Major improvements to creativity confidence and art-making skills cannot happen overnight. We intellectually understand this, that you don’t go from nervous amateur to confident master in the course of a making few drawings. But why then, immediately after making something, do you expect to see something “better,” more finessed and perhaps even worthy of being hung in a gallery? Why are we so disappointed when what we’ve made doesn’t match the imagined image in our minds? We can get disappointed after only a handful of art-making sessions because we’re essentially expecting to run before we can walk.
The only pathway to improvement is small, consistent steps over a period of time. Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Pathexplains “You wouldn’t try to run a marathon without running a little every day. Making art is the same. You’ve got to keep at it, keep trying to increase your strength, stretch your imagination, and practice the language. You’ve got to do it constantly…. remember that preparation is an invaluable part of any pursuit, and being physically conditioned and relaxed is a prerequisite to good work. Don’t deny yourself this opportunity.”
Are you allowing plenty of space and time for your inner artist to grow gently? Commit to making a small piece of art every day and let of the expectation to be “better” immediately.
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’ artand 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.
Is a painting that took weeks to complete any more important than a sketch that took five minutes? You could argue the painting demonstrates more skill and labour because of the extra time spent but when it comes to creativity, more time doesn’t necessarily mean more reward.
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path explains “A sketch that takes five minutes to make can be more complete, expressive, and satisfying than a painting worked and reworked over months. In five minutes you don’t have time to steer too far away from a single idea if you’re on, you can capture the essence in a few strokes, which will make your inspiration vibrantly manifest.”
Don’t underestimate the power of small and don’t assume you have to spend hours working on something for it to be labelled ‘good.’
The point of art making is not to make perfected-everybody-loves-it products. It’s about getting immersed in a process that feels fun and giving yourself the permission continue to do it regularly. The product is just a thing that came out of the process which we attach imaginary significance to. We have to let go of creating ‘final’ polished things and instead focus on practicing if we want our creativity to fully flourish. One way to do this is to focus on the quantity of art you make (and not the quality).
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path talks of her own experience with quantity: “So you don’t get stuck spending a thousand hours doing one painting that isn’t very good, instead make a thousand paintings of one subject. I once painted a thousand ways of looking at the sky… You then get to select which is the most successful, and you can make this a departure point for signature work.”
Focusing on quantity allows you to take more risks and not get hung up on ‘mistakes’ or making ‘bad art.’ All of those creative failures create a richer soil for further departure points of investigation to grow. The process of trial and error will ultimately create more opportunities to make work you do like compared to only striving to make polished work. In reality you’ll be too nervous to make any mistakes which could mean you stop making art altogether. Now that would be a mistake.
If you ever feel like you’re making art in the metaphorical dark with no idea what comes next, know that this is a completely normal experience. In fact, in order to be creative we have to be comfortable with venturing into the unknown on a regular basis. Ted Solotaroff explains that “Writing a first draft is like groping one’s way into a dark room, or overhearing a faint conversation, or telling a joke whose punchline you’ve forgotten.” From the unknown, unplanned darkness can grow interesting ideas.
David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art and Fear suggest “Art is like beginning a sentence before you know its ending. The risks are obvious: you may never get to the end of the sentence at all – or having gotten there, you may not have said anything. This is probably not a good idea in public speaking, but it’s an excellent idea in making art.” The unexpected, unplanned and unanticipated is not something to be fearful of, it’s the perfect environment for making art. Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path talks of darkness: “That’s what I’m offering you, a flashlight in the dark and mysterious world of creativity. And it’s a thrilling world, a labyrinth, if you will…. When I describe it this way, the path to art seems rather like the path of our lives, fascinating, mysterious, and yet wonderful.”
By standing in the darkness and facing it head on, you’re open to more creative possibilities compared to all the lights being on. You don’t need to know what the whole room looks like to make art, just gently feel around until you bump into something interesting.
“Think of your daily life as a hunt for art. Take note of what you notice and what you keep noticing. What interests you? It’s good to jot these things down as they come to you. Why not start an inspiration journal, with drawings, clippings, words, faces? Just keep adding and don’t censor. One rainy day when you’ve got nothing else to do, you can go through it all and see the connections. These connections are the gold mine of your inspiration. Use them.” — Carolyn Schlam
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