When Simple is Not Easy

For most people, “simple” presents no difficulty. Here’s a definition by the Cambridge Dictionary:

Simple: easy to understand or do; not difficult.

But simple isn’t always easy. For example, if you want to develop the habit of writing every day, the advice you’ll often hear by writing pros is to write 100 words or write for five minutes. Simple, huh? Anybody can write for five minutes! But encountering the blank page and writing that first paragraph is one of the most difficult things to do (I still deal with this problem). I find it easier to write for twenty minutes than five. After 20 minutes, you might be able to weave words in and out and you’ll find yourself in a flow. That’s why I don’t do simple or short, or whatever is pretending to be easy.

Not so long ago, I cleaned houses for a living. I cleaned all kinds of houses, including student apartments, ex-pat houses, and Airbnbs. You may be surprised to know that the places I enjoyed cleaning the most were the messiest—those with toys on the floor and layers of dust on window sails.

Whenever I landed a job interview to clean a house, I analyzed the house to see if it was a good fit for me. Dishes in the sink were generally a good sign. When a house had no trace of dust, I worried.

When you’re hired to clean a polished house, you have to show what you’re made of. You have to look for small marks or stains no one but the owner of the house can see, like dust on photo frames and light switches, or grease on the stove handle. I didn’t like cleaning neat houses because they took longer to clean. Also, it was more difficult to appreciate my work. Sure, the owner of the house could tell if I had wiped the fingerprints on the fridge doors, but if you visited the house before and after cleaning, you would not find a difference.

cleaning lady dusting book shelves
Photo by Panos Sakalakis on Unsplash

On the other hand, when I cleaned a messy house, I knew exactly what to do because dirt was all over the place, and a three-hour cleaning session flew by. What’s more, bringing order to the chaos provided tremendous satisfaction.

Here’s a little secret: it’s the same with my art. I suffer when I do “simple”. Two weeks ago, a customer commissioned an illustration. She wanted me to improve a drawing she and her sister had made. The drawing had a special meaning for her. The smaller stars represented her and her sister, and the big star represented her brother who had passed away. Her brother used to sketch plant pots, so they wanted me to include it in this commemorative design.

Photo credit: Raquel Ruiz Ortiz

I thought I could easily do this, but it was the hardest thing ever. After three sketches, I felt like a total failure. Since my customer had asked me to remain faithful to the original drawing, there were barely any changes to make. I had to be strategic to make this drawing come to life and at the same time make it look artsy.

It’s easy for me to draw hands, wrinkles, animals, or elaborate sceneries. It would have been easier if she told me she wanted a similar version of Starry Night by Van Gogh. A teacher once told me, “It’s more difficult to fix, than to create from scratch.” Boy, was he right.

moon and stars illustration
Improved illustration I made for client.

Here’s the thing: knowing that simple isn’t always easy makes me want to do hard things. Exercise for example. If I’m gonna do ten minutes of an exercise program, I might as well do twenty minutes.

Knowing that simple isn't always easy makes me want to do hard things. Click To Tweet

The message I’m trying to convey here is that we underestimate simple/easy things. Sometimes the simple things are the most difficult to do, like taking a moment of your day to pause—no mindless scrolling through your Instagram feed, but really taking a moment to be still and do nothing. Many of us can’t do that because we’re overworked.

Like Tom Froese says:

“Simplicity is deceivingly complicated.”

Simplicity is deceivingly complicated. Click To Tweet

What are some things people consider simple and/or easy but are difficult for you? Tell me in the comments.

Author: Jessica Araus

Jessica Araus is a mixed media artist and illustrator living in the Netherlands.

2 Replies to “When Simple is Not Easy

  1. Amazing!!❤? now our moons means even more! (they were already special when we unwrapped them and saw your beautiful and sweet work. It touched our hearts with joy) Thank you for putting your heart and sorry for the struggles . But over all, thank you for taking the project ( challenge) …it meant the world.

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Raquel. Your comment brightened my day and encouraged me to keep making art, even when it isn’t easy. ? It makes me so happy to hear the artwork brought you and your family joy. And thank YOU for commissioning me! It was my pleasure. <3

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