Intuitive Painting: Permission to Make “Ugly” Art


Since February, I’ve been attending Chris Zydel’s Intuitive Painting class at her cozy Oakland studio.  What a gift to have stumbled upon Chris via twitter and to have this opportunity to explore my creative self in new ways.  I’ve always loved painting.  What’s great about playing with this approach, though, is that I’m accessing different parts of my intuition and allowing the images to just unfold – even if they don’t make sense or if I think they’re crazy and hideous!

It’s about the process not the product.

I’m finding that the intuitive painting is enhancing my creative process in general.  In fact, the other day my book coach said she noticed that I’m getting more comfortable with sending her really bad and incomplete first drafts.  Since I’m typically a perfectionist, this has been great progress!  The crappy first drafts are valuable fodder which eventually evolves into something that works and feels good.

I felt compelled to share some of the pieces I’ve created recently, even though it feels vulnerable to do so.  In class, we refrain from making any comments to others about their paintings.  This helps to create a safe space where anything can show up on paper without fear of criticism (or even praise – or not getting praise).  There’s definitely an edge for me in putting all this out there AND I know there is value in sharing my own process.  So, here it goes…


The painting above started off looking and feeling like roadkill.  I just happily slapped on layers and layers of red paint.  Then some figures started to emerge…

Intuitive Painting

And then over the course of two classes it morphed into this bizarre image.  When I was stuck at one point, Chris asked me what are three possible things that could happen next, perhaps a new color or image.  I said something in the top left corner.  I really dislike purple, so that’s what I decided to go with – where there was the most resistance.  At the end, I signed the painting and pinned it up next to me to dry.  When I looked over, though, I saw some faint eyes staring back at me in the purple mess in the corner, so I had to go back and fill in glowing eyes in more detail to truly complete this wild painting.

Even though my judging mind thinks this image is quite ugly and disturbing, I found the painting process very satisfying.  And that’s what it’s about!  As Chris tweeted to me later on, “You’ve just discovered one of the secrets of the intuitive painting process.  Making bad art can feel SO GOOD.”


This was painting I did last month.  It was such a surprise to see what unfolded here as I let my brush just allow images to take shape.  Beauty is a value of mine, so it is quite uncomfortable and strange for me to give myself permission for things to be ugly and weird.  However, besides aesthetics, to me, there is the beauty of emotion and the inner world.  So, in that respect the intuitive painting aligns deeply with my values of beauty, creativity and self-expression.  It’s amazing to me how the painting really just paints itself.


The painting above started off with swirling circles that then formed what I thought was going to be a sun or a planet, but then surprisingly turned into a giant cross-eyed snail.  Who knew?  I had been feeling very tired and sluggish, so I guess it was befitting.   It wasn’t complete until I added the red glitter glue which went on all slimy just like a snail trail!  Very visceral and fun!


And then there’s my new favorite technique… what Chris called the the “use up your paints” painting.  I was fascinated just watching the paint globs drip down the page until they dried.

Some great resources about the painting process

I’m looking forward to diving deeper into this process by painting regularly and also through taking Chris’ Expressive Arts teacher training program starting in August.  Until then, I just finished reading Painting from The Source by Aviva Gold and I have Life, Paint, Passion by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley on my nightstand. And below is a fantastic video by Stewart Cubley about the Painting Experience.

These are great resources if you’re wanting to dabble in some intuitive panting on your own.  But of course the best way to learn about the painting process is to just pick up a brush and let your Inner Muse guide you.  Enjoy!

12 thoughts on “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Make “Ugly” Art”

  1. Wow Jenn!! I think these paintings are fabulous!! And, I would not label them ugly in any means. Ugly to me usually means puke–that’s what I tell my kiddos at school!! And, you stayed away from any pukey aspects for sure!! The colors are vibrant and dark all at the same time. Maybe this is reflecting some kind of duality that is happening with you. Your work also has a lot of ghost like qualities floating in it too. Interesting!

    When I was in Drawing 101 in Art school years and years ago my assignment was to complete a self portrait. Well, at the time, I had so much craziness going on in my life. A day before the assignment was due I created and completed the drawing. Nothing special—just black and white charcoal—but for some reason the composition was not working for me when I finished, so I taped a piece of paper to the top and added some more.

    The next day at the critique I posted it along with my classmates and got ready to hear how shitty it was because–well, I did it the night before. Instead—everyone saw all this stuff in it that was a pure reflection of my life at that time. Talk about feeling vulnerable. Nobody said anything about poor craftsmanship or being half-fast. Instead they saw things, that only my intuition threw in there.

    Art is crazy like that. Even if you are just trying to throw something together in hope for a grade or to complete an assignment–it is impossible to escape the deeper part of you that communicates best through images, symbols, and even the intuitive set-up of compositions.

    Your work–and your courage to display it here for all of us to see is inspiring to me. We as both artists and bloggers get good at editing–don’t we?!?!?! Here’s to letting our truest self shine!!! Bravo Jenn!!!

    Peace & Love.

  2. Well, I wouldn’t label them ugly either, but I totally understand. It feels fabulous to freely create whatever you consider to be bad, ugly or scary art!! And so super brave of you to post it!

    I kidded with Jamie on Twitter that we should have a National Make Bad Art Day. And I’m seriously considering starting one!!

    Looking forward to seeing where this deep dive into your intuition takes you! ((hugs))

  3. I’ve been making a lot of bad art lately. Not showing it lately, because, well, I’m also making pretty art, and it makes me feel more secure to show that. I do find that starting out ugly can often lead to amazing rockstar results. I’ve been really into layers and over painting, lately. Actually, I got rid of one “ugly” piece completely by painting her over, and I think I have to do some overpainting on another one that is staring at me right now.

    I don’t want to get rid of these, because I think there’s something that needs to be said, something that is different than the norm… even my own norm. And there’s something that is keeping me from saying it. Not quite sure how to find that speech. Only keep going, I think.

    I agree with Connie about how the subconscious works on our art, and I agree with Leah on how she should start a make bad art day.

    And I think that video is fabulous. I think it’s really meaningful when people follow their own paths in art. I had an amazing experience teaching art to teenagers one year, when I didn’t give them instructions on what to paint, just allowed them to follow their own pull, follow what was needed, what they liked or didn’t like.

  4. Hi Jenn,
    WOW! Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    You “bad” paintings are full of energy, vibrancy and expression. And how liberating is it to just flow with the intuitive painting process without worrying what it will look like! What a relief to have permission to make “bad art!”

    Through the many years I’ve facilitated expressive arts processes, I’ve discovered that when folks allow themselves to reach that deep connection with their creative essence, not giving a rip what anyone thinks…amazing, high quality “art” naturally comes forth. People with no background per se in an art form are delighted to discover a gorgeous poem or dance or artwork that was just waiting to take shape and form.

    Thanks so much for sharing the video, too. I took a workshop from Stewart Cubley a few years ago and it brought back lots of memories. Enjoy reading all those books, I have every one of those books and have delighted in pouring over them again and again. I’m inspired to go look at them again right now!

    Oh, and one other thought…in the true spirit of expressive arts which is multi-modal…have you painted first and then gone directly to your writing?

    Thanks again!

  5. Dear Jen,

    I just love that you had the courage to share your feelings about your painting process and to post your paintings here on your blog! You are role modeling Leo at it’s best!!

    I also feel privileged to be able to witness you giving yourself the permission to express yourself so freely and I am thrilled that you are seeing that permission and freedom reflected in your writing process!

    YAY Jen!!!

    You are the best!!

    Love and hugs,

  6. Hi Jenn. This was so much fun to see. Inspiring. I love painting and the process it take you through too. Thanks for sharing your painting adventures.

  7. Repeat to self, “It’s not about the art, it’s about the process.” I need to post this on my art table. I have been working on a painting for about 2 years and haven’t finished it because I am not happy with it. However, whenever I work on it, it is a source of great joy. I need to embrace the process…and try a 5 Rhythms class! : )

  8. Thank you for sharing these with us Jennifer!
    It has also been a real challenge for me to let go of my perfectionist and create without expectations, and it such an encouragement to see other people sharing that process!


  9. With my 17 month old son, it is amazing how a scribble, mark or blob of paint is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, I can imagine the art that is going to be plastered around our home. Thanks for the reminder that I too can participate, and give myself permission!

  10. Hi Jenn.
    I just got your RBBP and have been listening to your video summit replays. Thank you for your generosity and spirit! I heard about you through Jamie R. — I’m a Circe’s Circle alum.
    I was moved to comment on this post because I loved Michele Cassou’s book and Aviva Gold’s book (I got to assist in one of her 1/2 day workshops during one of the winters that I lived at Kripalu Yoga Center years ago).
    And I’ve been thinking about taking Chris’s Wild Hearts training, but it’s so far away from me (outside of NYC).
    One of my dreams is to lead art circles for women using all the things I’ve learned. It’s so cool to see you doing your thing with art and blogging about it.
    You are inspiring!

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