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.
Scott Berkun in The Dance With The Possible explains how a skill gap is the distance between your current skills and the actual skills you need to bring your idea to life. “Many talented people never develop their skills because they hate the feeling of this distance. They’re embarrassed and tortured by it. They expect to improve at a pace born only from wishful thinking, and when they fail to meet it they despair. They lack the commitment required to find out, through practice, exactly how much skill they might be capable of. Instead they want an easy and guaranteed path despite the fact that none of the heroes they compare themselves against ever had one.”
Seth Godin asks if our gap is fuelling us to grow or is keeping us stranded: “There’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Many gaps, in fact, but imagine just one of them. That gap–is it fuel? Are you using it like a vacuum, to pull you along, to inspire you to find new methods, to dance with the fear? Or is it more like a moat, a forbidding space between you and the future?”
Austin Kleon says that success for him is “closing the gap between what your days look like and what you want your days to look like.”
Ira Glass famously talked about the disappointing gap between your taste and where you want to get skill-wise: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners… But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.” He said most people quit before narrowing that gap but “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” He stresses this process takes time and that’s normal.
This gap in your ability can only be narrowed by consistently repeated practice. If you can lower your expectations of leaping from beginner to master quickly, the feeling of disappointment about your not-so-great art won’t be as strong. Instead aim for small incremental steps of growth over a period of time and focus on the ways you have improved. The bottom line is there is no shortcut to improvement and quitting before you’ve given yourself a chance to grow is a real shame.
In an interview with the contemporary visual artist George Condo, he remarked “I don’t see why it takes so long to make drawings.” He draws a large-scale drawing with oil stick on camera and the whole process take 16 minutes. It appears to be a very quick, dynamic and instinctive method of drawing. He explains “I kind of draw like you’re walking through the forest, y’know. You don’t really know where you’re going and you just start from some point and randomly travel through the paper until you get to a place where you finally reach your destination.”
The idea of making art quickly is echoed in an question on Seth Godin’s ‘Origin Stories’ podcast episode.: “What should teachers be focusing on to help young people write their best? Godin answered “… the problem is the word ‘better’, because when they seek to do ‘better’ writing, they’re focusing on… complying, on pleasing an anonymous reader or a teacher.” Instead, “… get kids to write. Get kids to do lousy writing, Get kids to do frequent writing, emotional writing, superfluous writing, useless writing, writing, writing, writing. That if they write often, then the fear of writing has to do away.”
Do more writing, do more drawings, make art quickly and often and don’t pay attention to the quality of what you make. Down the road, a bi-product of this practice will be ‘better’ technical skills. To focus on getting ‘better’ when you’re a beginner, is a way to stall yourself before you’ve had a change to get any momentum going.
Progress doesn’t happen overnight and there is no hack to becoming an overnight success at making art. Practice, consistency and commitment are the slow and steady route to growth. But that’s if you can stand it taking time to bridge the gap of where you are and where you want to be.
Practice making something every single day and you will improve over time. Seth Godin says “incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes.” The idea that any progress, even if you hate what you’ve made, will create future improvement is something to remind yourself of when you feel like giving up.
“Keep showing up. If it matters, keep showing up.” – Seth Godin
30 day or 100 day projects allow you a consistency framework to keep you accountable: Make something every day for X days and you can only stop once you’ve reached the final day. The great thing about this approach is a pile of work is created by taking a small creative action daily.
By focusing on the small, we let ourselves off the hook of only looking for big leaps in our progress. We don’t expect plants to instantly sprout from a planted seed, it takes time just to grow the roots. See your own daily project as an way to grow your invisible creative roots and focus solely instead on the enjoyment you get from making something.