Working Easy: One woman's desire to create problems

by Jennifer Paros

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

I was twenty-five years old and had gone back to college to study art, after receiving my first bachelors’ degree in fiction writing.  I was insecure about my technical facility for drawing and was in a semi-constant state of trying to prove myself – if not to others, then to myself.  Even though I had come to art school to LEARN, I remained anxious about the potential of producing something unimpressive or worse, just plain bad.

With each drawing I made, I would enter into a slave mentality – something that felt akin to having to build a pyramid overnight.  I would sit myself down at my drawing table and begin the torturous experience of striving to work freely while keeping an “eye” on myself.

My pictures from that time were complex and surreal, with layers of things peeled back to reveal other realities.  Often the work process, which involved large sheets of paper, chalk pastels, and charcoal, was a messy, heated, erasure-filled experience. I fell into the habit of striving to create through a pained and stressful mental process that involved creating a problem and then working furiously to try and solve it.

Then one day, I found myself wanting to enjoy myself. 

I had wanted my work to be rich, full, beautiful, and meaningful—all that good stuff—and somehow, somewhere along the line, had come to mistake depth and meaning for complexity and problems.  It’s sort of like thinking the positive person is shallow whereas the negative person is deeper, more reflective and really seeing the TRUTH.  If the work came easily (or even happily) could it still be good and meaningful?

I started to consider skipping drawing the problem and getting right to what I actually wanted to see.  That day, I worked faster than I had before, allowing the work to be simple and easy.  It was revelatory to discover that I didn’t actually need to struggle to create something meaningful to me and that it wasn’t a cop-out to make it easier on myself.  I reduced the components of each image and stopped demanding that my drawings be more than they could be, allowing them to express one moment and allowing that to be enough.  I went on to discover a vocabulary for my images and a sense of command with my work that I’d never had before.  And drawing became joyful again.

Although it is true that working hard (or harder!) can produce impressive results and get things done, there is also another truth - if that one isn’t working for you.  Working easy can get things done too.

Writing a book can feel big and important but if we see it as “big”, it’s going to weigh on us in a big way.   If we allow the simplicity of each chapter, each moment, to come forward, the task of recording and exploring the ideas can feel manageable and enjoyable.

I drew many nice, good, even beautiful pictures from working so hard, but in the end, the process left me perpetually frightened and stressed over producing the next.  Life, like any story, is both complex - in that it’s filled with many people, activities, experiences, thoughts, and relationships - and it’s also simple.  Our focus is invaluable in that it allows us to recognize what is most important to us in the moment and select IT out of the sea of everything else.  That’s all simplicity is – the selection of and focusing upon what is most important at the moment.  And that, I’ve learned, is the most direct route to creating the next drawing or the next paragraph.

And what is most important to us is what will, in the end, be the only thing that makes our work meaningful to another.  So, remember to work easy.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.

Jennifer ParosComment