A happy accident
I was watching a video of artist Lola Donoghue while she was painting a giant canvas, and was really surprised when she accidentally splodged a bit of dark paint accidentally, right in a light area.
She hesitated, took a step back, thought for a moment, and then grabbed a cloth. I immediately thought she was going to try and wipe this mistake that had crash-landed on her painting. But no! She did the opposite. She got the cloth, and proceeded to integrate the smudge into her work. The resulting shape and colour added an interesting new element. Artists tend to call this a happy accident.
You gotta roll with it
So, when it came to my pottery throwing class, I was quite happy to allow whatever I made to unfold in its own way. After all, when you learn a new skill, there's not much control you're going to have over the final outcome. It will turn out however it wants! If I happen to make a vase instead of a cup, I'm cool with that. If it turns out more like a bowl, it's not ideal, but I'm rolling with it...
As it happened, most of my first batch ended up being taller vases. My second batch, I used less clay and went for a few smaller cups. (Incidentally, they were even smaller than I wanted as I forgot about the 10% shrinkage you get when clay dries... doh! Espressos it is then!)
Next, came time to 'turn' the pots. For those of you who haven't thrown any pottery before, first you have to create the pot with wet clay. You shape it on the wheel and get it pretty much the shape and size you want, and then 'slice' it off the wheel and let it dry. A couple of weeks later when it has hardened enough to handle without it falling apart, you can 'turn it' on the wheel. This means you can neaten up the bottom of the pot by scraping/peeling clay off with a tool.
I meant that. Or did I?
As I 'turned' the bottoms of my cups and pots, I ended up with a rather pleasing line around one of the cups. I hadn't intended this effect, it had just happened because I had misjudged the distance down the cup I was meant to scrape to. As the teacher and other potters admired this interesting shape and line I had created, I wondered how much I could claim that win as my own. And did it matter that it wasn't deliberate?
Let go of the result
As someone who is always trying to fight out of the shackles of my fixed mindset past, I wondered to myself if the need to own the results of my work stems from that. Perhaps, I would indeed need to take less credit for whatever goes rightly or wrongly with my work, and instead allow more happy accidents to occur. Does it matter if you didn't deliberately choreograph the entire end product? And why is it so important to take full credit? How much credit can you take for a sudden insight or an idea, anyway?
I thought back to Lola Donoghue and remembered that allowing for unforeseen results seems to be a key part of being a professional artist. Exploring your materials, and allowing non-deliberate events to shape and evolve your work.
Banish the control freak
I'm now making a conscious effort in my paintings to allow a bit more wiggle room with how things turn out. An extra splodge here, a wiggly line in a wayward place there... these are things that give life to work, and ultimately make the end result more appealing and interesting. This is the only way to allow the work to start to speak for itself, rather than me asking it to sit and obey. It is also one of the best ways to arrive at completely new solutions and outcomes.
And no, I probably won't banish the control freak, but might instead politely acknowledge how helpful the control freak can be occasionally, and then ask calmly that it leave me alone for a bit, while I let the process unfold itself.