What is it about making art that you’re most intimidated or nervous or anxious or afraid or overwhelmed about? Pick your own negative emotion if none of those resonate with you, but ask yourself, “Why do I feel _________ ?”
- Intimidated: “I’m bad at drawing and can’t change that.”
- Nervous: “What if I make bad art and someone sees and teases me?”
- Anxious: “It reminds me of school and a teacher saying I’m bad at it.”
- Afraid: “I haven’t done it in so long and I don’t know how.”
- Overwhelmed: “I don’t know where to even start.”
The best way to overcome your fears is to write them down on paper so they’re not trapped rattling around your mind. The words can hold less power in physical form so you can begin work on overcoming them. Once you’ve written them down, have a go at reframing them into a statement that feels more neutral or positive:
- Intimidated: “I’m a beginner but I’ve learnt new things before so I can have a go at this.”
- Nervous: “It’s a personal private project where I get to experiment.”
- Anxious: “I don’t have to do anything perfect, I’ll learn as I go
- Afraid: “I don’t need to have all the answers before I begin.”
- Overwhelmed: “I don’t need anything fancy to get started, a pencil and paper will do and I can start right now drawing simple shapes or whatever is in front of me at home right now.”
Find a lighter alternative to believe so you can get on with the fun of enjoying making your art.
How can you adopt a more playful attitude towards your art making practice and why would that be beneficial to you? Aside from experiencing the joy that being playful creates — which could be argued is the main purpose of life and therefore automatically a worthwhile trait — it allows you to be more creative and thus create (over time) more value to your work, life and the contribution to other peoples lives.
On a Freakonomics podcast on creativity, Mitch Resnick speaks about Lifelong Kindergarten, one of the M.I.T. Media labs research units: “We focus on four guiding principles that I call the four Ps of creative learning: projects, passion, peers, and play. So we feel that the best way to support kids developing as creative thinkers and developing their creative capacities is to engage them in working on projects based on their passions in collaboration with peers in a playful spirit… Often when people think about play they just think about fun and laughter. And I have nothing against fun and laughter but that’s not the essence what I’m talking about. I see play not just as an activity but a type of attitude and approach for engaging with the world. When someone has a playful approach, it means they’re constantly experimenting, trying new things, taking risks, testing the boundaries. And I think the most creative activities come about when we’re willing to experiment and take risks.” [emphasis added]
How can you introduce more experimentation into your practice? Do you regularly try new things such as working in a new medium, drawing with your non-dominant hand, seeking out different films, books or media you’d not normally watch or visit a different part of town to find something that sparks a new creative idea? Do you take risks by using colours combinations that don’t traditionally go together, try using trash to make something or draw outside the lines to purposely make messy or ‘bad’ art? Can you find a way to test your boundaries and go outside your comfort zone? It could be as simple as trying to draw on paper that’s double the size you’re used to or using a pen instead of a pencil you can erase to make permanent marks.
Try adopting a playful approach to making your art and focus on the fun of experimenting.
“Few things in life are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A world of optimism and hope. A “you can do it” when things are tough.” — Richard M. DeVos
The sixth century B.C. ‘Fables of Aesop‘ tale of The Wind and the Sun speaks of a competition between gentleness and force:
“The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.”
The moral of the tale being: “Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.” How can this message apply to your art-making practice? How can you be more kind to yourself when negative whispers pop up and you judge your messy art harshly? Instead of forcing yourself to be ‘better,’ what if you took a more gentle approach and focused on the fun of making something? Aside from enjoying yourself, a benefit of regular consistent practice IS improvement in skill, and in confidence. So is it necessary to even worry about improving if it’s going to happen naturally, over time?
Try the sun’s warm and gentle approach to create a more compassionate space to make your art.
“Time to grab the present.”
Playing as a child is encouraged, but what about when you’re all grown up? The short answer is an enthusiastic YES! The philosopher Alan Watts in The Tao of Philosophy suggests “the physical universe – is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It is not going anywhere; that is to say, it does not have some destination at which it ought to arrive.” But we can forget to be playful amidst the noise of our everyday lives, work, chores and duties.
“We thought of life by analogy – as a journey or a pilgrimage – which had a serious purpose at that end. The thing was to get to that end, success, or whatever it is, or maybe Heaven after you are dead, but we missed the point along the whole way. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played” (After Skool made this illustrated video of the longer insightful monologue).
If play is what are supposed to be doing, using creativity and making art IS a worthwhile use of time. It’s a way to create more joy in your life and therefore a very meaningful exercise. Make life a little less serious by reconnecting to your inner child who spent endless hours making things just for fun.
There’s no better time than the present moment to start making art. Here’s what you need to do:
- Get a pen and paper or whatever is lying around nearby – old receipts and envelopes work just as well as blank paper.
- Make some marks for 2 minutes. Increase time as you progress.
- Repeat daily. Voila, you’ve begun making art!
Stuck as to what to draw? What’s in front of you: food, pets, family, faces, plants, shoes or possessions. From your imagination: doodles, cartoons, dreams, patterns, shapes or words. Fun experiments: blind drawings, using your non-dominant hand, foot or mouth, dot to dot, use a stick or draw in the dark.
If you’re silently expecting to be as good as artists like Da Vinci or O’Keeffe right away, you’re going to be VERY disappointed. Your art will be messy, ‘bad’ and gloriously filled with wonderful mistakes (aka learning potential). Focus on the fun making something out of nothing and continue in the face of disappointment that you’re not a master artist immediately. It takes time and a lot of practice to move past the beginner artist stage, but this stage is the most exciting and messy because everything is new and you can make your own rules as you go. Embrace the fun of being a beginner!
“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” — Robert Collier