Bringing Out the Big Box

Despite being creative — and therefore messy — I am sometimes overly neat. This is especially true with new art supplies. I open the box, I see lovely colors, I see the beauty of perfect order. Most of all, I see possibilities.

Oh, yes, how many possibilities await when we open a new set of colored pencils, pastels, or watercolors! I stand there in awe of what’s before me. It’s all so beautiful I don’t want to touch anything! I dread the idea of messing up my art supplies.

That’s silly, of course! Art supplies aren’t meant to sit unused in a box on a shelf. They’re intended to be taken out, played with, and — ultimately — used up. Yet I’ve resisted so many times. Having a messy set of watercolors has especially bothered me. I’ve always wanted to keep my colors pristine, to be able to look at the set and see all those possibilities!

Now, though, I’ve learned that the possibilities are still there, even when I make a mess with my paints. In fact, messy paints — for me — now mean greater freedom and that means greater creativity and a much greater sense of what being an artist really means.

Just take a look at my little set of gansai:

I don’t know… maybe this will make you cringe! Yes, I’ve mixed colors together right in the pans. A messy set of paints like this would have made me cringe in the past. Now, though, I look at it and I smile. I’ve used this set. A lot. It shows.

For what it’s worth, I love, love, love gansai. It’s a Japanese watercolor, and you can read more about it here if you’re not familiar with it. I’ve started using it for all my watercolor projects, for my sketchbook projects, my fashion illustration projects, my nature journal. Any time I need color, I reach for my gansai.

Now, honestly, maybe one reason I’ve been so loose and free about using this set — and making a big mess of it — is because there’s another set of gansai here in the studio. It’s a large, 48-pan set with all the colors I could ever want.

Why haven’t I used it? Well… because it’s so pretty, so pristine… because I don’t want to mess it up! Yep, there I go again.

Today I took a good long look at my little gansai set. I was using it to add a bit of color to a sketch of dandelions. I needed bright yellow. That’s not included in the small set. I knew it was time. Time to open up that big box of colors, and time to start messing it up. Again, I was struck by the realization that my messy little set is something I should be proud of! The fact that I’ve used up so much of the set isn’t something to feel bad about but something to celebrate. I’m painting. I’m mixing colors. I’m being a real artist.

After finishing up the little sketch in my nature journal, I moved on to one of the “games” in my new book on surrealism. The project was one I’ve done before — letting my intuition guide me in drawing. It’s referred to as “automatic drawing” or “blind drawing.”

Sketchbook in hand, ink pen ready, eyes closed. What should I draw? The book describes the process as a form of doodling, and what do I usually doodle? Flowers. So that’s where I began. I doodled lots of petals, added the stem, scribbled in a bit of grass, all without looking, all without picking up my pen. I drew lightly as I moved the pen to the sky (or what I hoped was the sky) and made a few marks for birds. Back down around. More scribbles.

I was surprised by what I saw. I should have taken a photo of it before I added color, but at this point I was ready to bring out the big box again and start messing up my large set of gansai.

So, here is my intuitive, eyes-closed drawing:

And here is my lovely large set of gansai:

Yep, you can see how I’m already starting to make a mess with it, how I’ve mixed a bit of green into a lemon yellow, how I’ve dabbled with different reds and blues. Some day this, too, will be a big mess. It will be a mess because I’ve used it, I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve created art with it.

That’s what our art supplies are for. The fun isn’t in having them or seeing the possibilities they represent. The fun is in getting them out, opening them up, and using them until they’re gone!


    1. Thanks. For a “blind drawing” with my eyes closed, the flower turned out better than I’d expected. Yes, indeed, I now see my “messy paints” as a good thing. I’m using my paints, I’m creating art, and I’m learning and growing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s been an interesting journey over these last few years. I first decided to learn to draw in June 2015, so it’s been almost six years now. I’ve come a long way from where I started.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’ll get there in time. I’m sure with your consistency in such years you’ll have fully mastered the craft. I had an interest in painting but I stopped at sketching. Probably traded it with writing.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. My motto (one among many!) is…whatever works. If messy is your thing, go for it. Likewise, if you can’t concentrate unless everything is perfectly neat, go for that! I, as usual, am somewhere in the middle.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I love my gansai. I recently saw an even larger set than my “big box” LOL… of course, I don’t really need it. The big box I have now will keep me happy for a long time to come. I am thinking about getting another small set, too, just because it’s so convenient to carry with me when I go out nature sketching now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I so get this. It’s not just paints and crayons, but fabric and thread too. Some are really just so stroke-able.
    I go from one extreme to the other of them being very neat and tidy or chaotic when I’m looking for something for a particular project, and trying lots of options.
    Blind drawing is such fun, the perfect excuse if it does turn out just a mess, but usually they are really interesting drawings.

    Liked by 2 people

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