Feeling disheartened about the quality of your art could lead to you stopping making anything altogether. The inner critic asks “Why bother continuing to make ‘bad’ art?” But stopping practicing is the opposite thing to do because the solution to disheartenment is to make even more art.
Stephanie Peterson Jones in Drawing for Joy explains“…one of the hardest things to do is to let go of the outcome. There will always be times when you won’t like what you’ve done. Accepting your imperfections and drawing without inhibition can be liberating, and if you’re able, it will make your experience deeper and richer. The more you draw, the less the outcome will matter to you.” Letting go of the outcome gives yourself permission to continue to make art the inner critic doesn’t approve of. It’s not suprising it doesn’t approve if it’s comparing your art against art made by people who have years of experience or if the perfect image in your head doesn’t match the imperfect reality on the paper. You can’t win against perfect (perfect is boring and overrated anyway).
Peterson Jones again: “One of the most important lessons you’ll learn from doing art every day is that what you create becomes less precious to you, and the time spent creating art is just as important as what you make. And you will practice more tomorrow. Like life, some days work out fine, others, not so much. Courageously making art with acceptance of the outcome will free your soul and give you joy.”
If you commit to making something every day, the art you made 3 weeks ago won’t feel like such a big failure if you really don’t like it. You will have made a pile of other art since then and so will be less attached to past work. Through the process of consistent making, you begin to see how making something today is helping you make something tomorrow and therefore is a step in the process and doesn’t even need to be visually ‘good.’ It only has to get out onto the paper and exist.
Negative black-and-white thinking about your art can be harmful to your confidence and future art-making practice. While you may think labelling the art as “rubbish” or “bad” is stating the obvious, it could be blinding you to all the positive aspects of your art. Whatever your brain focuses on expands therefore looking at only “negative” aspects of your art, they will appear bigger, especially with similar repeated thoughts over time.
Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz talk about this extreme viewpoint in 10 Simple Solutions to Worry: “All or nothing thinking, or black-and-white thinking means viewing things in extreme categories. For example, you might describe a presentation you gave as “perfect” or “horrible.” Instead of a more balanced, reasoned view, you overlook the shades of gray, the subtleties of life, and force experiences into either-or categories (ie. describing yourself as “irresponsible” if you overlook a task or calling yourself a “failure” if you don’t meet an important personal goal.”
If by giving yourself constructive feedback you feel encourage to continue practicing then that’s great. But if you feel disheartened by your own feedback—especially if it’s black and white thinking—look for the more neutral “grey areas” instead. If you’re unable to find any small areas of the art you like, can you find one positive aspect? One specific line or dot? You can’t notice what you don’t look for. And “perfect” art is overrated. If we could do it perfectly instantly, we’d get bored very quickly. There’d be nothing new to learn and no joy from each step of growth accomplished over time. Look for the grey and let go of the pressure for your art to “be better” than it is right this moment.
This experiment brings together collaging and quick drawing to create loose, playful images. This process allows you to break free of drawing ‘good’ by embracing a looser way to create images and allows you to focus on quantity over quality. While being learning to draw realistically–drawings that look almost as lifelike as a photograph–has its merits, it can be harder to achieve as an amateur which could halt your future creative enthusiasm and art practice. Lynn Whipple in Expressive Flower Painting suggests this exercise will help you to create marks with energy: “This is “in the moment,” “get out of the way,” “make yourself laugh” stuff… Make scribbles, scratches, and smudges. Make yourself laugh knowing that any way you do this exercise is 100 percent perfect. Approach your flower drawings with the curiosity of a child.”
You will need: flowers, paper, pencil crayons, scissors, glue or tape and a timer. Optional to use a plain pencil or pen instead of pencil crayons.
Set timer for 15, 30 or 60 seconds and quickly draw a flower with the pencil crayons within the allocated time.
Repeat the process multiple times. Experiment with using one or multiple colours to draw flowers.
Draw a vase using the same process as above
Cut out flowers and vase with scissors
From your pile of cut out flowers and vase, start arranging on a piece of paper. Play around with different layouts.
Once you’ve finished arranged your flowers, fix them in place with glue or tape.
If you don’t have flowers nearby to use as inspiration, find images from a book or online or use your imagination. Whipple suggests not looking at the paper while you draw (blind drawing) and use two hands to create: how will a two-handed drawing differ from using just one hand? How about if you tried using your non-dominant hand? This quick drawing method can also be applied to other themes:
Animals in a zoo
A family portrait of unusual looking people
A collection of aliens from outer space
An outfit for a haute couture fashion show
Things found at sea
Any collection of objects, people or greenery, the skies the limit!
If you find yourself still focusing on perfecting lines or trying to make it ‘perfect,’ try a shorter time frame. What would a flower look like drawn in 5 seconds? Lynda Barry in Syllabus encourages using time constraints: “There is a kind of calibration of what to include given the time constraints, and time constraints are vital in the beginning.” Barry explains the time constraint doesn’t allow space to think but instead allows “a natural kind of picture comes about.” How some of these pictures look like children’s drawings and adults don’t like that. But Barry argues “But what if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand? A live wire! There is an aliveness in these drawings that can’t be faked… that aliveness seems to come into me…. Real aliveness of line is hard to come by.”
“Children see magic because they look for it” – Christopher Moore
Responding to the last thing you made can be a fast way to start building a chain of making. The easiest first step might be to copy another persons piece of art if you don’t know where to begin. Pick something you like visually and either loosely copy it or find smaller elements within the art to draw. Children’s art can be a fun starting point of inspiration. Once you’ve got something down on paper, don’t be afraid to cut it up and rearrange the pieces to create something new. Then copy the new reconfigured piece. Be inspired by your own-mark making and continue this process of coping and responding to your art.
Austin Kleon writes about a copy/transform/combine process: “It’s been most helpful to me personally when I think of copy/transform/combine as a more linear process in creating: copying is how you learn and assemble your artistic alphabet or vocabulary, combining is when you start to stick your influences together, and transforming is when you stick the right influences together and the seams of your Frankenstein monster disappear and you wind up with a whole new monster entirely.”
Through this process you start building a chain of art through each new art piece and where you end up may look very different compare to where you started. By cutting up the art there is space to create without the constraint of perfection, which allows you to let go of being precious about the artwork. Follow the copying chain to see what unexpected transformations surface through this process.
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
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?
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!