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.
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
All you need to get started making art is a pen and paper. But once you’ve built up some practice and courage (it takes a lot of courage to continue to make ‘messy’ art and beginner art), you can start to try different drawing materials. This adds a whole new fun level of experimentation but one that can be overwhelming with possibilities and choice. Before you rush out and buy all the colours in all the different art supplies, remind yourself of your objective – to have fun. To enjoy the process of making something out of nothing. It’s easy to feel disheartened when the art doesn’t match the expectations in the mind but it can become magnified when money has been spent buying tools to help make ‘great’ art.
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path says “I encourage you to try many different media and just soak up all the fun and complexity of art making. Play and experimentation are essential components of our profession, and taking on new toys puts us in a playful mood.” The focus is on play and experimentation. Different media could mean whatever you’ve already got in your cupboards. They don’t have to be specifically art supplies as there are plenty of foods and household supplies that can work just as well. Things like painting with food colouring, beetroot juice or coffee. Making collages out of old packaging, magazines and leaflets. Or make patterns using everyday objects to. There’s so much you can get started with without having to leave the house. Don’t get caught up on using fancy supplies, instead focus on having fun exploring unconventional media that you can start using today.
The biggest challenge you face when making art is yourself. This is something Paul Klein discusses in his talk How to Succeed as an Artist: “There are no obstacles,.. the only obstacles that exist are obstacles we put in front of ourselves.” Can you identify any self-imposed obstacles you’ve created? Obstacles like “I don’t have time” (time can always be made), “I’m not good enough” (too high expectations) to “I don’t have the right art materials” (all you need is pen and paper to make art).
How can you get out of your own way and break through them? By giving yourself permission to spend time making art and to make messy art, bad art, to play and have fun making. Give permission to spend some time being creative without needing it to be productive or ‘valuable’ (i.e making sell-able art). The value is the fun. Break through self-imposed obstacles and open up to the possibility of becoming more creative.
Believing you’re not creative is the only mistake you can make when it comes to making art. We tend to think of art ‘mistakes’ as making a mess, drawing inaccurately or failing to reproduce the image in your head. But those mistakes are learning curves, unexpected lines for further experiments and the potential for messy fun. But believing you’re not creative limits the chance to explore your creativity further.
While children embrace the art making process with no thoughts around if they’re good or not, many adults firmly believe they can’t draw. But Graham Shaw in his TEDxHull talk argues “When people say they can’t draw I think it’s more to do with beliefs rather than talent and ability. So I think when you say you can’t draw, that’s just an illusion.” He suggest that you only need two things to draw: “One is have an open mind… and two, just be prepared to have a go.”
If you allowed yourself to explore your creativity, who knows what beliefs you might change for the better.
“How many other beliefs and limiting thoughts do we all carry around with us everyday? Beliefs that we could perhaps potential challenge and think differently about. And if we did challenge those beliefs and think differently about them, apart from drawing, what else would be possible for us all.” — Graham Shaw
Sometimes you’ll make art you like and will want to keep it and other times you’ll instantly want to throw it in the bin. It’s okay to feel that way but before you do throw anything out, consider using the rejected art as a starting point for new art.
Having a pile of rejected bin can be a helpful source to mine from. Why not use the art as a background, cut it up, tear bits off. draw over or reassemble to make something new. You don’t have to start with something ‘good’ to make something interesting. The fact the binned art was initially rejected may help lower your expectations to make anything ‘good’ and instead make unexpected art for the fun of it.
It’s a challenge to let go of wanting to be good at something new and making art is no exception. It’s a very human trait to want to make only ‘good’ art. Our ego doesn’t like it when we make ‘bad’ work and so it’s not surprising if you feel like giving up right away. Invariably this robs you of the potential of improvement, but most importantly it robs the experience of having fun with your creativity.
One way to help you keep making art is to purposely make ‘bad’ art. Label it as your messy, unruly, unperfected bad art practice so you can focus on enjoying the process. The quality of your work is irrelevant because you’re seeking to make an arty mess! Your ego may still pop up to question what you’re up to but if it says your art is no good, you can reply “that’s exactly the point so I’m doing great!” You’ll be less likely to feel defeated if you give yourself freedom to make mistakes with enthusiasm.
Debbie Millman in a Creative mornings talk said “I’m not that good. I’m just really unwilling to give up.” Giving up is far more disappointing than making something bad because making bad art takes courage and choosing to continue the process allows your creativity to develop and grow in ways you haven’t yet imagined.
I do have to step back, take a breather, and realize that it is just a project and not the end of the world if it’s not perfect.” – Mary Kate McDevitt