Embracing Imperfection: My Ugly Pages

Embracing Imperfection Ugly PagesBy: Amy Maricle
Last week I spoke with a young woman who said she had been inspired by some of my blog posts to start an art journal. She bought special supplies, put on her favorite music, and got to work. After about an hour and a half, she said that she felt thoroughly frustrated and disappointed. None of her pages were pretty, fun, or even interesting to look at.

 

Finding Your Inner Artist

I spend a lot of my time trying to help people find their inner artist. Everyone has it. No, not everyone can transfer the image in their mind to the page, or incorporate some clever humor into their art, but everyone who wants to express something can.  Your art is for you. If you want to share it, you can, but art making is a time for you to explore you inner landscape on the page.

 

You don’t have to take advanced drawing or painting classes in order to make art, but I have found that because art takes some training and practice, knowing a few tricks will help you feel more successful. You can read about that here.

 

“Mistakes” Make Great Art

When teens or adults start making art again (after that long hiatus since childhood) usually the hardest part is getting past the idea that you shouldn’t do art because you don’t have “talent,” or that it’s just for kids.  Art is a great teacher. If you pay attention to the process, it will speak to you about your life. Part of making art is making mistakes. It’s what we do with them that counts. Who said that? If you know, please tell me in the comments!

 

Let’s Get Real

Listening to this young woman, it occurred to me that in my efforts to inspire you to create, I haven’t shown you my mistakes. Seeing mistakes is important. When you only see the pages that I or other artists deem “finished,” or “pretty,” it doesn’t give a lot of permission for your learning curve or for those pages that are just not working, does it? So, I bring you the awkward, unattractive, lost, and perpetually “in process” pages.  And in the spirit of embracing imperfection, I am sharing them in a very low-tech video.

 

After the video, I have included a list of ways that I deal with my imperfect pages. Would you read them over and tell me what you would do? You can help me out with my imperfect art journal pages or tell me what you like to do with yours!

 

 

My Imperfect Pages, Art Journal Flip Through

 

 

 

Give Your Art Journal Page a Fresh Start

1. Gesso over a page you don’t like and start over. When applying gesso over a page with watercolors, it will smudge the colors, creating a muted multi-toned background for a quote, list, text, or collage.

2. Collage a brand new page. Start with a magazine photo of a landscape or image you enjoy and cover the whole page – then add in elements that help to create a bit of a narrative or a story. Or, choose a beautiful paper to serve as your new foundation for that page. Next you can paint, cut and paste images, personal pictures, or words.

3. Cut it out! You can either cut out a part of your page that does not please you, or you can cut or rip out the page all together. Just be sure if you do this that you pay attention to the way that the book is put together to see whether or not this will cause other pages in that signature to fall out.

4. Other ideas? What else do you do with those pages that just don’t work?

 

 

Looking for More? Check Out Art Journaling 101:

Creative Self-Care, art Journal class, intuitive art

 

Comments:

What do you do with your “imperfect” art and art journal pages? Are you a fan of cutting out things that don’t work? Or, do you prefer to try to work it out by altering things little by little to see how it changes the whole?

 

25 Comments

  1. Sandy C.

    Thanks for your courage and sharing the “imperfections”. Very inspiring and encouraging. Looking forward to the workshop.

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Sandy: It’s always great to have your voice on here. I am so excited to share the workshop experience with you next week and to make art together.
      Best,
      Amy

      Reply
  2. karin

    i just have to comment today for everyone struggling with journaling.
    1 give yourself permission to be free. try to remember or imagine this state before starting. you can do this.
    2 start slow. 90 minutes is a LONG time. try just observing a pen or crayon moving on paper for 5 minutes with no planned direction… or cut the paper into 5 random pieces and then glue them in any way to another piece. then stop. come back the next day and see how you feel about what to do next. maybe you say leave it and start another page. maybe one day you write a word you like all by itself on a page and then just sit and daydream about that word for 5 minutes. or just scribble hard because you are mad because this is new and its how you feel today.
    3 no rules. its your journal. it doesn’t need to make ANY sense or have purpose other than to be your outlet that forgives and accepts all.
    4 lastly, try talking to your journal silently or out loud. ask it what to do. sit and listen to the answer. be brave. its very honest. this is your voice. its a beautiful, wild animal in hiding.

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      Hi Karin:

      I love your suggestions! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. I think one of my art therapy instructors called your #2 suggestion taking a line for a walk. I always liked that. I recently also ran into a colleague, Susan Dahl, in Lexington, MA, who has been helping people learn to “breathe” their lines and coordinate their drawing with their breath. What a concept! Talk about meditative art! Finally, I really like your feedback about 90 minutes being a long time. I am a big fan of approaching pieces in small bits of time when they feel overwhelming and working on more than 1 at a time.

      Thanks again.
      Amy

      Reply
    • Jodi Hickenlooper

      Karin thank you for the additional tips! It’s good to remember that this is my journal and it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else!

      Reply
    • Jeanine

      Karin, I really needed to hear all this today…& I will try all you suggest, as well as the additional that Amy does as well… so thank you to both/all the ladies here.

      Reply
      • Amy Johnson Maricle

        Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Jeanine, I’m so happy you found some inspiration!

        Amy

        Reply
  3. Nicole Schwarz

    Hi Amy,
    Thanks for being vulnerable with your imperfections! It’s nice to know that mistakes are part of the process. I’m one of those who would get stuck on getting it perfect and miss the benefits! I also love the idea of gesso (though I don’t know what it is), reusing an old “mistake” to make something new!
    Nicole

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      Nicole – It is in part because of your #myimperfectlife pictures that I thought of this doing the video. Thank you so much for inspiring me to also be vulnerable.

      And, on a technical level, gesso is just this white chalky like substance that is used to prep canvas or linen for paint. You can also use it on paper. It just creates a nice, even surface. You just wet a brush and then paint it on the page. The more coats you put on, the more opaque it becomes. You can find it at art and craft stores. It’s nothing fancy, it just has a fancy name. 🙂

      Amy

      Reply
  4. Laura

    Totally inspired that you put this out there. Both that you shared your imperfect pages and that you also did a video about it! Double inspiration whammy. One thing I thought about as I was watching it was that I really LOVED your pink fish stamp. And it made me think about perspective and how I bet there are many viewers who would like your imperfect pages quite a bit! Did you find yourself changing or shifting any of your opinions at all during the video-making process? Just curious!

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      Hi Laura:

      I am tickled that you found a “double inspiration whammy” here. Can I use that phrase?

      Like you and Jodi both point out, it’s interesting how subjective what we like is. Something you dislike could really speak to me, and vice versa. I did not see any of my ugly pages as not being ugly, but hearing that you and Jodi liked some of what you saw does reinforce the subjectivity point for me.

      Ultimately, part of what I personally enjoy about my art journal is that it is a place where I can have crap pages, and that it’s a place where I can work to please myself. I like that I can eventually go back to these pages if I wish and transform them into something I like well enough, I enjoy, or I love, leave them be, or scrap them!

      Thanks for stopping in!
      Amy

      Reply
      • Laura

        But of course you can use the phrase 🙂

        Reply
  5. Dorlee

    Hi Amy,

    Thank you for having the courage to share some of your mistakes. I liked your creative approaches for how one can turn unfavorite pages into “non-mistakes.”

    I think having the freedom to make mistakes is so important – be it in art journaling or life because we all make mistakes, particularly when we are learning something new (and even when not).

    One exercise to help embrace one’s fears around failure/mistakes could be to give oneself permission to specifically make mistakes in one’s journal. In other words, let go of the expectation that one’s journal is supposed to be a “perfect” journal.

    Brene Brown suggested a “permission slips” exercise in her art journaling class. If I recall correctly, you essentially dedicate a page of your journal to writing down all the things you are going to allow yourself the freedom to be/do – one of which is to make mistakes.

    This is one of the very first exercises she gave us to do. I found it very helpful in prepping me to be relaxed (and ready to have imperfect pages) in subsequent exercises in her class.

    Thank you for another interesting post about art journaling,
    Dorlee

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Dorlee!

      What a pleasure to have you stop by here. Thanks so much for sharing this idea from Brene Brown. I love the “permission slips!” I would imagine that this permission giving opens up a whole new realm of creativity because it releases you from the fear of “failing” to make something pretty. I like how you and others are pointing out the importance of having space to not be perfect and just explore your self in that space without judgment. Such an important point. THank you for adding that here.

      Thanks too for all the great information you bring all of us on Social Work Career Development, what a great resource!
      Amy

      Reply
  6. Jodi Hickenlooper

    Hi Amy! Thanks for sharing your “mistakes” I thought may of them were actually great, I guess that just goes to show how subjective art is.
    I definitely have some pages in my art journal that I am not happy with. On a particularly bad day I just decided to embrace the ugly and made some crazy scribbles. They did not turn out even close to what I had in my mind but now when I see those pages it reminds me of the emotional space I was in and I try not to see it as a mistake … just part of the journey.
    Thanks for being vulnerable.

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Jodi!

      It’s always great to have you stop by. Thank you so much for your anecdote about the scribbling. I too enjoy looking at my pages, no matter whether I “like” them or not, and remembering what feelings it expressed for me. In a way, it’s like a written journal without having to say a word. (Unless I incorporated some text.) 🙂 I also like the idea of “embrace the ugly.” When I talk with clients about the different parts of themselves and they are talking about something they did or felt and say, “that’s not me,” we talk about how we all have these “ugly” or “not me” parts. Part of growth for a lot of us is acknowledging these parts are not all of us, but are a part.

      I am going to strive to “embrace the ugly.”

      Thanks Jodi!
      Amy

      Reply
  7. Kim

    I really enjoy, when possible, hearing all about what’s going on at Maricle Counseling! The blog is fun to read and I especially like it because it reminds me to keep active in my art. As a fairly young art therapist I am always looking for ways to keep my artist identity a part of my life. I have been using an art journal since the day I graduated from Lesley in 2010. I often leave my “ugly” pages for weeks, months and sometimes even longer!!! I find I go back to pages long after they are “done” and add more. I really enjoy that process of recreating and journaling about the growth and changing process. Thank you Amy for your inspiration! I hope I can come attend a workshop in the future-usually the schedule doesn’t align with my own, but I am waiting for the day it does 🙂

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Kim:

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I love hearing from other art therapists, especially new ones, and I am thrilled that the blog helps remind you that you are an artist and to practice it. I need reminding too! This morning I was trying to prioritize which tasks to tackle first from my to do list, and I told myself to take my own advice and spend 5 minutes doing art. So I did! It turned into 15 or 20, which was what I needed. I’m so curious to hear what made you begin your art journal after Lesley and not during?

      It’s funny how art can evolve with us, each iteration of it being a mirror of our state sometimes. If you feel courageous, please stop by Maricle Counseling’s Facebook page and post a pic or two from your journal – ugly, beautiful, contemplative, or in between!

      Perhaps I will be able to offer a weekend workshop one day and you will be able to attend? It would be great to make art together. Cheers!
      Amy

      Reply
  8. Kathryn

    Hi Amy~
    I love that you shared your “ugly” pages. As I play around with “art” I’ve often thought, “I’d like to see some of the pages and stuff that didn’t work out.” I think it’s important that we are reminded that innovation, creativity, publishing, and various types of “success” don’t necessarily come easily or the first time, the second time, etc. It’s an iterative process. Learning is an iterative process. Life is! ~Kathryn

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Kathryn – Thank you so much for taking the time to read, watch, and comment here! So much of what we do does not come out “presentable” and I agree, it’s such an important part of the process. I’m so glad to share my process here with you. Your comment is so valuable because it reminds me to share them again soon, which I will do!

      Cheers,
      Amy

      Reply
  9. Kathryn

    Amy~

    One more thing. It’s not related to this thread but I find that I have difficulty doing my writing (e.g., morning pages) in art journals. I have several art journals I’ve started and mostly they’re blank or I use them for notes or whatever. Then when I’m “doing my art” it’s not in a journal. I like using separate papers, ATC cards, index cards, etc. I’ve used my morning pages as fodder for layers in separate art “pages.” The bottom line is that I have all these pieces of art and would like to find a way to store display them all in one place and haven’t seemed to work that out yet. It likely doesn’t really matter that I’m not working within the constraints of a journal? Anyway, thanks again for sharing your compassionate approach to creativity in its many forms! ~Kathryn

    Reply
    • Amy Johnson Maricle

      HI Kathryn:

      This is a great, great question, thank you so much for asking it! My first response is that you should do whatever makes you feel comfortable with your art. I’m into “no rules,” because I think it keeps us feeling more free and creative.

      However, if you want to find a way to include them in your journal, I have 2 ideas:
      1. Much like with using your writing as a background on a page, you might cut and paste bits of old journals onto a page and play with them like collage bits. You can incorporate paint, text, and tissue paper if you like, or just stick with the collage.

      2. Create a “junk journal” like the one featured in this post on making your own art journal. The way I made the one shown is to sew different bits of old art pieces with fun papers in order to create an artist book or junk journal. It’s one of my new favorites. You could also do this by hand.

      Please let me know how it turns out and if I can provide any other information!
      Create happy,

      Amy

      Reply
      • Kathryn

        Thank you, Amy. I love the idea of creating a journal with pieces of what I’ve already done. That idea is liberating as opposed to ruminating over what kind of notebook or system to use to organize creative artifacts! I REALLY like the corrugated cardboard unbound journal you shared. ~Kathryn

        Reply
        • Amy Johnson Maricle

          HI Kathryn:

          OH, I’m SO glad that you have found something valuable here. I too love making use of what is already working. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

          Cheers,
          Amy

          Reply

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