Freedom to Fail

Drawings portrait style

A few months ago I tried to start something new. I wanted to incorporate portraiture into my composite paintings. I’ve been making portraits for almost 20 years so I thought it would be a small step of progression. In a rare moment of confidence, I overestimated myself. 

I had recently made some pastel paintings while trying to find a new portrait style that I have been exploring in only my mind for years. After a couple successful completions I thought I was on a roll and decided to start painting. 

Wake up call. I wasn’t ready. My portrait skills were not up to par. So rather than ruin a painting that I really wanted to be successful, I took a step back. Not long after I got going, I realized it was time for a 100 portraits project. I have never embarked upon something that requires so much discipline in my art. 

I read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp last year and she discusses the pavlovian response to creativity. If you follow the routine you get a creative payoff. I decided to give myself small assignments that I would be motivated to finish. I made some portraits of friends- what better feeling is there than giving a gift from the heart. Of course I drew my daughter. Then quarantine happened.

I found myself fighting with anxiety and fear to get motivated every single day. Add to that paralyzing duo that I had suddenly lost the 9 hours a week of child care that had kept me on track. I had to find not only the motivation to keep making but I had to fight for every scrap of time to make art as well. 

I needed to find a reason to make while it felt like the whole world was falling apart. I kept thinking of the miracle that is my daughter. I decided that if I started with her first cry, I would keep in mind all those things that reminded me that miracles happen. Motivated by my desire to believe in miracles I kept making. Art heals me at all times. I need the healing power of creativity especially now.

As the quarantine went on and the shock wore off, staying home started to feel like our new normal. I don’t have such a hard time getting to sleep anymore. I also don’t treat each drawing as so precious. I allow myself to experiment more. That is something that has grown from both the confidence of practice and the freedom I have given myself to fail. 

Sleepy Baby, Melissa Muehleisen, 12"x16" 2020

Twyla Tharp said “A good idea is one that turns you on rather than shuts you off. It keeps generating more ideas and they improve on one another.” 

By approaching my drawing as something that I simply do everyday and not as a precious something that must be created I have found a new freedom in my style. I always thought it was vanity that was required to keep an artist moving forward, now I see it is courage. The courage to fail and to change helped me to move my art to a place where I am happy with what I am creating.

Daddy's Hands, Melissa Muehleisen, 16"x20" 2020 

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