Creating art can feel a lot like making something in the dark. Surround by complete darkness, you fumble and bump about, trying to get a feel for what you’re making and where you’re going. This is a normal part of the creative process. The more unknown things are, the greater potential for creativity, if we can learn to be brave in the darkness. With practice and hope – a belief you will work it out – comes bravery.
Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird encourages “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work.” Hope still finds a way in the darkness, you don’t need to know everything before you begin.
Keep showing up to your art, keep fumbling about and you will be rewarded over time.
What would ‘letting go’ look like when making your art? Perhaps it looks like allowing yourself to follow a strange curiosity or interest in a subject. Allow yourself to spend time, to indulge in the process of making art (although it can be argued that the act of making art – reconnecting to yourself – is not an indulgence, but a necessity and worthwhile endeavour). Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic encourages us to “Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.” It may mean choosing to ‘get it done’ or ‘good is good enough,’ and ignoring the illusive (and impossible) goal of perfection.
Letting go could mean making art in the face of your fears. Steven Pressfield in The Artist’s Journey suggests “The artist is afraid of the unknown. She’s afraid of letting go. Afraid of finding out what’s “in there.” Or “out there… This fear, I suspect, is more about finding we are greater than we think than discovering we’re lesser. What if, God help us, we actually have talent? What if we truly do possess a gift? What will we do then?”
What if we stepped out into the unknown to find out what lies beyond our reach? Discovering what lies ‘out there’ is worthy of your attention and time. For within the unknown, lies your power.
The belief “I’m not creative” is not a helpful belief if you want to start making art. In fact, it may block you from taking any action at all. The good news is you can change the belief by deciding to think something different instead. If you see the belief “I’m not creative” to be a story – a tale made up by your mind – then why not choose a story that encourages you? The black and white thinking of “I’m NOT creative” is unhelpful because it blocks potential creativity. Choosing to instead believe a kinder, more encouraging story allows you more freedom to create.
“I’m allowing more creativity into my life.”
“I love how making art makes me feel more creative.”
“I’m learning to be more creative.”
“I enjoy the feeling of making something.”
Another kind of story is a conspiracy theory, something Brené Brown in Rising Strong talks about: “Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.” If negative talk is the mind keeping us safe from the perceived danger of trying something new, then we can thank it for its concern and get back to making our art. Decide there’s no real danger and tell your mind to believe a new positive story, one that’s likely to be more accurate than the old negative belief.
There’s no arrival point, no end or finish line when it comes to your creativity. There will be no trumpet sound when a higher level of craftsmanship is reached and you’ll never get there – theplace where you’re happy with everything you make and feel completely comfortable all the time. Uncertainty allows creativity to flourish. If you know all the answers before you begin, how can you grow and develop as an artist?
Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve encourages “We don’t make meaningful art through lateral moves but by constantly challenging ourselves to new heights. We cannot create great art without continuing to create ourselves. This work is a process of continuous reinvention. We don’t just do it once. It is a journey of becoming, one in which we never fully arrive.”
If it’s impossible to fully arrive, choose to ignore the imaginary finish line you’ve made up and stuck into the challenge of growing creatively.
Not knowing what step to take next is a something artists of all levels face on a regular basis. It’s okay if you feel lost when making art or about what the ‘right’ direction to head in is. Getting lost allows for more possibilities than having a concrete plan. The author Jay Woodman encourages “Life is a repeated cycle of getting lost and then finding yourself again. There are many smaller cycles within that cycle where you get lost to a smaller degree and then remember yourself on purpose, consciously or unconsciously. Every time you get lost it is so that you can learn something or experience something from a different perspective.” Creative potential is increased by not knowing what comes next. When the answers are unknown, the search deepens which can lead to stumbling upon unexpected (and ultimately more creative) outcomes.
Getting lost allows you to go beyond what you know as Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost explains “That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost. The word ‘lost’ comes from the old Norse ‘los’ meaning the disbanding of an army…I worry now that people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know.”
The act of getting lost, to fully allow yourself to sit in the dark and not see what’s ahead of you takes courage and practice. Staring at a blank page, not knowing what to do next and allowing the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty to sit with you is a brave act. But as Solnit suggests “… to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender…” Surrender, go off the map, tear up the plans, get lost, switch off the lights, make art in the dark and let’s see what you stumble into.
“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.” — Rebecca Solnit
When faced with the uncertainty in artmaking, you may find yourself believing in the story that you’re not good enough. Jonathan Fields in How To Live a Good Life suggests “When we enter a place of uncertainty, we tend to start spinning stories that predict failure endlessly in our heads… consider a different story. One fuelled by possibility rather than defeat.” What if instead of believing you’re not creative, you chose the opposite story that you ARE creative? What if you took all the negative (and unhelpful) stories around your art and created opposite positive stories?
“My art is too messy, it’s bad” becomes “I love how free it feels to have a safe place be messy.”
“I can’t draw properly” becomes “I’m a beginner so it’s understandable I’m not an expert drawer yet: Practice over time builds confidence and skills.”
“I shouldn’t spend time on something that’s unproductive” becomes “I enjoy time spent making art so it is therefore valuable to me.”
You always have a choice about which version you pick. You also have the choice between uncertainty and certainty. David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art and Fear explain “In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot – and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.”
Choosing the uncertainty of art making is always a better option than the certainty of not making anything all.
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