How to draw with a multiple pens

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Six felt tips used to create a swirl movement

A playful approach to let go of making ‘good’ art or help release perfectionist tendencies is to use unorthodox tools or methods to make art. Jayson Zaleski talks about play: “Within the process of play there is a freedom to try new things, to take risks, and the latitude to approach the generation of work with whimsy, potentially with humour, with a sense of playfulness. This approach may not produce the highest quality of work, but it does begin to break down self-imposed rules and boundaries.” This experiment gives you less control over the outcome because you’ll be focusing on the tools and keeping them together. It’s a positive distraction to help you get making marks quickly.

You will need: paper and pens, felt tips or coloured pencils. Optional rubber band or sticky tape to hold tools together

  1. Group together your pens/pencils in a bunch so that the tips are flush (none stick out more than others).
  2. Fix together if it makes it easier, otherwise hold them tightly in your hand.
  3. Imagine the bunch is one big tool and make marks as you would with one pen.
  4. Play around with the number of pens and try different colour combinations.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: Nine felt tips created less control. Right: Felt tips used to create a dot effect

Finding it tricky?

  • Use less pens/pencils to start with and add more with practice
  • Move your hand slower
  • Don’t think, just make marks. Even ‘bad marks’ provide information for your next attempt.

Using ‘childhood’ art materials like pens and felt tips also allow less attachment to making ‘real’ art: art that’s been made with paints and more more expensive tools. Taking action and making marks is far more important than the quality of what you make. Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action suggests “The discovery of new forms and significant changes in expression require risk and experimentation with unfamiliar situations, which reliably generate errors and setbacks.”

Trying an unconventional (and fun) approach to making marks offers you space to experiment without worrying about how good anything is. You can just get on making as many crazy and spontaneous patterns as you can.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

Fear and riskiness

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Is it risky to pick up a pencil and draw something? Logically it’s not. The risk of danger is minimal but your mind may have other ideas when you start to make marks. Notice the negative thoughts that pop up while you draw. Thoughts like “You’re no good at this” or “That line is wonky, throw it all away!” Greet them with curiosity and kindness and continue making marks anyway. It may be helpful to respond to the negative chatter with a friendly “Thank you for your concern but I’m doing okay and want to continue. I’m not in any danger so you don’t need to worry.”

The negative chatter, the unkind whispers of your inner critic are the mind trying to keep you safe from danger. The danger used to be lions and tigers for our caveman descendants, but today the perceived danger is failure. If you don’t try you’ll never fail so you’ll be safe, which makes sense to our 2 million year old brain wiring. But we are safe picking up a pencil and if you don’t try you’ll never know just how wonderful it can be to regularly make art.

“It’s essential that we differentiate between things that remind us of fear and those that are actually risky. In our adult world, the most valuable activities are actually inconvenient, fraught with the fear of failure and apparently in-doable.” — Seth Godin

A list of “shoulds”

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

“Shoulds” are irrelevant when it comes to making art. The whispered judgments heard while making making art can derail future practice if too much attention is paid to them. Thoughts like “I should draw it like that other person”, “I should be better at this”, or “I should make it look more realistic,” can pop up while you’re creating. But Scott Mautz recommends to “Strike the word should from your vocabulary.” The list of “shoulds” is not helpful so we should ignore it as best we can.

Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action encourages us to “Clear away expectations, “shoulds” of any kind, and everything but what you are doing. This is like the emptying of the mind’s thoughts and preoccupations as encouraged in contemplative practice. The clearing out of thoughts sharpens awareness in helping us see and feel what is happening indirectly, accidentally, as we provide more room for an open field of exchange where things can connect to each other in new ways.”

Letting go of the “shoulds” creates an openness for creativity to grown and for unexpected results as judging your art before you’ve had a chance to experiment limits creative possibilities. Elle Luna in The Crossroads of Should and Must argues “there is no map, no case study, and no right answer, and the only person who can decide what to do next is you.” And encourages us to “say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees.”

Andi Cumbo-Floyd in Writing Day In and Day Out suggests “The “should” of life are always linked to guilt.” And Amber Khan advises “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself, instead, replace it with ‘could’ and add an alternative option.” The idea of using “I could” means you can create a new list of things to try which creates a much more gentle space for yourself to create in.

There’s no map, no rules, no “shoulds” – only choices.

“Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.” — Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

There is no arrival point

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

There’s no arrival point, no end or finish line when it comes to your creativity. There will be no trumpet sound when a higher level of craftsmanship is reached and you’ll never get there – the place where you’re happy with everything you make and feel completely comfortable all the time. Uncertainty allows creativity to flourish. If you know all the answers before you begin, how can you to grow and develop as an artist?

Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve encourages “We don’t make meaningful art through lateral moves but by constantly challenging ourselves to new heights. We cannot create great art without continuing to create ourselves. This work is a process of continuous reinvention. We don’t just do it once. It is a journey of becoming, one in which we never fully arrive.”

If it’s impossible to fully arrive, choose to ignore the imaginary finish line you’ve made up and stuck into the challenge of growing creatively.

Move from thinking to taking action

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

When you physically write your creative goals down, there’s more chance of you reaching them. Have you ever tried making a list of all the creative things you’d like to try? I.e draw a self portrait, paint a sunset, make a cartoon strip, make a paper flower, collage images, knit a scarf. Your list might be very short which can be helpful as sometimes too much choice is overwhelming. If your list is long, don’t feel obligated to do it all. It’s not a too-do or have-to-do lost, more an inspiration list for you to pick, choose and erase from.

Why write them down? As soon as your thoughts are in physical form, it becomes more than just a thought and you’re more likely to actually do it. Henriette Anne Klauser in Write It Down, Make It Happen encourages “Writing down your dreams and aspirations is like hanging up a sign that says “Open For Business.” And to “Write it down to be clear in your commitment to its possibility, and then activity here will create related movement there. Write it down to make it happen.”

Mary Morrissey’s Huffington Post article explains “if you just THINK about one of your goals or dreams, you’re only using the right hemisphere of your brain, which is your imaginative center. But, if you think about something that you desire, and then write it down, you also tap into the power of your logic-based left hemisphere… Just the act of writing down your dreams and goals ignites an entirely new dimension of consciousness, ideas and productivity to the powerhouse that is your subconscious mind.”

Be specific and avoid being too general. The goal of “be more creative” is too vague to take any action (what does being more creative even look like?). Narrowing it down to say drawing a self portrait means the goal and outcome is clear – draw yourself using pen and paper. Getting specific creates more chance you’ll follow through because the steps for action are concise and easy to follow. A list gives you an immediate task and direction which could move you from just thinking about it, to taking action.