Four or five sketchbooks sit in a hazardous stack under my living room side table. If you flipped through the books, it’s no surprise what you’d find: pages upon pages of partially drawn sketches, ones I gave up on the moment a brush or pen didn’t align perfectly with what I had in mind.
See, I’m a perfectionist. Or I was.
Well, it depends.
Since I can remember, I have considered myself an artist. I love to write, to draw, to photograph. I’ve always been the artsy sibling and child in the family. My notebooks in school were covered in doodles of fantasy characters in my childhood novels. They weren’t good sketches, but back then I didn’t care what others considered “good.” I didn’t need to live up to someone else’s expectation of good art.
I wanted to draw for me, dammit. Screw anyone who didn’t like the oddly-shaped heads or hands or oversized eyeballs and lips and oddly-shaped legs.
These were my creations, my babies. They didn’t need to be perfect. They just needed to exist.
But the years changed me. In middle school, a friend had a natural gift for art and was well-practiced in her talent. Despite years of trying, my sketches couldn’t hold a candle to hers. Other kids, in their harsh middle school ways, would comment on how her drawings were far superior to anything I had tried to make.
It destroyed me.
A sensitive child, I sought approval from everyone. My teachers, classmates, my family. I wanted to be loved. I begged for respect. I hated my looks and body, so I had to excel in the one thing I could control: skill.
Yet I let every insecurity win. High school descended on me fast, and although I loved art class and rediscovered my love for the arts for a short time, I still compared myself to everyone else.
I could never be as good as John or Sara or Sally. No matter how I fought to get my proportions right, no matter how many art books I read or the number of notebook pages I wasted on sketching, it would never be good enough.
So I gave up.
It wasn’t until years later in my 20s, where I sit now, that I found my love for art again. Thank you, 2019.
Social media sites like Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram are chockful of art photographs and videos. I’ve sat for hours obsessively watching time-lapses of paintings. It reignited my drive to create, too. I tried several mediums first, from oil paints, chalk, and basic colored pencils and markers. I finally found love in the messiness of watercolor paint.
But all my insecurities of middle and high school washed back up to bite me in the ass again. I didn’t just have the tiny pool of kids in my school to compare myself against. With the birth of the Internet, there now was an entire globe of talent to witness.
Despite this, I forced myself to fight off the intruding negative thoughts.
Like the artists of social media I admired, I published a few short time-lapse videos of my messy painting process. They garnered a few likes, not the major response an artist would want but at its least positive responses.
Until one simple, likely good-intentioned comment tore me down. A critique I didn’t ask for, but that’s the Internet: anyone can, and will, say what they think. You have to put on hard skin and roll with the punches.
They wrote that my painting’s proportions were off. They said the nose of the portrait was wrong. The eyes too big. A face too long. I really needed to work on my proportions, they said.
All the times in school when other kids dismissed my art slapped me in the face again.
I needed to delete the video. Any love I had for my messy creation went out the window. It was ugly. It needed to be destroyed. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I wanted to tell them. I should not have posted it. I needed to be forgiven for posting it. Hide it, hide it. Why had I even tried? Please, I thought. I’ll do better next time. Please don’t discount me. I’ll try harder next time, just give me a chance. Please?
I let this one comment ruin any positive responses, and it wasn’t even a bad comment. They were right: The eyes were too big. The face was oddly shaped. And that nose? Definitely long and unrealistic.
Yet the thing is, I liked it that way. I like the oversized eyes and distorted faces. I enjoyed painting them. And, in the end, isn’t that what it’s about? It is not about perfection but about creation. Something new exists because of me. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.
Instead of deleting my video, I later replied to the comment with, “That’s how I like it.” And you know what happened? They replied back again and told me that since it was intentional, they liked it too.
Thank you, Self Acceptance.
Will I still try and work on improving my art? Of course. But do I have to get it right every time? You’re damn right that I don’t. And that’s OK. Perfection does not exist. There will always be something to approve on. But at some point, it’s time to put the brush down and say, “This is perfect just how it is.”
There is something freeing in accepting what’s flawed. I have learned to embrace my art for what it is and for what it isn’t.
Maybe, someday, I will learn to embrace the same thing in myself.