I Am Perfectly Imperfect

A couple of summers ago, I received an email that may have changed my life. It was from an artist friend of mine and it started out like this,

“Hi,

Due to a surplus of various kinds of pulp, I am holding a couple of papermaking open studio sessions and papermaking classes at my studio.  I have Japanese pulp, casting pulp, high shrink flax, abaca and pigmented pulp for painting.

I had no idea what was involved, but the opportunity was clearly too awesome to pass up. I learned all how to make paper and I fell in love with the process. Something about it appeals to my tactile senses, which is odd because I normally don’t like doing anything the least bit messy.

In first stage, the pulp feels wet and sort of mushy but strong. After suspending it in water, the fibers become soft and feathery. You use a frame lined with a screen to scoop up the fibers and create the foundation for a piece of paper. I like to imagine that it’s like panning for gold to pick up the tiny wet fibers and drain off the excess water. Once the fibers settle, you carefully peel the wet sheet off of the screen and layer it between pieces of a special fabric until the entire stack dries.

When all was said and done, none of the edges of my pieces of paper were straight, the thickness varied from sheet to sheet, and many were lined with interesting creases and unintended patterns – but they were all beautiful to me. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but after the assorted sheets of paper dried I sealed them in a gallon sized baggie to protect them from the humidity.

I’ll never be sure what prompted me to pick up a pen and use it to make a mark on one of my pristine pieces of hand-made paper. I’m very tentative when I draw in pencil, I draw lines so light you can barely see them and I’m fairly certain that in the beginning of each drawing I spend more time erasing than drawing.  There’s something inside of me that “needs” for it to be “perfect.”

Ink is permanent and each piece of my handmade paper was one of a kind. The thought of using ink on them was completely counter – intuitive.  I’m a perfectionist, if there’s a chance that it won’t turn out right; I’m more inclined to not even start than to make a mistake.  So ink, particularly on my handmade paper seemed like an unlikely creative outlet. In reality, it’s taught me a valuable life lesson.

Drawing on these imperfect pieces of paper was difficult because the texture wasn’t smooth, the creases presented both a challenge and as it turns out an opportunity.

Trees are my default doodle so I guess it’s no wonder that’s where I started. I took advantage of the texture in the paper to create depth in the trunk and branches.

ink tree on handmade flax paper

The strokes of my pen grew bolder and my designs became more elaborate, detailed, and colorful with each tiny work of art. The addition of watercolor pencils and brightly colored ink transformed the imperfections in the paper into something beautiful and completely unexpected.

Colorful Ink Drawing on handmade flax paper

When you draw in ink, if the pen slips and goes in an unintended direction there are two choices. You can crumple up the drawing and give up, or you can find a way to make it work. More often than not, there’s a way turn the mishap into a part of the drawing; my dear Google+ friend Jennifer Broderick refers to this as“knowing how to resolve the lines.”

I still find it strange, but I no longer dread making mistakes because I know they often-times turn out even better than the original idea after I take a step back and think about how to make the “oops” work in my favor.

It doesn’t work every time, and that’s ok too, it’s all about recognizing the difference between an opportunity that might be different from what we planned and also knowing when to cut our losses short and move on.

I am Perfectly Imperfect

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If you want to check out the series of drawings, you can see them here

-> http://bit.ly/1zPdb7P

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