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Making a Beautiful Mess

Teaching the artist's inner critic to shut the hell up

By P. D. MurrayPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
"How to: Horse" Mixed media by P.D. Murray 2017

I’ve been passionate about making art pretty much since the day I discovered crayons and walls. Ever since, even while raising a family and carving out a career as a creative advertising professional, I’ve managed to produce artwork in a wide range of media. Today, I find myself fortunate enough to have a modest following of online followers, dedicated patrons, and a beautiful studio in a converted wood mill.

But lately, I’ve developed a new passion. It’s prompted by the invariable comments that people ask when viewing my work:

Q: How do you come up with your ideas?

A: (jokingly) It’s more like the ideas come up with me.

Q: How long did that take you to make?

A: (only half-jokingly) Just a few decades.

Q: I’d love to learn to paint but I’ve got zero talent. I couldn’t even draw a stick figure. I guess you’ve just got to be born with it?

A: (dead seriously) Nope.

I believe I can teach anyone to discover her voice in art. But there are two primary barriers. The first is that most beginners feel they need to start with technique. Which explains the vast number of virtual and analog art classes focusing on how to mix colors, which brushes do what, and how to make things look like things. That’s all well and good, and doubtlessly satisfying for those seeking a sense of control. But in my opinion, that’s the exact opposite of discovering intuitive, personal expression.

"Trap" Mixed media by P.D. Murray 2021

For the same reason, the ubiquitous wine-and-paint-party might delight the novice attendee with a sense of accomplishment, but in the end, she will only walk away with a picture of poppies or a meadow or a moonscape painted like someone else. And the real point of art is to paint exactly and only like yourself.

"Shine On" Mixed media by P.D. Murray 2021

The second barrier is an overwhelming expectation that the goal is a perfect result and not the imperfect process itself. We all carry a well-armed, hidden, ever-cynical art critic in our heads that is all-too-ready to appraise our work-in-progress with a swift thumbs-down. I’ve become zealous about ways to silence that critic long enough for the inner child to take charge. It’s not easy to teach the adult mind to learn to play again, but it's the key to discovering a style of art suffused with creative joy. And I’ve mastered techniques that can help others do just that.

One of the very most powerful of these is this secret: you can always paint over it. All of it or just a part. Firmly embracing that mantra allows the artist to not just put paint down but also to take it away again. It’s only balancing between those two activities that the artist truly is free to explore. Without creation’s polar—joyful demolition—we are conditioned to only march in one direction. But if you’re comfortable with both processes, you can learn to dance. And to dance like no one is watching.

Detail from "Dance Monkey' Mixed media by P.D. Murray 2021

I’ve taught myself a number of similarly practical tenets in order to find myself in my painting. And now I’m ready to share them.

My background is well-suited to this endeavor. In my checkered past, I’ve been a French teacher for grades K-12, led advertising brainstorm sessions, and proved the value of self-expression in my art. I have a dedicated following on social media, steady website traffic, a thriving Etsy presence, and a real-life venue that prompts continual interest and sales. Above all, as Seth Godin would say, I have a purple cow. In fact, I have no qualms about literally making cows purple. But I also know for a fact that, without a roadmap and a well-tuned engine, the fuel of passion often stalls out.

"Fine" Mixed media by P.D. Murray 2021

In investigating this Vocal challenge, I’ve learned about the powerful suite of tools that Memberful brings to the table. They seem like the ideal partner in launching a vlog and online courses. And I know there’s an audience for this approach to self-discovery because they're drawn to me each and every day.

I already have the first course titled, by the way.

It’s called How to Paint the Suckiest Horse Ever and Love Every Second of It.

Maybe y’all want to sign up?

"Mitochondria in Search of a Self" Mixed media by P.D. Murray 2017


About the Creator

P. D. Murray

Murray is an accomplished painter and writer.

Through 2010, he was shown exclusively by Treehouse Studio Galleries. His work hangs in private collections around the world. He's also published 5 books. You can see more at

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    P. D. MurrayWritten by P. D. Murray

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