No better time than right now to start making art

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

If you dream of a day in the future where you’ll make some art, know that there’s no better time than right now to start. This very minute. You don’t need much time, you don’t need fancy materials. You can take a pen and a scrap of paper and draw something, anything immediately in just 2 minutes. Seth Godin encourages us to merely begin: “With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.”

Some day most likely means no day. Today is the best day for you to take action.

Stand still and make something

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you spend any time standing still in your daily life or are you constantly rushing around like the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? If you’re always in ON mode, never disconnected from a device or other people, it’s harder to justify spending time making art. If you believe you don’t have the time to stand still, or to make any art then it will never happen.

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” — The White Rabbit, Lewis Carroll

But the truth is you don’t need a huge block of time to make art. A 2 minute investment each day is all you need to get started (and it adds up significantly over time). We think we need to spend a bigger amount of time to make it worthwhile, otherwise what’s the point – Surely 2 minutes isn’t enough to make anything significant? But your art don’t need it to be significant for it to be a worth the time or effort investment. It’s much more important something gets made and that you had fun doing it.

Significance is overrated and is entirely subjective so it’s far better to judge how you feel once you’ve spent 2 minutes making art something compared to only thinking about it. Taking action brings feedback and clarity while thinking can bring fear, excuses and procrastination. So find a pocket of time to stand stand still and make  something.

How to collage images

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

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.

  1. Cut out images that catch you eye. Don’t overthink: cut out and create a pile.
  2. From your pile, pick images and start arranging. Play around with different combinations without thinking of a final look.
  3. If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
  4. Optional: Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default.

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connectionIdeas 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 Ernst believed “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

How to do a rubbing

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Rubbings taken from a deck: turning the paper to create lines in different directions

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.

  1. Find some textured surfaces or objects.
  2. Place paper over your chosen area.
  3. Use side of pencil to rub over the paper to reveal the hidden pattern.
  4. Repeat the process with a different surface.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Experimenting with different surfaces: some rubbings are more unsuccessful than others

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.

“The most expected thing you can expect is what’s unexpected.” – Dick Allen, Zen Master Poems

How to collage typography

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Finished rearrangement of the original below

If a white piece of paper blinds you with too many possibilities, starting with another piece of art and editing that can get you straight into the art-making process. Creating instant restrictions creates less resistance to getting started because there’s less choice on offer. Austin Kleon in The Steal Like An Artist Journal encourages us “If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.” By mixing up existing art into something new, you’re creating your own art and experimenting with what you like visually.

You will need: Text (or images) to cut up. Pencil and ruler if you want to be really accurate. Scissors or scalpel to cut. Glue if you want to fix permanently in place.

  1. Divide your chosen text into squares of equal sizes and cut out
  2. Optional: Use pencil and ruler on the back if you don’t want to do it by eye
  3. Rearrange the squares into a new arrangement
  4. Optional: fix in place with glue
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: original printed typography found in a magazine. Right: image cut into equal squares, ready for rearrangement

Why not try cutting different size shapes and then fit things together like an abstract jigsaw puzzle. Play around creating more irregular shapes and arrangements that aren’t so neat and square. Cecil Touchon uses a similar process to create his Typography Abstraction art and so ‘frees the letters from their burden of being bearers of meaning.’

Seeing something arranged differently and changing your perspective will feed back into other areas of your life in a positive way. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity, he says “Good scientists, like good artists, must let their minds roam playfully or they will not discover new facts, new patterns, new relationships.” By allowing yourself to playfully create new patterns using what exists around, you opens yourself up to other unknown possibilities.

Look what’s already laying around your home that you can cut up and rearrange and go have a play.

 “…nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what came before.  Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist

Action over thinking leads to more data

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

Should you spend some time making art for fun? Hmm. Let’s have a think…

But you won’t get to an accurate conclusion of how you think your future self will feel making art, especially if you’ve not been getting creative with your hands. All you’ve got is your imagination to work with. Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness suggests surrogation is the most accurate method to work out how we’ll feel in an unknown situation. We do our best by ‘prefeeling’ a situation, but with no actual experience or data, it’s purely our imagination in control.

If a friend tells us they felt amazing drawing more regularly and has experienced many long-lasting benefits – even if they are similar to us in terms of tastes and lifestyle – we doubt it will work for us because we are unique and all individuals. With surrogation, the friend’s experience IS the most accurate gauge of how we’d find it too. Aside from trying it ourselves.

“Our mythical belief in the variability and uniqueness of individuals is the main reason why we refuse to use others as surrogates. After all, surrogation is only useful when we can count on a surrogate to react to an event roughly as we would, and if we believe that people’s emotional reactions are more varied that they actually are, then surrogation will seem less useful to us that it actually is. The irony, of course, is that surrogation is a cheap and effective way to predict one’s future emotions, but because we don’t realize just how similar we all are, we reject this reliable method and rely instead on our imaginations, as flawed and fallible as they may be.” – Daniel Gilbert[emphasis added]

So if you’re undecided about starting a personal project, take action. Start making something and THEN have a think. It’s only once you’ve actually experienced it can you collect data.

Leap into the art-making process: set a 2 minute timer and have a go. See how you feel once you’ve tried it every day for a week. Then 2 weeks, 3… and suddenly you’re on a roll if you’re enjoying yourself. You’ll most likely feel different doing it day one compared to day 7. But you can’t think your way into knowing how you’ll feel day 7. It’s all data-collection.

How to make cutout poems

Using a newspaper article, adding a layer of coloured paper with cut out spaces to reveal the words

Facing a blank piece of paper before you’ve started making art can feel very intimidating because where do you even start? An exercise to dive straight into art-making is to use an existing piece of art and edit that instead. Cutout poems are an easy way to make new art because the basic material you can find so easily – the printed text. Austin Kleon creates newspaper blackouts and encourages us that nothing is original. “Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”

You will need: a magazine, newspapers, book, booklet or any printed material that contains text. A pencil/pen. Optional is a black marker or a scalpel and coloured paper.

  1. Select a small section of text and scan for the words that can connect together to form a new sentence
  2. Draw a box round the words you like and ‘cut-out’ the words you don’t need with your pen or black marker

Jeff Goins agrees that rearrangement is key for the creative mind: “There is a secret every professional artist knows that the amateurs don’t: being original is overrated. The most creative minds in the world are not especially creative; they’re just better at rearrangement.” By giving yourself constraints, you allow yourself to get more creative more easily.

The Sparkle Experiment Cutout Poem
The black marker approach to masking out unused words

A couple of variations you can try:

  • Use a layer of coloured paper and cut out the spaces to reveal the words – this is more time consuming than the pen method. Use window glass or light box as a surface to trace where the words, then finally scalpel cut out the boxes
  • Use different designs of paper as a layer or try painting paper to get a painted effect.
  • Start with a longer article and create a short story or beginning of a story, expanding on the idea of a poem
The Sparkle Experiment Cutout Poem
Different style of painted backgrounds to mask unused words

After some practice, a rhythm of making the poem emerges. It feels like you’ve cracked a code and you have a sense of satisfaction after finishing each poem. Because you are able to choose any combination of words, it feels like there’s no right or wrong result, just the one you end up with. Cutout poems are completely portable so can be created on the move and in ‘fringe’ times, all you need is some printed paper and a pen in your bag. It’s a quick, nourishing and creative form of ‘entertainment’ and fun and a welcomed alternative to checking your phone in any ‘waiting’ time.

“Transformation that is flattery – taking the things you’ve stolen and making them into your own thing… combine it with your own ideas and thoughts, transform it into something completely new, and then put it out into the world so that we can steal from you.” – Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist