I paint at the dining room table. We eat our meals in the kitchen, and the dining room table transforms into a makeshift studio for days at a time: tiny pyrex bowls of colored water and little glass jars filled with brushes, sketches on napkins, a new sheet of Arches cold-press paper being slowly transformed.
If you’re walking in our neighborhood and happen to stop by in the midst of the making, or even just after, one of two things will happen. Either I will usher you right into the heart of my process to share my latest work, welcome you into the mess and hope the art speaks to you too; or I will redirect you to the living room, maybe straight through to the back patio, bypassing vulnerability entirely.
Art is where I can’t hide. It’s where my pride is most exposed, both the puffed-up, praise-loving kind and the loathing, self-deprecating variety. I don’t seem to have a lot of grace for the process of becoming in art; it’s all pride or all shame. I so desperately want the art you see to be good enough. I long for nuanced lines and expert blending, the recognizable signature style of an experienced, trained artist, without any of the fumbling and failing that shapes the learning curve of the self-taught, young artist that I am.
The art reveals these tendencies of my heart: my pride and my perfectionism, my harsh self-criticism and my fear of failing. I don’t want to admit that the same feelings linger beneath other areas of my work, my relationships, or my faith, but when I am quiet, I see the same harshness there too.
It’s not at the dining room table-turned-studio, but around the kitchen table, that those tendencies are being remedied.
On Thursday I tuck my girls in early, get them settled as fast as I can and wisp through the wide- planked pine hallway, down the stairs. I race the clock to put the dishes away and sweep the kitchen floor before friends start slipping in the door. Sometimes the candles are lit and the kitchen is clean, and some nights, it’s a losing battle.
But there I don’t worry if I haven’t wiped down the bathroom counters or if most of dinner is lingering in crumb-sized portions on the floor. These are my people and they’ve seen me in the worst of my mess. One will grab a broom, another sit right down in the chaos. A third wanders in late because her daughter couldn’t fall asleep, and we text another who forgot we were meeting altogether. Laughter or tears will fill the room no matter what.
These are the friends who are teaching me to live honest, to live outside the paradigm of perfectionism. They are teaching me that an open door need not lead to an immaculate home, and that answering the proverbial “How are you?” with tears is a gift of trust. We’re together to discuss a book, but we make food together and let the reality of our days and marriages and heartaches spill out unscripted. They’re not looking for perfect. These are women who value process over product, authenticity over image, dialogue over platitudes.
They’re changing me, and they’re changing the way I create. I’m beginning to approach my brush and pen with the same vulnerability fostered by my Thursday friends: This is me right now, this is all I have to give, can we sit together here?
When I return to the blank page and wet my brush, I paint a little looser. My paintings are less a testament to my skill and training and more a reflection of my story right now, imperfect but becoming. The gloss of impressing others with my art is wearing thin, and I’m finding joy in the quiet creation, the small growth and faithful practice of a craft that brings joy and serves others.
- Who are the people who encourage you, in your art or in your life, to loosen your grip on perfection and embrace the small good life all around you?
- Is there an area of your life where your pride is exposed? Are there safe places in your life to let those guards down?
- How can you create space for others where honesty is valued over image?
This post is part of our September series on The Hospitality Of Art. Find those stories HERE.
*All images generously shared from Annie’s Instagram feeds (@BeSmallStudios)