Can Messy Be a Good Thing?


We were all taught to clean up as children; clean up your room, clean up after yourself, put away your toys. As adults we consider a messy workplace a vice. It’s true, a good clean up can be a relief, a breath of fresh air. A new beginning. Sometimes it is an equal relief to just leave it all for tomorrow. I do this on a regular basis. My husband cooks, I clean the dishes. Tomorrow. I actually enjoy cleaning up the previous day’s dinner dishes in the morning. It seems to set my day right. And my husband generously puts up with a sink full of dirty dishes after dinner. I do the same thing in the studio. I know many artists like to clean up everything after a painting session, leaving everything ready to go the next day. I wash my brushes (out of sheer necessity, I don’t want them to be ruined) and leave the rest where it is. I know I’ll sort it out later. This decision is not made out of laziness (OK, maybe a little) but from the belief that starting a new painting session with the debris of the previous day helps my creative juices to start flowing. A quick clean up putting away tools and materials that I won’t need helps me to think about what I want and what I’ll be doing that day. Enough teal, put that tube away but look at that sap green next to the cadminum orange! That’s what I’ll use today! Putting pencils away I see a dark blue colored pencil in the drawing pencils box. I pick it up to put it away in the colored pencils box and it occurs to me that it would look wonderful next to that dusty pink in yesterday’s painting. When things are scattered about unexpected pairings occur. And that stimulates ideas and creative energy.

“Between Me and My Dream”

“Between Me and My Dream”

I like to paint messy also. If I paint a large flat shape, I can’t resist putting a little scribble on top. I have to mess it up, just a little. I love the layers upon layers of paint and marks and more paint and scribbles. I love being able to see through the layers and see hints of what happened before. Those are the paintings that I get the most feedback about, usually about the “energy” and “sense of freedom” in them. So I will keep making messes and keep painting with freedom and abandon and worry about the mess later!

So tell me, are you neat or messy? How does it help your process or thinking?