Gradually I realized that I HAVE an artistic style and that it emerged only after I started to play and stopped that panel of obnoxious judges from analyzing everything. In my inner panel ALL the judges are Simon Cowell. Those critical judges were often right: they knew crap when they saw it! They recognize what I was trying for and how far I was from where I wanted to be. The inner judges didn't understand one crucial point however. Only by failing, time and again could I succeed. Only by trying could I get anywhere. By creating a safe and colorful spot where my failures became my successes I was able to grow--artistically, spiritually, and personally.

 .Only by escaping the totalitarian dictatorship of my inner judges could I find a voice that had artistic merit. Only by repeatedly rejecting my own perfectionism could I begin to be myself. And I had to be  myself in order to create work, in  in art and in writing, that  expressed my own personal esthetic. People began to notice and to recognize my "style" In fact, other people noticed long before I did.

This journal process continues to help me record and feel gratitude and to take pleasure in my life. It helps me distill a confident and successful personal style in all my business and creative work. I began to see  how it could work for others. I got the chance to teach some classes on the "Imperfect Journal." The more you teach, the more you learn.

 Little by little this very imperfect journal helped me to see my life in a new light. Colorful, wild, full of mistakes and improvisations, bursting with rich colors and evocative images, shifting with moods and reflecting the highs and lows of  a passionate life, my journal became more an inspiration and a comfort than a record. 

The book became a metaphor for life--every day may not be perfect, but the sum of all my days is a beautiful life. When I try to make my life look perfect the result is arid and unsatisfying. Only by becoming as free as my journal, by bursting my seams with joyful choices can I inhabit the life that is mine alone and only by living my own specific life can I create and produce authentically in the world.

Gesso: Art Journaling and the Magic of Gesso

An Introduction to the Imperfect Journal