I’ve always loved to cook. And I’ve always thought complicated recipes and dishes were the most impressive, the most skillful, and the best use of my time. If I’m going to cook, I thought, I should cook something worth it. Something impressive. Something skillful.
I thought: Why cook something if it’s not the best something? Why go to the trouble to make a lasagna if it’s not the best lasagna? Better to just order takeout if you’re gonna be lazy about it.
Perhaps I should credit this belief to all those childhood episodes of Iron Chef, where the judges were most impressed with the most intricate, technical, complex meals. Or maybe it was all those episodes of Top Chef, where the masters used molecular gastronomy, expensive ingredients, and delicate plating.
Whatever caused it, to me at the time, best equaled complicated, complex, and technical.
Cooking Only the Best
I cooked this way often. If I was going to cook — which I did most nights — I had better cook something good. No, not just something good. Something the BEST.
The best lasagna was a complicated lasagna requiring hours of time, homemade pasta, the most expensive tomatoes, the highest quality herbs, equally distributed layers, careful baking, and constant vigilance. Did I mention hours of time?
If that sounds delicious… it was. I’m not gonna lie — the food turned out pretty good most of the time.
If that all sounds time-consuming and high-pressure… it was. I’m not gonna lie — I was stressed out almost the whole time I was cooking, every time.
Drawing Only the Best (er… trying to)
Interestingly, if we were to go back to this same period of time (2014, to be exact) and flip through my sketchbooks and artwork, we would see some strong parallels between how I was cooking and how I was drawing.
It seems I had similar beliefs about art making as I did about cooking. Which I suppose isn’t too surprising — both are creative hobbies where you make something from nothing.
Just as with food, I believed complicated artworks and drawings were the most impressive, the most skillful, and the best use of my time.
If I’m going to draw something, I thought, I should draw something worth it. Something impressive. Something skillful.
Why draw something if it’s not the best something?
Better to just watch a Studio Ghibli movie and let the masters handle it, if you’re gonna be lazy about it.
Each time I decided to cook, I chose a complicated recipe that led to hours of stressful fiddling and constructing. And each time I decided to draw, I chose a complicated concept that led to hours of stressful fiddling and constructing.
There were steps to follow.
There were skills and techniques to master.
There was rushing and hastiness in the quest for perfection.
There was no exploration.
There was no experimenting.
There was no time for mistakes.
And there was no me.
Desperate for Success
Sometimes I enjoyed spending hours cooking complicated meals and learning new techniques, but more often I felt overwhelmed the entire time, cheeks burning red from the hot stove, stressed out and desperate for success. After eating the final result, I would be mildly satisfied with the meal (it was never perfect) and then have to clean up the disaster zone in the kitchen.
Similarly, sometimes I enjoyed spending hours drawing complicated art and learning new techniques, but more often I felt overwhelmed the entire time, jaw clenched with every line I drew, stressed out and desperate for success. And afterwards, I would be mildly satisfied with the artwork and then close my sketchbook.
Something was wrong.
Where’s the Soul, Man?
There was something missing when I cooked and drew, even when I made something pretty good. I was focused too much on technique, skill, and construction.
I was more concerned with the end product, and how impressive it would be, rather than the act of creating, and the overall feel of it.
I didn’t have that special oomph that can’t be named or described — that extra something that makes it feel unique and special. Both my food and my art were lacking the most basic element — soul.
I was cooking and drawing the way I thought was the best way. I was so focused on creating the perfect end product — on attaining that BEST status — that I stopped enjoying the process of cooking and drawing.
In my quest for perfection, I had turned something I used to love and enjoy into something that stressed me out and overwhelmed me constantly.
Cooking and drawing had turned into a chore.
A Change in Mindset
There was no one day where I realized all this in a brilliant flash and immediately changed my mind, cooking, and art. It was a series of slow, incremental changes as I began noticing things, loosening up, letting go, allowing myself to relax, and bringing a love for the process back into both my cooking and drawing.
Because no one puts their soul into a chore.
You put your soul into something you love.
In a word, I started to embrace sprezzatura.
Head Over to Part 2!
Read Part 2 here to find out what sprezzatura is and how it helped me loosen up, relaaaaax, and start loving and enjoying cooking and drawing again!
Thanks for reading!
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