The Mess behind Picasso’s Genius {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 16}

She takes her paint-less brush to Picasso’s canvas and flakes off bits of glue meant to salvage the painting after a thief slashed it in Paris in the 1950s. Here and now in the care of the Guggenheim, a conservator works on it more than a year, centimeter by centimeter restoring the piece to reveal the artist’s original texture and color.

Rosier tones and livelier strokes emerge, and so does the deeper past. Behind “Woman Ironing” is a ghost of an image, an upside down figure hiding beneath the layers. Modern infrared scans show a portrait unfinished, a man with a mustache and a left eye that Picasso just couldn’t get right.

But this imperfect practice piece was no throwaway even if it wasn’t presentable. It was the backdrop for his future genius, the earlier work giving texture and strength to the work to come.

We’ve all got to start somewhere, to pick up a plain canvas and get something on it. As for those of us who can hardly call ourselves writers without putting the word “aspiring” in front of it, who’s to say that we won’t someday be ready to write a masterpiece?

In Joining the Literacy Club, by educator Frank Smith, we are encouraged to ponder how “members of the literacy club are people who read and write, even the beginners, and the fact that one is not very competent yet is no reason for exclusion or ridicule. A newcomer is the same kind of person as the most proficient club member, except that he or she hasn’t yet had much experience.”

We’ve got to start out with a willingness to make a mess, to write junk, even if we end up rolling our eyes at that lazy eye we paint with our words. It will show us where we are and what we need to hone. In later drafts, we can paint over the mess with stronger words and images, but for now we’ve got blank pages to cover with the beginnings of story.

I use a scratch journal. It’s pretty on the outside, marked with the image of my little girl in a field of sunflowers, a la Van Gogh. But the inside is a mess of ink and ideas spilled out. If I don’t know how to start, I just go ranting about how I want to write and what I want to write and eventually something of substance makes its way onto the page.

It’s a place to scribble and sketch with abandon, away from the computer, a place to bring the bits of ideas I’ve gathered and to write them in long form with no judging eye or ability to backspace.

I would sooner show you my messy house than the mess of unedited words in my scratch journal. But really you do see the hint of the drafted words even here, where the first tries and hidden layers show through.

Join me in the freedom of writing messy. Don’t be afraid to write junk. Practice your craft in view of Picasso’s under-painting.

{Do you have a good place to write your mess? To get you drafting those early pages, I’m thrilled to present each of you with the gift of a free journal through one of my favorite stationery companies, Paper Coterie. All you have to do is click here and find the journals tab on the top of the site. From there, follow the instructions for designing your own cover. When you’re ready to check out, enter the code “welcomejournal” and they’ll send it your way for the cost of shipping. This offer is for first time Paper Coterie customers.}

This is Day 16 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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