The best art materials are always the ones around you right now. There’s no need to go out and buy new when first starting out because you don’t need much to start making marks and most likely you already have the necessary materials. Gregory Brown wrote How to Draw Trees in 1947 but the materials advice is still as relevant today. The following 4 items are recommended to get started:
2. Eraser: Though it is better not to rub out, it is sometimes necessary.
3. Pencils: A good pencil is never an extravagance.
4. Stool: … Don’t try to draw standing up as it is difficult to have proper control over your pencil.”
You can simply this list even further to just 2 items: paper and pencil. It really is that simple. Anything beyond that is just flourish when it comes to making marks.
In a productivity-focused society, one where every moment of the day can easily be packed full with work, intreractions and doing, the idea of non-doing can feel foreign. But what if the space of non-doing and being unproductive gives us a moment to recharge, refresh and approach the rest of our time from a less frantic perspective? While it could be argued that aimlessly browsing the internet, news feeds of social media channels is non-doing in that it may not be productive, your brain feels otherwise. Electronic devices stimulate the brain and do little to give us a break from an overload of constant and never ending information.
What if instead of spending so much time on electronic devices, we devoted some time to making art, allowing our brains a much-needed break from doing? You don’t have to have to start making art in order to improve in some way, you can choose to make art just for the sensation of making art. To experience the process or making something with your hands, instead of only consuming other people’s media. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of the fun found within the creative process: “Why should I go through all the trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?” The answer will usually come with a wicked trickster grin: “Because it’s fun, isn’t it?”
While fun is a worthy outcome of making art, the experience of regularly slowing down amidst the noise of every day life to do something that has no outcome has a significant and nourishing effect on the mind. Non-doing has more health benefits than constantly doing, but it’s hard for us to believe that not being productive has any value (given we’ve been socialised from a young age to constantly work on improving, striving and achieving). It takes a conscious decision to stop and try making art with no outcome. For those brave enough to try, a whole possibility of benefits opens up through the art-making process.
Perfectionism can be a creativity roadblock. It’s a behaviour that feels productive by endeavouring to improve artwork, but can subconsciously be a mechanism to protect against the fear of not being good enough. If we make it the best possible version, we avoid potential criticism and become worthy of praise. The problem is, there is no best possible version when the bar of expectation is so high you can’t even see it. If the bar is too high, you will never be able to reach it, therefore you’ll never be done perfecting. Danny Gregory in Art Before Breakfast explains the behaviour of fiddliness, a kind of perfectionism as “Constant reappraisal, erasing, tweaking, reconsidering… Never done, never good enough.”
Perfectionism doesn’t work well with creativity because it leaves no room for the unexpected, unanticipated and beauty held within mistakes, mess and failure. Gregory talks about the problems in trying to plan art in advance: “You think you can conceive the destination before you embark on the journey… and that nothing else can intrude and change the outcome you have conceived. But, first of all, the world doesn’t work that way: unless you are doing something extremely simple and banal… it will invariably intrude and change your will-laid plans. And, second, you should welcome that intrusion. The accidents, mistakes, serendipities, and ink spatters that the universe throws in your path make you work and your life more interesting. Perfection isn’t organic. It’s constipated, lifeless, and dull.” Is it your goal to make lifeless and dull work? That might actually be the result of any fiddliness and perfection-focused tendencies.
One antidote to perfectionism is setting a goal to make the biggest quantity of art in the time available and let go of all other expectations around quality or the visual outcome of the art—it doesn’t have to look good or be appealing to the eye. Make lots of art, make it quickly and move onto the next piece quickly. Don’t give your perfection behaviour space to reflect on the art—make it and move on.
“We have to learn to abandon our thoughts of how something should be and just experience is for what it is.” — Melinda Harper
Setting yourself a goal to ‘be more creative’ or ‘make more art’ might not have the impact you hope for. Large, vague and immeasurable goals may not help with motivation on a consistent or daily basis because if you can’t measure what ‘being more creative’ actually means, how do you know if you’re achieving it or not?
Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler in The Decision Book ask if you are pursuing the right goal: “If you set yourself greats, you should distinguish between final goals and performance goals. A final goal might be ‘I want to run a marathon’; a performance goal helps you achieve this aim, for example ‘I will go jogging for thirty minutes every morning’.”
A specific creative performance goal might look like ‘I will draw something on A5 paper once a day’ or ‘I will spend 10 minutes every day making art.’ Because these goals are more tangible and easy to measure, you’ll be more likely to be motivated to continue and commit to making art on a regular basis. Let go of big unmeasurable and vague goals and instead, choose simpler and easier to achieve performance goals to allow your creativity to flow.
“Rotating and leaving fallow to grow.”
Before you start making any marks, it’s important to know that having preconceived expectations about what the art should look can create a feeling of dissatisfaction if reality doesn’t match them. Needing art to look a certain way before any marks are made is a sure way to frustration, and ultimately to giving up prematurely. But as most beginner art is going to be a big learning curve full of wonderful mistakes, mess and imperfections, it’s a shame if those imperfections aren’t seen as valuable steps and tools in the creativity process.
Susan Jeffers in Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway encourages us to “Throw away your picture… If you are focused on “the way it’s supposed to be,” you might miss the opportunity to enjoy the way it is or to have it be wonderful in a totally different way from what you imagined.”
Any preconceived expectations or picture held in your mind before making art could block you from seeing the magic in any unexpected and unknown outcomes. Try looking for the good in the way things are as opposed to wishing they were different and let your creativity unfold naturally, without judgment. Creativity doesn’t need judgment to flourish, it needs an open mind, patience and practice.