Trying a completely foreign way to making art allows us to step away from convention and embrace a new messy way to making art. Switching from your usual way to make marks – i.e. using your dominant hand – to a unorthodox approach forces you to be uncomfortable because you loose control technically. But this is a wonderful thing for your creativity. As Mary Lou Cook encourages, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes and having fun.”
You will need: paper and a pen, ideally one that doesn’t require you to use much pressure. Felt tips work better than a biro.
Hold paper in place with your hands either on a flat surface or against a wall
Clean drawing tool and place in your mouth
Clean drawing tool when finished
Ideas to try:
Experiment using more colours
Hold your head steady and move the paper instead
Use a paintbrush and paint
It’s going to feel very strange at first, especially if you’ve never tried drawing with your mouth. Be careful you don’t push too hard to avoid injury. This unusual way of making marks forces you to make messy, imperfect marks and the quicker you accept your lack of control, the more you can enjoy the process. The artist Alberto Gioacometti describes drawing the unknown “When I make my drawings… the path traced by my pencil on the sheet of paper is, to some extent, analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness.” Loosing control and experimenting in the unknown is a wonderful tool to help unleash your creativity.
“It’s when I draw conclusions, that they end up looking like a bunch of jumbled squiggles on a piece of paper.” – Anthony T. Hincks
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
Group together your pens/pencils in a bunch so that the tips are flush (none stick out more than others).
Fix together if it makes it easier, otherwise hold them tightly in your hand.
Imagine the bunch is one big tool and make marks as you would with one pen.
Play around with the number of pens and try different colour combinations.
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
Collage is easy and fun process to make art out of existing art. While this experiment focuses on using just images, you can also collage with paper and typography. By using preexisting images, you don’t have to worry about drawing anything from scratch. If you are a beginner and worry about your art being messy or imperfect (which are vital aspects of art-making), this might offer you the freedom you need to get started creatively. Rod Judkins in Figurative Painting with Collage quotes Nita Leland: “Collage is like a hall of mirrors. Every direction you look, you see something different and visually stimulating.”
You will need: photographs or images from magazines, books or any paper source. Scissors or scalpel knife. Optional glue or sticky tape and a tray to put things on or work from.
Cut out images that catch you eye. Don’t overthink: cut out and create a pile.
From your pile, pick images and start arranging. Play around with different combinations without thinking of a final look.
If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
Optional: Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default.
Ideas for further experiments:
Cut out words or letters to add to the images.
Draw over or around images to add details.
Take photos of selected images to create digital versions and play around with layouts on the computer.
Have a jar/box/folder/somewhere to keep all the images you cut out as anything unused can be used at a later date. Sometimes you might spend your time cutting images and other times you may spend your time arranging. Having an image bank to draw from allows you to get creating much quicker in the future.
The artist Max Ernst in Max Ernstbelieved “Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them.” Collage quickly allows you to bring together unexpected images and arrange them however you like. The process is one of trial and error but also very ‘low-risk’ because you don’t have fix anything in place. Because there are so many strange and different possibilities with collage, you’re only limited by your imagination.
“The only way to be creative over time – to not be undone by our expertise – is to experiment with ignorance, to stare at things we don’t fully understand.” – Jonah Lehrer
Rubbings or frottage is an old technique of printmaking where you take a rubbing from an uneven surface to create a textured piece of art. It’s a very quick method of mark making that has a bonus element of mystery because you can’t predict what surfaces will work best until you have a go. You become a kind of creative detective, hunting out patterns and testing them collect results.
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired suggest that some common strands in creative fields are “the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, and a willingness to take risks.” Margaret A. Boden explains that exploratory creativity, one of the three types of creativity, “can produce highly valued (beautiful, useful, interesting…) structures or ideas.” That this approach “can often offer surprises that are rather deeper than merely seeing the previously unseen.” Surprise marks may emerge with each movement of your hand so you don’t always know what you’ll end up with.
You will need: paper and a pencil. Optional to use crayons, charcoal or chalk.
Find some textured surfaces or objects.
Place paper over your chosen area.
Use side of pencil to rub over the paper to reveal the hidden pattern.
Repeat the process with a different surface.
Some of the rubbings in the image above hardly show the pattern beneath so weren’t as successful as the clearer pattern created by the decking. That feedback helped scout future rubbing subjects so no “failed” attempt was actually unsuccessful. This experiment is perfect to take with you on the go so if you ever spot an interesting wall texture you can quickly take a rubbing. The more you do, the more you build up your knowledge around what surfaces work better than others. Because it takes so little time, the focus becomes more on quantity and testing than perfecting which is a much freer (and fun) way to make art.
This fun line drawing experiment is easy to get started and has endless creative outcomes. As an art-making beginner it can be hard to know where to even start. Setting rules and constraints gets you to go from being paralysed by choice, to taking clear action immediately. Making something is always a better than making nothing when it comes to your creativity.
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired to Create explain “Because of our natural adversion to uncertainty, there are very few things in life that we enjoy more than a sure thing or a tidy solution! But in order to think differently, the fear of uncertainty has to go.” This experiment is great because it starts you off with a clear objective, which will keep your mind from being paralysed about what to do next. But once you start drawing lines, there’s no one solution so you start to tap into your creativity. In a way it’s a safe kind of uncertainty.
You will need: paper, pen or pencil. Optional: felt tip pens, crayons, coloured pencils and ruler.
Add dots randomly on your paper. Do this quickly, don’t overthink it.
Join the dots using a pen or pencil freehand.
Optional: use a ruler if you want a straighter line.
Ways you can approach experimenting:
Change the quantity of dots: make lots or a little to get a different starting point.
Change the quantity of lines: make lots of a little.
Change quantity of colours: use multiple colours to draw the lines.
Let your instincts guide you where you draw your next line. There is no ‘wrong’ line you can make, only 100’s of possibilities. In a 1991 speech on creativity, John Cleese suggested, “it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” Start with little and as your confidence grows with practice, you can gently push yourself to create more ‘complex’ or unusual patterns if you wish. Or continue to keep things simple and enjoy the process of making patterns from the random dots.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs
A variation on the rearranged work poetry (cutout poems) and collage typography experiments, but one that is transportable as you can always play with ‘final’ rearrangements in a notebook on the go. It’s is the same process as magnetic poetry, that encourages word play around the fridge and similar to the game Boggle. Danielle Krysa in Collage talks how “transformation is one of the best things about collage: the artist gets to finish telling, in a completely new way, a story that was started by someone else.” And how starting with a blank slate isn’t always best: “For anyone who has ever looked at a blank page and found it too darn perfect and intimidating – collage is a blessing. Starting with something and building on to it is a chance to remake stories, to create art out of something rather than nothing, to embrace whimsy and humour and pastiche.”
You will need: Text to cut up. Scissors or scalpel to cut. Glue if you want to fix permanently in place.
Cut out the words: try to find a quote or title in bigger font so that cutting it up is easier
Rearrange the words into different phrases, either manually or write them down
Optional: fix in place with glue
You could try adding the finished phrases or poetry into other collages. You could mix and match different size fonts to give a different look. There are no rules about what you should make and you may find yourself drawn to certain words and combinations. Krysa explains “I think there is an element of my subconscious taking control while I work – only afterward will the subtle details and meaning within the work reveal themselves.”
I once did writing workshops in an elementary school, and it was the kindergartners and kids in the early grades who knew how to play with words. “A horn sounds red!” one write. “Mad is like touching the devil,” wrote another. “Mad is so bad it tastes like liver.” By the time they got to third grade, they were obsessing about whether to write their names in the upper left-hand or right-hand corner of the page. – Barbara Abercrombie,A Year of Writing Dangerously
There’s world of strange details, patterns and shapes within your everyday surroundings. But it’s a hidden world unless you intentionally start to look closer. Finding the art in your local environment allows you to let go of the idea you have to go somewhere beautiful or faraway to find interesting things to photograph. The constraint of going for a walk in your everyday surroundings and finding one thing that is different or interesting focuses your attention and forces you to “make it work” right where you are. Danielle Krysa in Creative Block interviewed Stephaine Vobas on getting creative: “Your attention to small things are little gifts, or clues, as to what you should be exploring further. Delve deeper.”
You will need: a camera or cameraphone and to look for details on foot
Spend time looking around at small hidden details underfoot, around and above you as you meander on foot.
Restrict yourself to a specific number of photos say between 1-10 photos. The restriction forces you to be more thoughtful and question if it’s worth taking the photos.
Review photos at home at a later date to see if there are any reoccurring patterns or subjects that caught your eye.
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path speaks of an ‘inspiration hunt’ walk: “Think of your daily life as a hunt for art. Take note of what you notice and what you keep noticing. What interests you?” She encourages this process of reviewing possible connections because “These connections are the gold mine of your inspiration. Use them.”
Feeling unsure what to look for?
Choose one colour, say red, and be on the lookout for red things
Choose one type of shape
Choose only black and white objects
Choose signs or symbols
Choose to really narrow it down and look for a specific thing eg. drainpipes, window corners or pavement cracks
More constraints makes it easier for you to find possible subjects. When you can photograph ‘anything,’ the endless choice could overwhelm and paralysis you. It is also vital you limit the number of photos because in a world of ever-expanding data storage, people tend to overtake due fewer restrictions. This creates extra work and mental energy due to deciding which images to keep or delete. Deciding before you even take the image saves your future self from additional review work.
By slowing down and focusing on what’s at your doorstep, you start to see hidden connections and allow yourself to be intrigued by ‘uninteresting,’ unexpected details. This new way of looking will feed back into your life in more ways than you’ll realise.
“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” – Andy Warhol