What Does Creative Freedom Look Like?

How do we liberate our creative selves?

By Angi Sullins | Posted 10/4/06 | Updated 10/22/21

Oink by Angie SullinsSo I got to thinking the other day about creative freedom, as I sat down at my studio's table and opened a journal/sketch book I purchased seven years ago. I wondered what had kept me from writing, drawing or creating in it.

Fear. It's that simple. The book, although plain, is an over-sized, hefty book and just lifting it feels significant. I just didn't know if I could do it justice. So I slipped it under my bed about six years ago and there it's slept ever since. (Well, it could have been playing with the slippers, winter sweaters, old dog bones and who knows what else is down there … but I haven't taken it out, that's the point.)

While conducting a spring cleaning a few months ago, I took it out and allowed it to follow me into my office. There, as any petulant blank book will do, it started whining for my attention. A few nights ago, I finally sat down to stare at its white pages to consider whether or not I was equal to the task of filling it.

How had I become so fearful and when did it happen? My mind wandered to a little writing assignment I had in college. Here's a piece of it:

Take a single image then. Mine.

I am in Ms. Bailey's afternoon kindergarten class as she passes out bundles of white construction paper and boxes of crayons.

"I want you to draw a picture of you," she says, and my mind and fingers race over the colors in the Crayola box. Raw Sienna for the hair, Sea Green for the eyes, Carnation Pink and Periwinkle for my polyester mini dress with Lemon Yellow buttons. I look at my crunchy cardboard paper colored self and add a Brick Red smile. Yes, this is me. I add A-N-G-I at the top of the paper in Sky Blue and walk my self up to Ms. Bailey's desk.

"Here I am," I say and proudly submit my construction paper self for approval.

It has continued like this, over and over throughout my life. Me answering the question "Who am I?" with a carefully constructed, two-dimensional portrait submitted for someone else's approval.

A year later, in Ms. Smith's first grade art class, it happened again.

It is a fine Florida afternoon and I am spending my first grade energy in Ms. Smith's art class at Audubon Elementary School. As we are pushing, pressing and pulling images out of our brown lumps of fimo clay, Ms. Smith is circling the room, picking up each masterpiece and helping shape, fold and form. She approaches my desk and hovers. I proudly reach out my soft brown clay depiction of baby Jesus in his manger.

"Another Jesus?" she says looking down through the half-moon, horn rimmed binoculars perched on her nose. "That's the third one this month. Why would you do such a thing?" Her tone makes me flush. She returns the sweaty infant sculpture to my desk and I know. Whatever it takes to impress Ms. Smith, I don't have it.

Originality and creative thought were not at my disposal, like they were for the other students who busied themselves for one hour every Friday afternoon stroking and fanning the flames of the creative mind. As their paintings, sculptures and drawings blazed into red, gold, blue, purple life I sat on the linoleum floor nailing Jesus — and my creative self worth — to the cross. And creativity was never known to rise on the third day.

Almost thirty years later, I still wonder about my creative mind. Though Jesus is no longer my primary focus, I have often packed freedom in the same box as my old church programs. This is changing, now. And I thought I would share it with you.

The first tentative steps (if you can call chartreuse and flamingo pink 'tentative') were taken across the pages of that big, black book a few days ago. In case you cannot read the text, here 'tis:

Dear Me + You,

I bought this lovely postcard while in gorgeous Carmel, California. It made me happy. Writing in this book makes me happy too — I also bought this big, black book on that trip to California. Finally I am putting it to use. I will not comment on whether it's good use. But what is good anyway?

Ms. Smith thought she knew in 1976 when I was in 1st grade, but she did not know about pigs on sandy beaches worshiping the sunrise on seashells. She did not teach us that ocean waves can heal or that collecting sand dollars makes you rich or that pigs have a curly tail because it is a secret key. Wind up a pig's tail and they really do fly! And that is what I really want to do: fly fly fly fly!

On these pages will be my Once Upon a Time. I will learn the things Ms. Smith couldn't teach me. I will teach myself. I will listen to the flowers and study the rain. I will boldly run into the surf so it can swallow my pain. I will heed the moon and make friends with the crabs. I will build sandcastles for the sea urchins. At sunrise I will throw my hands to the sky and OINK!

Here's to liberating our Creative Selves. And to using all the colors in the box.

©2006 Angi Sullins. All rights reserved.

Angi SullinsAngi Sullins is the President of Duirwaigh Gallery, representing mythic and fairytale artists around the world. She's the author behind A Knock at the Door, the little film that continues to make a big splash on the Internet. ...