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
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!
Failure. It has multiple definitions but if we take “omission of occurrence,” then a failure is the lack of something happening. For example, you didn’t complete the art you intended. That doesn’t sound serious but we can make failure mean something much more heavy and dangerous – I am a failure. The mind complicate things by making it feel the stakes are higher than they actually are. The mind interprets failure as life-threatening and will try to avoid at all costs, which is why it feels so bad not to reach a goal. It’s trying to protect you from getting ‘hurt’ again. But picking up a pencil to draw is not life-threatening and ‘failing’ at making art is a vital tool in your art-making practice. How else are you going to improve as an artist and learn what you like visually?
Ken Robinson in Out of Our Minds talks about failure: “I asked the renowned chemist, Sir Harry Kroto, how many of his experiments fail. He said about 95 percent of them. Of course failure is not the right word, he said “You’re just finding out what doesn’t work,” Albert Einstein put the point sharply: “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative but if you’re not prepared to be wrong, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever come up with anything original.”
Expect to fail, expect to make mistakes, expect that there is no perfect way to make art and if there was is would be boring and predictable. The joy of making art comes from making messy mistakes, being open to spontaneity and colouring outside of the lines. Safe and perfect sounds far less fun. Robinson encourages us that “A good deal of creative work, especially in the early stages of a project, is about openly playing with ideas, riffing, doodling, improvising and exploring new possibilities.”
Failure is a vital part of creativity and not something we should try to avoid. So when your overdramatic brain whispers “You’re a failure,” know that you’re on the right pathway to letting more creativity into your life. Thank your brain for its concern and then go make more creative mistakes.
It’s a challenge to let go of wanting to be good at something new and making art is no exception. It’s a very human trait to want to make only ‘good’ art. Our ego doesn’t like it when we make ‘bad’ work and so it’s not surprising if you feel like giving up right away. Invariably this robs you of the potential of improvement, but most importantly it robs the experience of having fun with your creativity.
One way to help you keep making art is to purposely make ‘bad’ art. Label it as your messy, unruly, unperfected bad art practice so you can focus on enjoying the process. The quality of your work is irrelevant because you’re seeking to make an arty mess! Your ego may still pop up to question what you’re up to but if it says your art is no good, you can reply “that’s exactly the point so I’m doing great!” You’ll be less likely to feel defeated if you give yourself freedom to make mistakes with enthusiasm.
Debbie Millman in a Creative mornings talk said “I’m not that good. I’m just really unwilling to give up.” Giving up is far more disappointing than making something bad because making bad art takes courage and choosing to continue the process allows your creativity to develop and grow in ways you haven’t yet imagined.
I do have to step back, take a breather, and realize that it is just a project and not the end of the world if it’s not perfect.” – Mary Kate McDevitt
The fragile process of beginning to make art again is hard for the ego, who wants to get everything perfect first time. Currently our culture encourages us to share our art with the world via social media. Why not share when you can get instant likes and feedback to encourage you to keep at it? But what if your audience isn’t enthusiastic? You feel proud you even finished making the thing but that feeling can feel squashed when someone says something even slightly critical.
You are your own worst critic and Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way discourages critiquing yourself too harshly because “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse.” But it’s not just yourself you have to worry about when “beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends.” A well-meant comment can feel like a pin to your enthusiasm balloon and questions about why you’re not spending your time on more ‘important’ things can feel confronting.
It may remind you of a past time when you received harsh criticism about your art and this might be enough to completely derail you from being creative. Your art is going to be unrefined in the beginning and you have to face that while you’re making it but do you really need less than supportive feedback from others? What if you chose to keep your art-making secret and made it just for you?
The idea of your art making being similar to a private diary or journal process is echoed in Felix Scheinberger’s book Dare to Sketch sketch-booking process: “My sketchbook is something very personal. I draw in it for me and not for others; I use it to describe my world and my life.” How making art for yourself is the goal and nobody else need be involved. “It’s your sketchbook and yours alone, and should matter to no one else. once you are aware of this, it becomes a lot easier to work on a sketchbook. You are not drawing for any presumed critics or admirers, but for yourself. You aren’t producing a presentation booklet, but a creative space that consciously allows for mistakes and experiments. Your sketchbook is not a public space. Protect it.”
Protecting it and keeping your art secret is a way to help your fledgling artist grow stronger and limiting anything that endangers that. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of having an affair with your art: “Let yourself fall in love with your creativity… and see what happens.” The idea of an affair being something that you undertake in secret, something you’d make sure was hidden from the world: “Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self… Conceal it from your family and friends, whatever it is you’re up to.”
The idea of making art in the dark, away from any other eyes could be the freedom you need to unleash your creative spirit. By treating your sketchbooks and notebooks as a private journal, you allow your confidence and skills to grow stronger undisturbed.
“[Creative recovery] It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good – to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.” – Julia Cameron
If the way to get more creative is to practice regularly, a small sketchbook for mark-making or notebook for writing and idea-collecting is invaluable. But when you’re just starting out, a new book can feel intimidating. The pristine white, untouched paper, the potential of what you could fill the pages with when everything is still perfect in your head makes the first page feel more important than it actually is. “This page sets the tone for the whole book so it better be good!” You want to get it right – to write or draw something that is worthy of gracing the front page. And so you wait. You wait until you have an important enough reason or idea to make marks in your new book.
But of course, nothing will ever be good enough as the unspoilt newness of the paper will always triumph over your scrawled marks. This way of looking at it will keep you from using your book and you’ll be robbing yourself of the opportunity to make friends with this invaluable creativity tool.
How to overcome this?
To begin with only buy the cheapest books. The more money spent, the more precious it becomes because the ‘nicer’ the book, the less you’ll want to mess it up.
Write a title for the first page e.g. “My messy imperfect book” and set an intention that your book WILL include MANY bad marks, misspellings and mistakes.
Purposely make it the most messy, ugly or mistake-ridden page possible.
Ignore the first page completely and start on page 2 or even further in.
Whatever gets you regularly using your book to jot down ideas, doodles, words or start making art, do it! Don’t treat your book as fine china, only to be used once or twice a year, on “special” occasions. As Regina Brett says, “Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.” Your book needs to be broken in ASAP because the sooner you dive in, the quicker you’ll get over being so precious (you’ll make bad marks and survive from it!) and the more often you’ll use it.