Art you make today is not only the foundation on which you build confidence and develop as an artist. It’s also potential inspiration for future art. Don’t underestimate the power of a curve of a line, a tiny pattern or smallest detail within a piece of art that could be a starting point tomorrow, next week or month.
Peter Parr in Zen of Drawing talks how work created today, not matter how small, has value: “A sketch should be kept, as it will almost certainly be used sooner or later, no matter how slight it may seem at the time. Its primary value to you was its creation – an immeasurable benefit to your wellbeing.” The value is you made something out of nothing. That is enough.
While your first instinct may be to throw out any art you don’t like, it’s useful to keep it for a while, somewhere out of sight. At a later date, pull out the art and look for details of interest. You don’t have to like the whole piece of art. Can you find a small area that intrigues you? Cut that bit out and use it as inspiration to make more art. Revisiting old art after a period of time creates distance between you and the art and reviewing it may give you a different perspective.
As Parr encourages, “Time spent quietly observing and drawing is a gift beyond price.” A gift indeed, if you can see that the value is in the process and not the entirety of each individual art work.
If you’ve regularly been spending time making art and have made it a habit in your daily life, it can be frustrating when suddenly you don’t have the energy to make anything. It’s as if your creative energy lifeforce has been zapped out of you. This energy zap, or creative block, is a spanner in the works to your rhythm and creative flow. Being sick quickly can drain all energy, but sometimes it seems for no reason you feel drained. The block can creep up on you when you least expect it, especially if you’ve had a good run of being creative.
Is it okay to stop during these periods or should you press through making art regardless? There is no right answer because both options are okay. If you stop, be kind to yourself. Your self-judgment no doubt will rear up and tell you off for not being productive and pushing through. Sometimes though, in order to let the energy flow more easily in the future, we have to take a break to refuel and recharge. Given we are human beings and not robots, we cannot stay in doing-mode all of the time. Breaks are a necessary part of the process. And if you choose to continue making, set your bar of expectation for the art as low as possible. If you’re not feeling your best, your art may reflect that, or may be noticeably different than usual. It’s also important to you be kind to yourself here because self-judgement may have a field day with any art it deems not as good as usual. Let it be enough you made something. Making one tiny sketch/drawing/piece of art is your new bar of acceptable.
Whichever path you take when creative energy is low, it’s okay to feel stuck. Low energy and creative blocks don’t last forever so have faith that there will be a point in the future where your energy will start to tip in the other direction. In the meantime, let yourself and your judgment rest.
“When one travels and works with visual things – architecture, painting or sculpture – one uses ine’s eyes and draws, so as to fix deep down in one’s experience what is seen. Once the impression has been recorded by the pencil, it stays for good, entered, registered, inscribed. The camera is a tool for idlers, who use a machine to do their seeing for them, to draw oneself, to trace the lines, handle the volumes, organise the surface… all this means to first look, and then to observe and finally perhaps to discover… and it is then that inspiration may come.” — Le Corbusier
Feeling disheartened about the quality of your art could lead to you stopping making anything altogether. The inner critic asks “Why bother continuing to make ‘bad’ art?” But stopping practicing is the opposite thing to do because the solution to disheartenment is to make even more art.
Stephanie Peterson Jones in Drawing for Joy explains “…one of the hardest things to do is to let go of the outcome. There will always be times when you won’t like what you’ve done. Accepting your imperfections and drawing without inhibition can be liberating, and if you’re able, it will make your experience deeper and richer. The more you draw, the less the outcome will matter to you.” Letting go of the outcome gives yourself permission to continue to make art the inner critic doesn’t approve of. It’s not suprising it doesn’t approve if it’s comparing your art against art made by people who have years of experience or if the perfect image in your head doesn’t match the imperfect reality on the paper. You can’t win against perfect (perfect is boring and overrated anyway).
Peterson Jones again: “One of the most important lessons you’ll learn from doing art every day is that what you create becomes less precious to you, and the time spent creating art is just as important as what you make. And you will practice more tomorrow. Like life, some days work out fine, others, not so much. Courageously making art with acceptance of the outcome will free your soul and give you joy.”
If you commit to making something every day, the art you made 3 weeks ago won’t feel like such a big failure if you really don’t like it. You will have made a pile of other art since then and so will be less attached to past work. Through the process of consistent making, you begin to see how making something today is helping you make something tomorrow and therefore is a step in the process and doesn’t even need to be visually ‘good.’ It only has to get out onto the paper and exist.
“It takes effort to change.”
Imagining how you’d feel making art before starting you’d think would be an accurate indicator of the reality. Ignoring the fact that the last time you were creative may have been in childhood, it’s likely you don’t have accurate data to work with. Thinking or ‘prefeeling’ can only get you so far. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness warns that prefeeling has its limits: “Each of us is trapped in a place, a time and a circumstance, and our attempts to use our minds to transcend those boundaries are, more often than not, ineffective… we think we are thinking outside the box only because we can’t see how big the box really is. Imagination cannot easily transcend the boundaries of the present, and one reason for this is that it must borrow machinery that is owned by perception. The fact that these two processes must run on the same platform means that we are sometimes confused about which one is running. We assume that what we feel as we imagine the future is what we’ll feel when we get there, but in fact, what we feel as we imagine the future is often a response to what’s happening in the present.”
If you currently don’t make art then you’re most likely sitting in a very small ‘making art’ box. Your present is art-making free, thus what you imagine in the future is based on limited art-making experience. Deepak Chopra and Mena Kafatos in You Are the Universe speak of the minds’ limitations around transformation: “There’s a huge roadblock to such dreams of renewal, and it’s the second problem we face when approaching reality as a whole. The limited mind cannot do it. It cannot think it’s way to renewal, imagine it’s way, feel, see or touch that transformation would be like. The linkage between the uncertain universe and the mind that created it is as strong as iron. In other words, if the mind is trapped in its own perceptions, how can the same mind free itself?”
How can you free your mind from its limited perceptions around making art when you don’t currently make any art? MAKE ART! Take action by making something and note how it feels. That data is infinitely more useful than trying to think, imaging or prefeel your way into knowing. You can’t know if you don’t try and this is your call to action to make some art today. Let’s see if we can transform the size of the box beyond your expectations.
How do we gain (and keep hold of) confidence when practicing making art considering most of the time, we make everything up as we go? When creativity is so varied, fluid and intangible, it’s no wonder we can feel lost when making something new. But it’s normal to feel like your making everything up as you go as Steven Pressfield in The Artist’s Journey explains “No matter what a writer or artist may tell you, they have no clue what they’re doing before they do it—and, for the most part, while they’re doing it.”
How is it possible to gain confidence when navigating the unknown of your own creativity? What would that look like on a daily basis? Perhaps confidence isn’t feeling 100% sure of what you’re doing, but instead is knowing you’re actually trying something new. You’re taking action and that’s incredibly brave. Carol S. Dweck in Mindset encourages us “True self-confidence is “the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.”
Having confidence of steel about your art is something you may never gain. Even a master artist with decades of experience will have days when they question everything they make. Take comfort that if they still doubt their art, it’s okay that you do. Sustainable confidence is grown through small incremental steps over time, especially when trying something new. Making mistakes, failing and regularly practicing is all part of the mix, providing valuable data about your own creative tastes and to highlight areas for future growth and practice. Allow yourself to be open to change by making art and see how your confidence gently grows over time.
“In order to discover new lands, one must be willing to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” — Andre Gide