One summer when I was about eight years old, my friend Holly and I decided that we would make perfume from the flowers in her Dad’s garden. We spent a whole afternoon picking the heads off every single flower in the bed, plucking the petals from the stems, letting them fall in cascades of lipstick red and saffron yellow, and stirring them into plastic cups of water with the wooden sticks from our ice lollies. When Hol’s Dad came home we proudly displayed our ‘perfume’, arranged in neat rows for sale on the front doorstep. He shouted. A lot. They were his prize winners, tended lovingly through the spring and due for entry in a competition the following month.
It never really occurred to me that I couldn’t make perfume, had never done it before and had no idea how other people made it. I just assumed that I knew, and that I could make it, and so I did (in my world, anyway). It was the same in art class, when I decided to batik an entire dress and drape it over a life size plastic skeleton I stole from the science department for my end of year project (still no idea how I managed that). Or at college, when I presented a whole photography portfolio (and got an A), despite not yet having learned the technicals of the brand new DSLR I’d got for my birthday. I didn’t really think about the fact that I didn’t know what aperture was, I just liked the way my photos looked.
That joy of creating, of making something just because you love the way it looks or how it makes you feel, is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In a world in which we’re judged by perfectly strategised Instagram feeds, where entire lives are curated for the benefit of sponsors or validated egos, it’s sometimes difficult to embrace the imperfection necessary to learning and creative growth – yet embrace it we must, or it tolls the death knoll of creative expression and the very particular joy that accompanies that.
How many of us are held back from creativity because of fear that we can’t, or that we don’t know how? Fear that we can’t write very well, or that our drawings don’t look like everyone elses, or that we don’t know how to use a gluegun properly, or a camera, or a Stylus Pro. When did we stop with the childlike assumption that we can just do or make or be anything we want?
I’m guilty of it too. There are techniques I want to try, new places I want to take my work this year, that I’ve been held back from by my fear that I don’t know how yet. But trying it out and getting it wrong is how we learn, and learning is how we get better. Don’t get me wrong, expertise is wonderful – and the end result of all the trying-and-getting-it-wrong we have to look forward to – but the spark and the beating heart of a thing has to come from just a simple desire to make something and watch it materialise into the world, long before the maker can claim expertise.
Think about it – the world would be a far less colourful place if it were filled only with experts, and no-one just created things because of the simple fact that they loved to create things.
I’m going to guess that a fair few of you are flailing with New Year’s resolutions right now. Most of the Dry-Veganuaries I know came to a screeching halt on about January 6th, when people realised they had to actually give up cheese and gin. So why don’t we focus on a different kind of resolution for the rest of the year, one that has nothing to do with deprivation and everything to do with giving yourself permission to just do whatever it is you feel like doing, even if you don’t know how, even if you’re no good at it yet?
Let’s create something new. Let’s make stuff. Let’s assume that we know how, and that we can, and just do.