What Screen Printing Taught me About Letting go of Control

Control. It’s been an issue my entire life. Especially letting go of it. I have a hard time letting things unfold...

What Screen Printing Taught Me About Letting Go Of Control

Control. It’s been an issue my entire life. Especially letting go of it. I have a hard time letting things unfold on their own, and I feel threatened when I don’t know what will happen.

In my private life this has caused me pain, but also a lot of wasted energy. Believing I was the one that could be in control, that had to be. In my professional life it has made me pursue projects I shouldn’t have gone for, and work with clients that weren’t a good fit for me.

As a result, I’ve had to swallow a couple of hard learned lessons when it comes to letting go. Overall, at least until I enrolled for a screen printing class, I thought I was doing pretty good in the control department. I’ve learned to be more mindful, and in the moment. To detach myself more from the outcome of my goals (a little bit, sometimes). To accept who I am, as I am. And to know that we can never control anything entirely.

Until… I decided to step out of my comfort zone, and do something new.

Screen printing is is a printing technique whereby a mesh is used to transfer ink (not paint!) onto a surface, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. It’s an old technique that is still very popular today, and that gave us works of art by artists such as Andy Warhol (soup can anyone?), Robert Rauschenberg, Harry Gottlieb and many more.

The screen printing class I took was structured in consecutive weekly lessons, each a morning long. Organized by Gezeever, a unique open work space for screen printing in Antwerp, the class was led by Sarah Patoor, a freelance textile designer, and interior objects designer with more than 10 years experience creating beautiful, and inspiring patterns for various purposes.

Going in the first lesson, I had no idea what to expect. But what I was sure is that I would create something absolutely perfect. I had a beautiful picture in my mind of what I wanted my “work of art” to look like, and I could feel how proud I would be once I’d turned this piece of art into reality. Because – obviously – I was going to deliver something unique, and beautiful.

The only thing is, I’d never screen printed before AND I’m not the best designer out there. For that alone, that first lesson would have been hard to get through. On top I had to deal with my perfectionistic inner voice, literally screaming at me the whole time.

The result? Nothing but disappointment, discomfort, shame.

What Screen Printing Taught me About Letting go of Control

The piece my inner perfectionist was devastated about.


The reason? I had focused on the end result, and naively believed that I could be in control of the process. I didn’t want to give one bit of control away, and as a result I couldn’t let my creativity flow, and certainly never be happy with the result, let alone the process I was going through. Even the encouraging words of Sarah, who’s a great teacher and immediately got what I was going through, weren’t enough to allow me to let go.

What I’d bumped into is my need for control. Apparently pretty capable to hide itself in situations I’m familiar with, but clearly present once I step outside of that comfort zone.

On the tram ride home, holding the “failed” pieces in my hand, something Sarah had mentioned started to resonate: it’s OK to experiment, it’s OK to not get it right, it’s OK to be learning.

Over the course of the next week her words stayed with me. By the next lesson – which I dragged my feet to I assure you – I’d decided not to let the controlling part of me take over. Instead I decided to ask the more playful, free, imperfect parts of me to step up and simply… play.

What Screen Printing Taught me About Letting go of Control

Work in progress during the final lesson.


The result? A moment stolen in time, where I was in flow, away from everything, totally in the moment, creating things I didn’t know I had in me. Enjoying myself. Absolutely happy.

The truth is, the journey is the destination.

There isn’t a place out there somewhere, a moment in time hidden in our future, where we’ll achieve perfection, and all will be well. Life is – and will always remain – a journey. It’s tempting to think that we are in control of what unfolds, or that there’s an end station we just need to get to in order to be happy.

What Screen Printing Taught me About Letting go of Control

The piece I’m most happy about, created during lesson two.


When the screen printing class ended last week, I signed up for an improv class.

Because if there’s one thing that screen printing taught me about letting go of control, it’s that you have to step out of your comfort zone often in order to achieve it, and to reconnect with the creative, playful, free parts of yourself that will help you to do it.

Featured image by gezeever.be

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