Creative Giants: Katie Axelson

February 18, 2013

I’m really excited to continue our Creative Giants series with Katie Axelson!  Katie is a professional writer and contributes regularly to The IMG_4757-1-300x232Write Practice (which you should be reading religiously.)  You can also find her at her blog and twitter.  Today’s story is all about finding the freedom to make messes, the way we did when we were kids, and I’m so thankful for her sharing today in preparation for Life After Art.

I sat staring at the mug wondering how to paint it. Noticing my struggle, the studio owner swooped up beside me and began to ask questions about the mug. Eventually she got me to confess that I wanted to splatter paint but didn’t want to make a mess.

“We’re all about making messes here,” she said. She picked up my unpainted mug and set it on the floor – away from other people but in a clear walkway. As she handed me a splatter brush and palette, I asked if she wanted me to lay a tarp down move to an inconspicuous corner so I didn’t get paint on the floor.

No, she told me right there was the perfect spot for mess making.

Her words took me back to fourth grade when our art teacher assured us that art rooms were for making messes (and cleaning them up).

I whipped the brush and watched baby blue flecks fly across the room, some hitting the mug but more hitting the floor. I looked up for confirmation that this was ok but she had disappeared to help another lost soul find his inner artist.

Maybe the point of this exercise wasn’t really making “art,” but making a mess.

Keep It Clean

A memory came to mind as I sat there, trying to will myself to get messy.  I remembered the pink glaze pouring down the table and art teacher’s pants as he shook the jar without the lid on tightly. His initial reaction wasn’t self-frustration but laughter.

That was high school. Fewer than ten years ago. Yet still there I sat on the studio floor unwilling to get messy, even in the name of creating.  I used to be okay with making a mess.  But now I hated it.

When did that change?  I am a creative person.  My chosen medium is black words on a white page but I threw pots, blew glass, and modge podged before doubts and fears took over my world.

Inner Child or Inner Critic?

My creativity was now limited to a Word document because I wasn’t good enough at the 3D stuff. Or so my inner-critic told me.  Fear had taken over my world. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of an ugly piece (“a piece with character,” the encouraging art teachers always said). Fear of making a mess.

With a flick of the wrist, more baby blue speckles joined joining the dried yellow and purple ones left on the floor by an artist who sat in this very spot long before me. An artist who too learned to release his inner-creativity one paint brush at a time making, more than a mess but an impact.

Act Your Age

The studio owner later confided in me that adults are sometimes the worst patrons. All because of fear. She says she’ll sit down at the potter’s wheel with a child who’s ready to dive in and make a teapot on the first try. It’s us adults who hesitate. We are the ones afraid we’re going to break it, make something ugly, or fail.

Her words stuck with me. What am I now unwilling to do that I once loved? What has fear of failure stolen from me?

But with every flick of the paint brush, I started making a mess, and I conquered some fear. In throwing paint on the floor, I was granted the freedom to live like a child again, carefree and creative.  By the end of my time in the art studio, I had obtained more than a mug with “character.” I had a new identity: an artist, not just a writer.

When was the last time you got your hands dirty or just made a mess?  Have you ever been in a similar place – afraid to make a move because you might fail?

6 responses to Creative Giants: Katie Axelson

  1. Such a good article! I’m a big fan of Lynda Barry (if you’ve never read any of her stuff before, “One! Hundred! Demons!” is awesome), and she’s done some writing about this very thing–the fact that something happens to us as we grow up that causes us to stop being creative. It’s hard to say what that is–maybe it’s the tendency to censor ourselves more, or we become afraid of looking stupid in front of others, or making stuff is just dismissed as something that’s closer to “playing around” than actual “work”. Maybe it’s something that coincides with the loss of innocence that we all get, maybe not (actually, just writing that made me kinda depressed, so maybe it’s not that.)

    I don’t know. It’s all good stuff to think about, though. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Great post. It’s hard to unlearn what we have been programmed to do.

  3. Love love love this. I was reading this week about how we don’t appreciate creative love enough, which is not something I’ve thought about much. WASNT someone talking recent about “beautiful messiness)?!! :)

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Freedom to Make a Mess | Katie Axelson - February 18, 2013

    […] Continue reading at Matt Appling’s The Church of No People. […]