The untouched blank page can be a bigger hurdle than you’d expect to making art. Not wanting to ‘spoil’ the whiter than white, pristine surface, you may hold off making any marks until you’ve decided on an idea that’s ‘good’ enough. Waiting to think of a good (or perhaps even perfect) idea can keep you stuck from making anything at all. In that situation take the pressure to make something ‘good’ off the table. Instead, try making something bad, messy or ugly.
Kim Piper Werker in Make it Mighty Ugly shares “When I’m paralyzed by the pressure to make something mind-glowingly awesome, I make something ugly instead.” This process of focusing on making ugly art can free you from the creative killjoy of perfectionism. Werker again: “Making ugly things reminds me to pay attention to the process of making, rather than obsessing about the product. It reminds me I’ve made mistakes and failed and will make more mistakes and fail again, so I’d better just keep on making things.”
Decide to make some ugly marks and turn your white paper into ugly art. The more mistakes, the better. Your creativity doesn’t need to be beautiful or perfect on the page. It’s just as valuable (and much more fun) if it’s ugly.
“… ugly can make us mighty. All we have to do is pay attention to it. When we look at it, when we stare it right in the face, we take its power for our own. We grow to understand it. We learn from it. We defuse it. And we become free.” — Kim Piper Werker
While the mind speaks louder and more forcefully about what to do, the heart has a gentler, wiser perspective. When making art, the mind may bombard with negative talk about the quality and usefulness of everything. Talk like “I should be doing something more important” or “This is rubbish! Stop immediately!” The mind wants to be instantly good at everything it tries and will go into survival mode to keep you ‘safe’ from the perceived pain/danger of being ‘bad.’ Listen only to this overdramatic voice and you’ll never make art again.
The heart on the other hand, knows you’re safe and no real pain will come from making something messy or ‘bad.’ It’s interested in what feels good and lights you up. It loves when you do more fun things, when you stop listening to the negative mind voice and embrace the play of making art. When you listen the calm heart, you hear how good it feels to make marks for fun. How playful you feel colouring something in and how relaxed and refreshed you feel after doing it.
Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist encourages “Listen to your heart. It knows all things… Because where your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure. Keep listening to what it has to say.” When making your art, listen to your wise heart and let the mind take a mini vacation. Its opinion is not needed.
We’re taught to seek constant improvement, to work on our weaknesses and out-do our previous performances, because better is better… right?
Except it’s not better when making art is involved. How you feel making during the process IS the point. The fun of making something out of nothing, the sensory experience of using your hands and switching off your mind for a few precious moments in your day is worth gold. To reconnect to the part of you that enjoys making something just for fun, with no a hint of it needing to be productive or valuable far outweighs any incremental progress you’ll achieve.
You don’t NEED to get any better in order to continue making art. You have everything right now to make something from nothing and it’s even better if the art is messy and flawed. Why focus on impossible task of making everything perfectly if it doesn’t feel fun?
“There’s nothing to be done,
No way you need to prove.
Your art is already enough.
There’s nothing to improve.”
4 steps to becoming more creative:
1. Carry a small notebook/sketchbook and pen/pencil wherever you go
Write down your ideas, make notes of things you like as soon as you see them, practice making art on the go or in fringe time that normally gets swallowed up looking at your phone. Get curious about your daily surroundings, mine your life and record your discoveries. The scrappier and cheaper it is, the more likely perfectionists will actually use it instead of keeping it ‘unspoilt’ in its perfect original state!
2. Make something everyday
Make something, ANYTHING to practice exercising your creativity muscle. If you can find a spare two minutes, then you have enough time to make something. If you think “what’s the point of only spending two minutes?” It adds up to an hour after a month and creates a small pile of art. Spending two minutes is better than spending zero minutes (especially if the myth of having to spend hours making art feels overwhelming and is stopping you from making anything at all).
3. Focus on quantity not quality
When you make art for yourself, you can let go of it needed to look ‘good.’ You’re not in school trying to please the teacher anymore. You get to make bad, messy and imperfect art because you ENJOY it. That’s the only important reason you need. By focusing on quantity, it helps to shift focus from worrying if you’re not doing it ‘right’. And when making quantity can actually accelerate creativity, quality can be so overrated.
4. Start making art right now
Don’t wait for the start of the year/month/week to roll round. Start NOW. You’ve heard you only need two minutes so pick up a pencil and paper and make some marks immediately!
We need your bonkers ideas and your crazy art! Sometimes it’s the crazy ideas that fuels creativity more forcefully than the ‘normal’ safe ones. Crazy and bonkers might also inspire others a little bit louder and who knows where it could lead to.
“Change the world with your brilliant and bonkers ideas!” That’s what Little Inventors wants: helping kids by encouraging inventive thinking. It connects kid inventors to skilled grown ups who make their ideas work in real life: workable models of the brilliant and bonkers ideas. The founder of the project Dominic Wilcox says in this behind the scenes video “I think we’re all born creative but some people say “Oh I’m not creative.” But that’s not true, you were creative when you were a child, you’ve just lost it… by going through the education system and then the work as an adult. Your mind gets a little bit limited and restricted and you get a bit self-conscoius suddenly your creativity can be lost.”
If you feel your creativity is lost right now, know it’s never completely gone. You can always find your way back to it, whenever you’re ready. Start by picking up a pencil and paper and making some marks. Any marks – messy ones, bad unperfected ones, ones full of mistakes and rough ideas. Because making anything is always better than making nothing at all. And who knows where it could all lead to.
Ps. Dominic Wilcox has a Ted talk on his project called Turning children’s imagination into reality.
When you give yourself permission to make art, you slowly and silently give permission to others around you. You don’t have to physically show others what you make. It’s enough to talk about the creative experience and share how you feel while making art (it’s not always helpful to reveal your ‘messy’ art to potentially judgmental eyes). Sharing the experience could have a big impact on many others in more ways than you’ll ever know.
Victoria Moran encourages “The idea that everything is purposeful really changes the way you live. To think that everything that you do has a ripple effect, that every word that you speak, every action that you make affects other people and the planet.”
Perhaps you share with a friend how free you feel while making art and how excited you are to make more. Or even a stranger overhears and sees your enthusiasm. That enthusiasm could plant a seed of inspiration in other minds. It could be a gentle nudge of silent encouragement that they too could have a go. No need to tell people to copy you, instead honestly share your insights from being more creative. If that seed one day grows bigger and they decide to take action, you’ve helped them just by being yourself (it may never grow bigger for them and that’s okay too because the main thing is you’re growing your own seeds).
As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. — Marianne Williamson, from the poem ‘Our Deepest Fear’ in Return to Love
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.