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.
Why is it so hard to stick with a new habit? When you decide to start a regular art-making practice, you’ll unknowingly have to battle your brain to keep going for more than a few attempts. You’d think the brain would be on your side and help you on your quest to become more creative. But unfortunately it’s wired to be against change so you’ll have to be prepared to face inner resistance. Srini Pillay in Tinker Dabble Doodle Try explains “Your brain likes to maintain the status quo. It’s most comfortable cruising along, in habitually, familiar behaviour. Trying to make a meaningful habit or attitudinal change causes a kind of stress in the mind, or cognitive dissonance which is visible in brain scan. Your brain is trying to reconcile two things here. You want to change but you can’t change without psychological discomfort.”
How can you overcome this mind-battle? Make art regardless! Decide and then take action. But how can you commit to regularly practicing? Pallay says it’s not likely you’ll automatically carve out time for something new and suggests using an alarm as a reminder: “An alarm can act like your coach, reminding you to do what you really should do. Start small and set an alarm for one period of unfocused activity. Prepare to obey it when you hear it, no matter what.”
Setting an alarm overrides deliberating over whether or not to make art and gets you focused for action. You don’t need to make art for long. Start with 2 minutesand aim to build up the time spent as your habit-building muscle grows stronger.
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!
In a technology-driven world where internet access can be constant and mobile, every waiting moment or fringe time can be filled. The word ‘busy’ is now a common adjective to describe daily life but how much time do you consume media (internet, social media, tv, movies, audiobooks, podcasts, radio etc.) versus time you spend on a hobby or being creative? Being constantly in consuming mode, you miss the opportunity to create your own entertainment and develop skills through the habit of play as a adult. If you feel life is already full to the brim and there’s no time for a creative project, know you can always choose to find time. If you can find 2 minutes, you have time to be creative. Use the fringe time – time on the edges of your main duties – to quickly make something. Tap into your creativity on the move or on the fly by setting a 2 minute timer (check out ”Experiments” from the menu for artmaking ideas).
Lack of time is a myth and busy is a choice. You can choose to make space for creativity as Jessica N. Turner in The Fringe Hoursargues “You make time for what is important to you.” And “You are never too busy to make time for what you love. It’s just a matter of prioritizing—evaluating how you spend your days and dedicating time for what you value. If something is really important to you, you will find a way to fit it into your life.”
Don’t believe the story about there not being enough time when every day is filled with fringe time moments. Decide to make something, grab 2 minutes and make it.
“Activities and passions pursued during the fringe hours make a life more beautiful and the participant feel more alive and more uniquely herself.” — Jessica N. Turner, The Fringe Hours
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
If you dream of a day in the future where you’ll make some art, know that there’s no better time than right now to start. This very minute. You don’t need much time, you don’t need fancy materials. You can take a pen and a scrap of paper and draw something, anything immediately in just 2 minutes. Seth Godin encourages us to merely begin: “With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.”
Some day most likely means no day. Today is the best day for you to take action.
Do you spend any time standing still in your daily life or are you constantly rushing around like the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? If you’re always in ON mode, never disconnected from a device or other people, it’s harder to justify spending time making art. If you believe you don’t have the time to stand still, or to make any art then it will never happen.
“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” — The White Rabbit, Lewis Carroll
But the truth is you don’t need a huge block of time to make art. A 2 minute investment each day is all you need to get started (and it adds up significantly over time). We think we need to spend a bigger amount of time to make it worthwhile, otherwise what’s the point – Surely 2 minutes isn’t enough to make anything significant? But your art don’t need it to be significant for it to be a worth the time or effort investment. It’s much more important something gets made and that you had fun doing it.
Significance is overrated and is entirely subjective so it’s far better to judge how you feel once you’ve spent 2 minutes making art something compared to only thinking about it. Taking action brings feedback and clarity while thinking can bring fear, excuses and procrastination. So find a pocket of time to stand stand still and make something.
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.
If a white piece of paper blinds you with too many possibilities, starting with another piece of art and editing that can get you straight into the art-making process. Creating instant restrictions creates less resistance to getting started because there’s less choice on offer. Austin Kleon in The Steal Like An Artist Journal encourages us “If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.” By mixing up existing art into something new, you’re creating your own art and experimenting with what you like visually.
You will need: Text (or images) to cut up. Pencil and ruler if you want to be really accurate. Scissors or scalpel to cut. Glue if you want to fix permanently in place.
Divide your chosen text into squares of equal sizes and cut out
Optional: Use pencil and ruler on the back if you don’t want to do it by eye
Seeing something arranged differently and changing your perspective will feed back into other areas of your life in a positive way. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity says “Good scientists, like good artists, must let their minds roam playfully or they will not discover new facts, new patterns, new relationships.” By allowing yourself to playfully create new patterns using what exists around, you opens yourself up to other unknown possibilities.
Look what’s already laying around your home that you can cut up and rearrange and go have a play.
“…nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”– Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist
Should you spend some time making art for fun? Hmm. Let’s have a think…
But you won’t get to an accurate conclusion of how you think your future self will feel making art, especially if you’ve not been getting creative with your hands. All you’ve got is your imagination to work with. Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness suggests surrogation is the most accurate method to work out how we’ll feel in an unknown situation. We do our best by ‘prefeeling’ a situation, but with no actual experience or data, it’s purely our imagination in control.
If a friend tells us they felt amazing drawing more regularly and has experienced many long-lasting benefits – even if they are similar to us in terms of tastes and lifestyle – we doubt it will work for us because we are unique and all individuals. With surrogation, the friend’s experience IS the most accurate gauge of how we’d find it too. Aside from trying it ourselves.
“Our mythical belief in the variability and uniqueness of individuals is the main reason why we refuse to use others as surrogates. After all, surrogation is only useful when we can count on a surrogate to react to an event roughly as we would, and if we believe that people’s emotional reactions are more varied that they actually are, then surrogation will seem less useful to us that it actually is. The irony, of course, is that surrogation is a cheap and effective way to predict one’s future emotions, but because we don’t realize just how similar we all are, we reject this reliable method and rely instead on our imaginations, as flawed and fallible as they may be.” – Daniel Gilbert[emphasis added]
So if you’re undecided about starting a personal project, take action. Start making something and THEN have a think. It’s only once you’ve actually experienced it can you collect data.
Leap into the art-making process: set a 2 minute timer and have a go. See how you feel once you’ve tried it every day for a week. Then 2 weeks, 3… and suddenly you’re on a roll if you’re enjoying yourself. You’ll most likely feel different doing it day one compared to day 7. But you can’t think your way into knowing how you’ll feel day 7. It’s all data-collection.
Facing a blank piece of paper before you’ve started making art can feel very intimidating because where do you even start? An exercise to dive straight into art-making is to use an existing piece of art and edit that instead. Cutout poems are an easy way to make new art because the basic material you can find so easily – the printed text. Austin Kleon creates newspaper blackoutsand encourages us that nothing is original. “Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”
You will need: a magazine, newspapers, book, booklet or any printed material that contains text. A pencil/pen. Optional is a black marker or a scalpel and coloured paper.
Select a small section of text and scan for the words that can connect together to form a new sentence
Draw a box round the words you like and ‘cut-out’ the words you don’t need with your pen or black marker
Jeff Goins agrees that rearrangement is key for the creative mind: “There is a secret every professional artist knows that the amateurs don’t: being original is overrated. The most creative minds in the world are not especially creative; they’re just better at rearrangement.” By giving yourself constraints, you allow yourself to get more creative more easily.
A couple of variations you can try:
Use a layer of coloured paper and cut out the spaces to reveal the words – this is more time consuming than the pen method. Use window glass or light box as a surface to trace where the words, then finally scalpel cut out the boxes
Use different designs of paper as a layer or try painting paper to get a painted effect.
Start with a longer article and create a short story or beginning of a story, expanding on the idea of a poem
After some practice, a rhythm of making the poem emerges. It feels like you’ve cracked a code and you have a sense of satisfaction after finishing each poem. Because you are able to choose any combination of words, it feels like there’s no right or wrong result, just the one you end up with. Cutout poems are completely portable so can be created on the move and in ‘fringe’ times, all you need is some printed paper and a pen in your bag. It’s a quick, nourishing and creative form of ‘entertainment’ and fun and a welcomed alternative to checking your phone in any ‘waiting’ time.
“Transformation that is flattery – taking the things you’ve stolen and making them into your own thing… combine it with your own ideas and thoughts, transform it into something completely new, and then put it out into the world so that we can steal from you.” – Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist
We can be in such a hurry to be better, faster, wiser right NOW that we don’t realise the full potential of a slow evolution process. In art-making the gap between where you are and where you want to be is even more obvious because you can compare side-by-side what you just made to an artist/designer/creator’s master work in seconds. Ira Glass explains this taste comparison; “Your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you… A lot of people never get past this phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.”
In a word of instant gratification, entertainment constantly available at a moments notice, fast food and next day delivery, we are becoming increasingly more impatient. Can my next level of improvement arrive tomorrow please? What the artists’ work you admire so much doesn’t show, is the rich, diverse and challenging journey it took to arrive at that final piece. Their journey wasn’t straightforward or linear. It was full of failure, uncertainty and making bad art. They once stood where you’re standing and didn’t have all the skills they have now. They committed to consistent practice, showing up and making work that wasn’t perfect. It was a slow evolution of development and growth through practice, but you don’t see any evidence of that when you only look at the final work.
“You can’t rush your hatching. It’s dangerous. The results can be disastrous and take a long time to overcome. So savour the simplicity of your pre-dreams-come-true time. Love the egg you’re in. Because not too long from now – and right on time, you’ll be spreading your wings and life will never be the same again.” – Danielle LaPorte
There is no overnight success or hack to get better. It about making a LOT of stuff and then one day far from now, you realising how far you’ve come. Ira Glass encourages us that the phase of not making good enough work is “totally normal.”
“And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.” – Ira Glass
The volume of making work is key. Even a tiny 2 minutes making something every day adds up to 12 hours a year, which becomes more significant in the future (you may currently spend 2 minutes each day unlocking your phone so it’s not a big investment). If you make work every day and compare what you made on January 1st to December 31st, there will be a noticeable difference.
Make work – make a lot of bad work and don’t rush your evolution because the gold lies in your journey.
If you feel terrified at the thought of making art, this is a perfect exercise for you to feel more in control. Danny Gregory in Art Before Breakfast says “Creativity is the act of shaping the mush of the world around us into something – of creating your own order.” You make your own rules. You don’t have to commit to any arrangement so no decision is made in stone. It’s about playing around and seeing what turns up. And because you’re rearranging shapes, you don’t need any creative skills to get started. You can dive right in.
You will need: paper in different colours, photographs, images and text 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 shapes. Squares, triangles and circles are the easiest to start with.
Cut out images. Don’t overthink it, cut it out and add it to the pile.
From your pile of cut out elements, pick some and start arranging on a piece of paper. 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.
Feeling overwhelmed with choice?
Pick one colour and only elements that match it
Only use coloured paper and shapes
Only use two colours or two shapes
Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default
Have a jar/box/folder/somewhere to keep all the things you cut out in one place so you can revisit them quickly for future collages. It becomes your material for another day. Danielle Krysa in Collage says “Generally the actual making of a collage is a quick process – the groundwork of searching and collecting materials having already been put in place.” She encourages us to get collaging considering that “Collage is cheap and accessible to everyone.”
The more you make, the more you learn what you like and don’t like. Practice brings more decisiveness about knowing when your collage is finished.
“So how do you create with no map of where you are going?… Creating in this kind of ambiguous territory can present some definitive challenges, but opening yourself up to the unknown can also be invigorating and deeply revealing… It’s such a naturally human tendency to want to plan and plot. However, the more you flex your brave intuitive muscles, the easier letting go becomes.” – Flora Bowley, Creative Revolution.