1. Pick up a pencil or pen
2. Find a piece of paper
3. Make marks of any kind—draw something in front of you, use your imagination or copy from another piece of art—it doesn’t matter what kind.
It really is that simple. No need for a trip to the art shop for materials, or permission from anyone else to get started. Step 3 will give you feedback to the kind of marks you enjoy making. By taking action you work out what to draw next. Just thinking about it could keep you from making anything at all (I’m not going to start if I don’t know what to draw) and as it doesn’t matter what you draw, you may as well pick ANYTHING and get started right now.
The process of making art as a beginner adult can be a hidden lesson in self-compassion. When trying to make something out of nothing, the mind can create a lot of resistance to the process if the fruits of your action are judged as inadequate. Being a beginner, the chances are your skills aren’t has honed as a master painter who has 30 years experience, whose artwork you may be comparing yourself against. Judgmental thoughts may arise such as “I’m no good at this, what’s the point” and “this is bad,” which offer no support while in the creating process. This self-criticism may ultimately lead to stopping making art altogether.
How can we defend against self-criticism to ensure future practice? Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston in Fully Present suggests that the opposite of self-criticism is self-compassion. In order to be more self-compassionate and to deal with difficult thinking, they suggest through thinking itself: “You can use thoughts to soothe other thoughts and feelings. For example, if you are anxious because you are caught in traffic and late to an appointment, you may start talking to yourself: It’s okay, I don’t have control over the traffic, I’ll get there when I get there. This is quite a skillful response to the situation. Called “positive self-talk,” or self-soothing it’s a kind of thinking you use to counteract other kinds of thinking in order to soothe yourself, regulate your emotions, or generally bring some wisdom to the part of your mind that may seem out of control because you are scare, angry, or sad.”
Self-soothing when making art might sound like “I’m learning as I go and am focusing on how it feels to make art” when a judgmental thought around not being ‘good’ pops up. Just as you would reassure a loved-one that their efforts are completely useless, reassure yourself in the same way with soothing and compassionate words. Then get back to making your art and continue to greet each future criticism with kindness.
Uncertainty is a big part of making art, which can be a challenging force to dance with on a regular basis. Uncertainty is the act of making something out of nothing, of not knowing what marks will emerge before you start and being unsure a lot of the time about what you’re making. While this force can be a challenge, it can also be exhilarating to not know what’s round the next creative corner. When there are no rules in art, there are no wrong turns and only possibilities.
Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz in 10 Simple Solutions to Worry encourage that “It’s uncertainty—the thrill of not knowing—that allows us to get caught up in life and feel romance, excitement, joy, and wonder. When we give up the need to know, life becomes vibrant and yes, a little risky… A life without uncertainty would leave no possibility of pleasant surprises, and negative outcomes known in advance would eliminate the desire to take any risks.”
You can play it safe and try to avoid any uncertainty, or you can choose to lean into the unknown and trust that the perceived risk will pay off in unknown ways down the road.
“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” — Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
When you try connecting to making art again as an adult, it can be tempting to rush out and buy a whole array of art materials. Many general art books and guides present a list of suggested materials but sometimes the lists can be overwhelming and long. Included can be various types of pen, inks, charcoals, paints etc. but you don’t need any of that to get started. Ironically, buying a whole pile of art materials could keep you from making any art at all. Because a pile of pristine and precious (perhaps expensive) materials could mean an expectation to make the art pristine and precious, which may be too much pressure for your fledgling marks.
Instead, start where you are with what you already have. Scan your home and surroundings for materials already available- biros, pens, pencils and paper. If the paper has already been used (think post, envelopes and shopping lists) could makes you feel less worried about ‘spoiling’ the surface, which creates freedom to make messy and imperfectly bad art.
It’s natural to want to experiment with different materials, but don’t be in such a hurry to buy everything new. Many materials may only be used a few times and unless you find something that really resonates with you, it could be an expensive exercise. The wonderful thing about getting creative is that you don’t need fancy materials to make something out of nothing. The mind and body are the best tools you’ll ever need.
“I long for surprise and thrived on delights that make my heart patter.”
Deciding to stop an art project because it’s not “good enough” is not a good reason to stop making. If everybody judged their art on its perceived visual value and aimed for perfection, no art would EVER get made. No art is ever good enough if expectations are too high to begin with. Unwittingly setting perfection as the goal sets you up for disappointment because whatever gets made will instantly fall short. A far better expectation is simply finishing the project, giving it your full attention but letting go of the art needing to look a certain way.
Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic encourages “So if you can just complete something – merely complete it! – you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there. You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.” Let go of perfection and embrace getting things finished. It’s a far kinder and gentle way to approach making art which may allow you permission to continue making imperfect art regularly.