The Discomfort of Ugly

It’s been a while since I painted. My day started with a joyful excitement to continue a little mixed media piece I started earlier in the week, and by noon I was ready to toss it in the garbage.

The past six weeks or so, I have been concentrating on the development of my new project, CAMP—a membership site to inspire creative awakenings, mindfulness + play. I’ve been busy creating content like creativity classes + worksheets to populate the collection of resources available to members.

This weekend I was filming the creation of this new little piece. I had a general idea in mind—pinks + oranges, cheerful + bright, to offset the darker days now that Winter is nigh. As usual, I was allowing the process to be intuitive and spontaneous—making decisions with each step, rather than working from a master plan. This approach typically works well for me, offering the creative exploration + freedom I crave when the rest of my day is filled with more structured events.

Intuitive painting comes with a certain amount of risk. Not likely of personal injury or liability, but of taking the piece down a dark, creepy alleyway to a place of uncertainly, and near-death experiences. Okay, maybe not quite. But close.

I’m no stranger to that dark, creepy alleyway. It’s often part of the creative process en route to something I am excited about and eventually proud of.

Typically, however, the discomfort of ugly is experienced in private, without a camera over my left shoulder recording every decision, every mark, every “Oh, crap.”

During today’s painting, I took an abrupt detour and ended up in that alleyway.

I mean, seriously… Ochre and fluorescent pink? Ew.

Oh, crap.

Okay, I might not have used the word ‘crap.’

I might have said things like “Well, this really sucks,” and “What a f*cking waste,” and even, “Why am I doing this?”

Yup. I went there… quickly.

Sharing everything I know about being creative and playful, finding joy and gratitude, mindfulness, Ego and Spirit, etcetera, etcetera, and so on, means I am setting myself up as the expert—that I know what I’m doing. Right?

How could I have screwed this little painting up so badly? I might as well whitewash the entire thing, and ditch the hours of filming I had already captured, edited, exported and uploaded to the CAMP platform. Sure, I had already talked about it on Instagram and shared my progress, but I can delete those. People will forget Right?

No, JoeGirl.

Stop recording.

Put down the paintbrush.

Close your eyes, and exhale.

Release the clench you have on your gut.

Settle your heart rate down to a pitter patter instead of that sprint.

And tell your fragile, albeit invasive, Ego to piss off take a hike.

With tears in my throat, feeling embarrassed and afraid, I hit RECORD and continued with this message to my CAMP members: “I am going to be super vulnerable with you for a moment. I took this piece too far in the wrong direction. I’m not happy with it, and considered abandoning it. But I’m here, and I’m going to push through. There will be uncomfortable moments. Ugly moments. That’s where the learning happens… and, if you allow it, the growth.”

This was the uncomfortable moment wherein I needed to choose the path forward. I could choose to toss the piece and start over. Or, I could walk away for a bit, do something else for a while, and come back to it with fresh eyes. I could look objectively at the piece and consider what I liked about it, what I didn’t, be curious about what went “wrong”, and play with options to pull it back. I could let go of my vision, and be open to a different outcome. I could embrace the unpredictable nature of intuitive painting, and allow the flow to take this piece in a new direction. I could embrace the process.

I chose to embrace the process.

I looked at the details of the painting that I loved—those which were still visible and those which had been covered up by that awful ochre (a colour I have been loving, but it just didn’t belong here). I invited my intuition to answer the question, “What colour can I add to this piece to bring it back to life?” Surprisingly, it was sky blue. I questioned it, but chose to silence that voice, and trust my gut. With the first stroke of the palette knife, I felt this morning’s joyful excitement return. I actually giggled.


When we push through the discomfort of ugly—as long as we do so with grace, awareness, and acceptance that it truly is all part of the process—we have no choice but to learn + grow.

This is true of every experience, not only creative ones.

I’m happy to report this little piece quickly became one of my favourites. And I can say with complete certainty, it is absolutely thanks to the ugly—and the growth I experienced because of it.

You should see the shimmer on this Sunrise

I’d love to hear your experiences with embracing the process through uncomfortable moments, and being okay with a different outcome. Share in the comments!

PS: If you’d like to create a painting just like this, come to CAMP. The complete class to create this painting, and many others, are ready + waiting for you!

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