The Art of Making Mistakes

Barb Psimas
Artwork by Barbara Psimas, Fine Artist

There’s no way around it, pursuing art and opening to our creativity involves risk. Any time we consider beginning a piece of artwork we must become willing to take a chance. We must become willing to enter into the unknown. We must become willing to be wrong. We must risk feeling silly or embarrassed, of making a mistake.

In my conversations with fellow artists of all types I find that we share similar anxieties or “fear Gremlins”, as author and researched Brene Brown calls them. Fear Gremlins are those insidious creatures who live in our psyches. Whenever we put our hand to a brush or a welder’s torch, a spatula, or the keyboard–basically, any tool of creativity–these annoying fearful critters of the subconscious begin to prattle incessantly, bringing to the surface our deepest fears and insecurities. They blather on with their accusations…

“Who do you think you are?”

“You can’t do that!”

“You don’t have what it takes!”

“You’re not enough! You’re not enough! You’re not enough!”

I’m sure you could add a few of your own.

In Five Element medicine Summer is the season represented by the element of Fire, and Water represents the season of Winter. Both Water and Fire are essential elements that support and nourish our creative spirits and, where we often experience the most conflict. In their balanced states Fire and Water temper and support each other. In the natural world the sun’s heat is tempered by the moisture in the atmosphere. Water sources such as seas, rivers, streams, and lakes, evaporate in the heat of sunlight. Their moisture then falls in the form of rain and snow over great areas, replenishing the earth, allowing plants to germinate and grow, for new life to begin. Forest fires reduce dead plant material to ash, fortifying the soil. These same fires are also essential in activating certain plants and seeds, allowing them to germinate.

Fire is the element that represents the emotional states of passion, joy, and creativity. Fire generates heat and light; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our creative work requires warmth, tenderness, trust and deep courage, all important attributes of this essential element. Just as a physical light reveals the details in our artwork, spiritual light reveals the deepest recesses of our hearts. Expressing our creativity involves shining a light into the depth of our soul, revealing who we are at our very core.

Water, by contrast, is the element that symbolizes darkness, mystery, and the emotion of fear. Water is about caution and contemplation, stillness and gestation, risk assessment and fluidity. It is also where death resides. Our fears are here to serve us by alerting us to possible danger. They show us where we feel most secure and, what makes us tremble.

Water quenches Fire and Fire disburses Water. In this way, these two elements keep each other in balance and create an environment that is not only inhabitable, but pleasurable to live in. An imbalance in either of these two powerful elements can create havoc. Think: Forest fires and deserts, floods and avalanches. Spiritually, the element of Water tempers our enthusiasm and passion with time for contemplation and rest.

Though not unique to artists, one of our deepest desires is to live a life filled with warmth and juiciness, with  happiness and joy–but also with the calm reassurance of security. Experiencing a life such as this requires us to develop a delicate and dynamic relationship between the elements of Water and Fire. Too much fear (Water) and we’ll never pick up a tool. Too much passion (Fire) and chaos is the result.

Art is a container for our creativity.

Winter streamWater is of little use without a container. We need a cup from which to drink, pipes to carry water to our homes, rivers and streams need their banks. In art, as in life, one of the most critical aspects of creating is knowing where to begin and knowing when to end. We have to not only pick up a tool and give birth to our work, but also to give it a good death by finishing our art and then sending it out into the world. Or at least out into our living rooms.

Fire spread2Fire, on the other hand, provides the heat of passion that is necessary to carry out our creations. This essential element both warms our hearts and our homes. It brings light to our work, our vision, and our soul. Light shows us the unadulterated truth, revealing our flaws, and our brilliance. Both physical and spiritual light are needed to carry out our work. But too much enthusiasm (Fire) and we’ll keep working and reworking our art until it becomes a muddled mess.

An imbalance in either of these two elements inevitably creates difficulties. Too little Water and we become frozen, unable to take a risk, afraid we’ll make a mistake. Too much Water and our work (and our life) spills out everywhere, our art becomes watered down, soggy. Too little Fire and we lack the creative spark, we will find little joy in our work. Too much Fire and we work without ceasing, leaving only ash in our wake. We may create, but we as we do, we burn down everything in our path including our health and our relationships.

MistakeIf you find yourself stuck in either an excess or deficiency of either Fire or Water, consider how you might bring a little more balance to these elements.

If you are frozen and experiencing a creative block, try engaging with your creative passion. View great works of art and commune with other artists. Make passionate love with your beloved. Take small risks. Start out small. Paint or write for only fifteen minutes. Walk in the sunshine. Give yourself permission to make a mistake, permission to fail.

If you find there’s no beginning or end to your art, that your work (or your life) is in constant chaos, or that you tend to begin, and then discard your work too easily, (a Fire imbalance) try including periods of quiet contemplation into your routine. Sit by a body of water or listen to a calm and reassuring mentor. Spend time meditating. Take breaks. Sit in the dark. Trust that your art will be there, alive and well, when you return to pick up your pencil or awl or keyboard.

“Before every creation there must first be destruction.” — Pablo Picasso

Art is a continual cycle of death and rebirth. Ask any accomplished artist and they will tell you: creating art requires a continual balance between trust and vulnerability, between passion and the willingness to take risks. I am often challenged to find a balance between Water and Fire in both my writing and healing arts. I have found I need periods of solitude balanced with periods of lively interaction with friends and fellow artists.

I invite you to develop a more intimate relationship with your Fire and Water. Strike a good balance between your creativity with your caution, your joy and your fear. Make  a place in your life for both a season of Summer Fire and a quiet Winter’s Rest. When you begin to understand the dynamics between the season of Summer and Winter it cannot help but be reflected in your art, and your life.


Blessings and Grace,




Finding Joy In Times of Profound Trouble

In Five Element medicine, Summer is the season for growth, maturing, heart-centered connection, intimacy, joy, communication and happiness. Fire is the element associated with the season of Summer.Fire.jpg
The tragic events this summer (and sadly, nearly every day since) represent the very antithesis of the balanced attributes of Summer Fire. Violence, unrest, miscommunication, greed, rampant fear, and bigotry seem to be present everywhere we turn. These tragedies seem too much to take in, too much for our hearts to process.
Discouragement, apathy, sadness, bitterness, lack of warmth (both physical and emotional), lack of passion, and profound loneliness are all natural responses to experiencing or witnessing trauma. Prolonged exposure to trauma, cruelty, intolerance, bigotry, loss, and indifference  can lead to an imbalance in the season of Summer. Our fire has run low.
Our hearts may literally ache with the pain and suffering that surrounds us, permeating us to our very core. But, how do we reconnect with our joy in times of great distress? We may even wonder…Should we?

We were created to life a joy-filled life. Joy is the emotion essential in keeping the heart healthy and balanced.  Joy comes in many forms from a subtle smile to high-intensity ecstasy. But without regular engagement with joy, a key emotion that supports our health and happiness, the heart grows heavy.

But, what if the burdens of the world seem too much? How do we counter the pain and suffering we experience? When sadness and loneliness start to feel overwhelming  consider engaging in some of the following heart-centered activities to lift your heart:

DSCF7718 Good conversation with a good listener– Never underestimate the power of open and honest communication. Everyone needs a sacred witness. Let it all out. Don’t try to sanitize or “spiritualize” or explain your feelings away. The burdens if the world weigh heavily upon all our hearts and those burdens are not meant to be borne alone. In turn, learn to be a good listener for others. Caution: Be sure to engage with someone who is trustworthy, someone you can trust to handle your heart with gentleness, love, and respect. Someone who can really hear you without a need to offer unsolicited advice or try to “fix” you.

AnoleEncounter Beauty–  Beauty soothes, moves and heals the heart like nothing else. Whether you find beauty in art, music, a sunset, your lover’s touch, a child’s smile, or a beloved pet, take the time to  encounter something beautiful every day. I never fail to find beauty in the plant world. I’m fascinated by their limitless variety of colors, shapes, and growth patterns, and those mysterious flowers! Each bloom is unique and sometimes even to the individual plant itself. Taking a short walk in nature to commune with plants always lifts my spirits.

July 2013 069.jpgLaughter and Play– Though troubling times may seem like the last place for laughter and play these powerful (and highly underrated) expressions  of Joy can literally transform our spirits. Laughter and play (unstructured time for fun) are some of the most healing things we can do for our battered hearts. If you observe the actions of children you will notice that they can, in an instant, drop their hurt, tears, anger–what have you– with an offer to play. While you’re at it don’t forget to laugh. Hang around with people who know how to have a good time, watch a funny movie, take note of the playful antics of your pet. Remember what makes you smile and go find someone to share it with.

Loving Touch– Everyone needs touch. Gentle, soothing touch can go a long way in healing a troubled heart. It can be sexual or not, but it should always be respectful and clearly invited. Hugs, kisses, a hand on the arm, gentle tender caresses have profound healing power. Don’t be afraid to ask for touch when you need it.

Honor Your Heartache– Though sometimes painful beyond words, wounds of the heart can both soften and strengthen us. They can teach us to respect and revere the frailty and sanctity of life. The can teach us to find preciousness in the present moment. Give your heartache the honor and space it needs. Allow it to teach you to become vulnerable to love. Gently soothe and tend to your suffering and, to the suffering of others.

IMG_0245Take a Break– Watching trauma and drama can be addictive. Turn off the radio and TV. Put away the paper and all electronic devices. Give your heart and mind a much needed rest. Instead, take a nap, go dancing, enjoy your favorite hobby, go for a walk or drive or go do one of the above activities. Take a weekly media fast; go at least 24 hours without picking up your phone or computer. Let your calls go to voicemail. I promise you that you will survive. Rest is essential in restoring balance and sanity.

Having a healthy balanced heart ensures that we will have the strength to move through difficult times with grace, courage, and clarity. A balanced heart doesn’t deny our pain and suffering but finds a place of joy in the midst of it.

Sending You Much Joy and Laughter,