Trying a completely foreign way to making art allows us to step away from convention and embrace a new messy way to making art. Switching from your usual way to make marks – i.e. using your dominant hand – to a unorthodox approach forces you to be uncomfortable because you loose control technically. But this is a wonderful thing for your creativity. As Mary Lou Cook encourages, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes and having fun.”
You will need: paper and a pen, ideally one that doesn’t require you to use much pressure. Felt tips work better than a biro.
Hold paper in place with your hands either on a flat surface or against a wall
Clean drawing tool and place in your mouth
Clean drawing tool when finished
Ideas to try:
Experiment using more colours
Hold your head steady and move the paper instead
Use a paintbrush and paint
It’s going to feel very strange at first, especially if you’ve never tried drawing with your mouth. Be careful you don’t push too hard to avoid injury. This unusual way of making marks forces you to make messy, imperfect marks and the quicker you accept your lack of control, the more you can enjoy the process. The artist Alberto Gioacometti describes drawing the unknown “When I make my drawings… the path traced by my pencil on the sheet of paper is, to some extent, analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness.” Loosing control and experimenting in the unknown is a wonderful tool to help unleash your creativity.
“It’s when I draw conclusions, that they end up looking like a bunch of jumbled squiggles on a piece of paper.” – Anthony T. Hincks
While making art with no fixed rules or set objectives can be a freeing experience, sometimes you don’t know what to make next which can hold you back from starting anything at all. Setting yourself a project could help with getting unstuck because there’s a clear focus for making. When you know where you want to head, it makes it easier to make decisions along the way. And if the infinite possibilities of making anything feels too overwhelming, then a project approach to art making could be for you.
In the Art For All podcast, Danny Gregory and Ros Stendahl talk about the power of projects: “A project is a blueprint for your free time, a series of assignments that will add up to something grand when it’s done. But more important, will be really fun doing, getting there, making.” Stendahl explains “Whenever I do a project, I like to set parameters because I find that parameters not only focus you and make it more likely that you’ll achieve your goal of doing it every day, but they also help you discover more clearly what it is you’re looking for… you can create something substantial in a very brief time period.”
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, consider having multiple projects in the go at once. They could be similar and interlink or be vastly different and you rotate through working on them depending on your mood and interest each day. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity describes how a E. O. Wilson “typically works on several projects at once, using different methods. This again is a common pattern among creative individuals; it keeps them from getting bored or stymied, and it produces unexpected cross-fertilization of ideas.”
One project or several, it doesn’t matter the number of projects so long as you find it a helpful approach to get you regularly making your art.
Collage is easy and fun process to make art out of existing art. While this experiment focuses on using just images, you can also collage with paper and typography. By using preexisting images, you don’t have to worry about drawing anything from scratch. If you are a beginner and worry about your art being messy or imperfect (which are vital aspects of art-making), this might offer you the freedom you need to get started creatively. Rod Judkins in Figurative Painting with Collage quotes Nita Leland: “Collage is like a hall of mirrors. Every direction you look, you see something different and visually stimulating.”
You will need: photographs or images from magazines, books or any paper source. Scissors or scalpel knife. Optional glue or sticky tape and a tray to put things on or work from.
Cut out images that catch you eye. Don’t overthink: cut out and create a pile.
From your pile, pick images and start arranging. Play around with different combinations without thinking of a final look.
If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
Optional: Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default.
Ideas for further experiments:
Cut out words or letters to add to the images.
Draw over or around images to add details.
Take photos of selected images to create digital versions and play around with layouts on the computer.
Have a jar/box/folder/somewhere to keep all the images you cut out as anything unused can be used at a later date. Sometimes you might spend your time cutting images and other times you may spend your time arranging. Having an image bank to draw from allows you to get creating much quicker in the future.
The artist Max Ernst in Max Ernstbelieved “Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them.” Collage quickly allows you to bring together unexpected images and arrange them however you like. The process is one of trial and error but also very ‘low-risk’ because you don’t have fix anything in place. Because there are so many strange and different possibilities with collage, you’re only limited by your imagination.
“The only way to be creative over time – to not be undone by our expertise – is to experiment with ignorance, to stare at things we don’t fully understand.” – Jonah Lehrer
Rubbings or frottage is an old technique of printmaking where you take a rubbing from an uneven surface to create a textured piece of art. It’s a very quick method of mark making that has a bonus element of mystery because you can’t predict what surfaces will work best until you have a go. You become a kind of creative detective, hunting out patterns and testing them collect results.
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired suggest that some common strands in creative fields are “the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, and a willingness to take risks.” Margaret A. Boden explains that exploratory creativity, one of the three types of creativity, “can produce highly valued (beautiful, useful, interesting…) structures or ideas.” That this approach “can often offer surprises that are rather deeper than merely seeing the previously unseen.” Surprise marks may emerge with each movement of your hand so you don’t always know what you’ll end up with.
You will need: paper and a pencil. Optional to use crayons, charcoal or chalk.
Find some textured surfaces or objects.
Place paper over your chosen area.
Use side of pencil to rub over the paper to reveal the hidden pattern.
Repeat the process with a different surface.
Some of the rubbings in the image above hardly show the pattern beneath so weren’t as successful as the clearer pattern created by the decking. That feedback helped scout future rubbing subjects so no “failed” attempt was actually unsuccessful. This experiment is perfect to take with you on the go so if you ever spot an interesting wall texture you can quickly take a rubbing. The more you do, the more you build up your knowledge around what surfaces work better than others. Because it takes so little time, the focus becomes more on quantity and testing than perfecting which is a much freer (and fun) way to make art.
This fun line drawing experiment is easy to get started and has endless creative outcomes. As an art-making beginner it can be hard to know where to even start. Setting rules and constraints gets you to go from being paralysed by choice, to taking clear action immediately. Making something is always a better than making nothing when it comes to your creativity.
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired to Create explain “Because of our natural adversion to uncertainty, there are very few things in life that we enjoy more than a sure thing or a tidy solution! But in order to think differently, the fear of uncertainty has to go.” This experiment is great because it starts you off with a clear objective, which will keep your mind from being paralysed about what to do next. But once you start drawing lines, there’s no one solution so you start to tap into your creativity. In a way it’s a safe kind of uncertainty.
You will need: paper, pen or pencil. Optional: felt tip pens, crayons, coloured pencils and ruler.
Add dots randomly on your paper. Do this quickly, don’t overthink it.
Join the dots using a pen or pencil freehand.
Optional: use a ruler if you want a straighter line.
Ways you can approach experimenting:
Change the quantity of dots: make lots or a little to get a different starting point.
Change the quantity of lines: make lots of a little.
Change quantity of colours: use multiple colours to draw the lines.
Let your instincts guide you where you draw your next line. There is no ‘wrong’ line you can make, only 100’s of possibilities. In a 1991 speech on creativity, John Cleese suggested, “it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” Start with little and as your confidence grows with practice, you can gently push yourself to create more ‘complex’ or unusual patterns if you wish. Or continue to keep things simple and enjoy the process of making patterns from the random dots.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs
Not sure where to start making art? Get a piece of paper, a pen, decide on some constraints and make some marks. Gather evidence about what you liked and didn’t like and repeat the process. By giving yourself constraints or rules, it frees you from paralysis of choice and the never ending question of what should I do next? When you can make anything, the magnitude of choice is too overwhelming.
Austin Kleon in a Hurry Slowly podcast interview, says “I think every practising artist figures out pretty quickly that when you can do anything, you do nothing because you’re paralysed. And so one of the first things to do if you want to make work is to give yourself some rules, give yourself some constraints… I think that when you have too many possibilities it can be impossible to know what to do next.”
Constraint could look like putting ideas in a jar and pulling them out to determine what you draw. Set a timer and write down whatever words pops in your head for 2 minutes without stopping. Don’t overthink it — simple words like blue, cat, tree, laugh, boat etc. are great. Then cut up the words and put them in the idea jar. Start simple, take action, collect data and repeat. Anything that gets you away from overthinking all the possibilities, to actually making art is a huge step.
Improvement happens tiny step by tiny step. Brick by brick.
Sometimes you’ll take a leap and it feels wonderful to make big steps forward. Such noticeable progress feels reassuring and can be a reminder that the thing you’re working on is worth your time and effort.
But most improvement results from a slow and steady approach. Our ego would love for things to move quicker because it stubbornly only wants instant gratification and success. But success isn’t a finish line in the distant future – success is building something brick by brick, even in the face of doubt, discomfort and adversity.
As the saying goes, life is a marathon, not a sprint. There is plenty of time so there’s no hurry to work it all out right now, in this moment. Place the next tiny brick and keep repeating until it’s time for a leap.