How to draw with your mouth

 

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Using two colours, repeating a flower shape

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.

  1. Hold paper in place with your hands either on a flat surface or against a wall
  2. Clean drawing tool and place in your mouth
  3. Make marks
  4. Clean drawing tool when finished
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Repeating the same wavy line

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.

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Repeating the same flower to create a pattern

“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

How to draw with a multiple pens

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Six felt tips used to create a swirl movement

A playful approach to let go of making ‘good’ art or help release perfectionist tendencies is to use unorthodox tools or methods to make art. Jayson Zaleski talks about play: “Within the process of play there is a freedom to try new things, to take risks, and the latitude to approach the generation of work with whimsy, potentially with humour, with a sense of playfulness. This approach may not produce the highest quality of work, but it does begin to break down self-imposed rules and boundaries.” This experiment gives you less control over the outcome because you’ll be focusing on the tools and keeping them together. It’s a positive distraction to help you get making marks quickly.

You will need: paper and pens, felt tips or coloured pencils. Optional rubber band or sticky tape to hold tools together

  1. Group together your pens/pencils in a bunch so that the tips are flush (none stick out more than others).
  2. Fix together if it makes it easier, otherwise hold them tightly in your hand.
  3. Imagine the bunch is one big tool and make marks as you would with one pen.
  4. Play around with the number of pens and try different colour combinations.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: Nine felt tips created less control / Right: Felt tips used to create a dot effect

Finding it tricky?

  • Use less pens/pencils to start with and add more with practice
  • Move your hand slower
  • Don’t think, just make marks. Even ‘bad marks’ provide information for your next attempt.

Using ‘childhood’ art materials like pens and felt tips also allow less attachment to making ‘real’ art: art that’s been made with paints and more more expensive tools. Taking action and making marks is far more important than the quality of what you make. Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action suggests “The discovery of new forms and significant changes in expression require risk and experimentation with unfamiliar situations, which reliably generate errors and setbacks.”

Trying an unconventional (and fun) approach to making marks offers you space to experiment without worrying about how good anything is. You can just get on making as many crazy and spontaneous patterns as you can.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

How to collage images

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

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.

  1. Cut out images that catch you eye. Don’t overthink: cut out and create a pile.
  2. From your pile, pick images and start arranging. Play around with different combinations without thinking of a final look.
  3. If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
  4. Optional: Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default.

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connectionIdeas 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 Ernst believed “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

How to make patterns with everyday objects

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Created using a circular piece of metal

We love to feel prepared before trying something new because it’s not easy putting ourselves in an unknown situation. It’s uncomfortable. When making art you may think you need to go out and buy lots of ‘good’ art supplies but what if you used what was already in your cupboards at home?

In The Runaway Species Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman talk about raw materials used for creativity “Human creativity does not emerge from a vacuum. We draw on our experience and the raw materials around us to refashion the world.” What if part of the fun was exploring everyday objects to see what marks they could make? In this experiment you do just that and because you don’t need to buy anything new, you can get started straight away.

You will need: paper, paint, a plate and household objects of your choice. Ideas to start you off: cutlery, rubber bands, corks, cardboard, sponges, string etc. The list is endless. Use one paint colour to keep things simple. If you don’t have any paint, use coffee. You can experiment with adding more or less water make it lighter or darker. Use a plate to mix your chosen paint and allow you space to dip your objects onto.

  1. Take your chosen object, dip it in your paint
  2. Experiment making marks!
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: Created using a small piece of plastic. Right: Created using a fork.

Different objects with create completely different marks. The marks made above by a fork required it to be dipped more frequently into the paint so a slower mark-making approach was created. This experimental approach to making marks creates an intuitive way of working as you test making different sizes, shapes and how much paint to use. There is no right or wrong way to make marks, just make them and see what turns up. By using unorthodox painting tools, you lower your expectations around how ‘good’ the marks are. So if you use a fork to paint, you instantly have lower expectations compared to when using a paintbrush.

Flora Bowley in Creative Revolution talks about creating in a kind of “ambiguous territory,” when creating work without a firm plan of where you’re headed. That you will be rewarded for your bravery to “create with no map” and “opening yourself up to the unknown can also be invigorating and deeply revealing. By experimenting using tools where the markmaking results are unpredictable, it allows you to safely let go of outcomes so you can focus on the playful nature of exploring. As Bowley suggests, “the more you flex your brave intuitive muscles, the easier letting go becomes.” Have a look around your home and see what you could use to experiment making your own patterns and marks.

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Created using a small piece of plastic

“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.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Small adds up and 100 day projects

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Progress doesn’t happen overnight and there is no hack to becoming an overnight success at making art. Practice, consistency and commitment are the slow and steady route to growth. But that’s if you can stand it taking time to bridge the gap of where you are and where you want to be.

Practice making something every single day and you will improve over time. Seth Godin says “incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes.” The idea that any progress, even if you hate what you’ve made, will create future improvement is something to remind yourself of when you feel like giving up.

“Keep showing up. If it matters, keep showing up.” – Seth Godin

30 day or 100 day projects allow you a consistency framework to keep you accountable: Make something every day for X days and you can only stop once you’ve reached the final day. The great thing about this approach is a pile of work is created by taking a small creative action daily.

By focusing on the small, we let ourselves off the hook of only looking for big leaps in our progress. We don’t expect plants to instantly sprout from a planted seed, it takes time just to grow the roots. See your own daily project as an way to grow your invisible creative roots and focus solely instead on the enjoyment you get from making something.

Sketchbooks and notebooks and overcoming the first page hurdle

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

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.

“You’ll get “better” at it all by yourself. If it’s fun, you’ll do it more often. And if you do it more often, you’ll do it well.” – Felix Scheinberger, Dare to Sketch

The point of having a sketch or notebook is to use it regularly as a creative tool. It’s not made of fine china so don’t treat it like it is.

Dream it and then go make art

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Is there anything you can take from your dreams to spark an idea, piece or project? The beginning plot for a story or poem? Could you make a poem about what happened? Or draw a cartoon of a scene, draw a picture or use shapes and colours to represent what you experienced? Vincent Van Gogh’s famous quote “I dream my painting and I paint my dream,” speaks of the possible relationship between dreams and art-making. Mark Chagall advice to David Cethlahe Paladin was “Listen to the story, dream it, and paint the dream”

Does anything spark your curiosity? If you dream of birds – go find a book on birds and flick through it, watch for them in real life or doodle wings. Notice patterns and reoccurring themes. There’s a whole world of dream analysis but for this purpose, see you dream as a movie you directed and mine it for inspiration. What would the poster for your dream movie look like? What category of film is it? What are the main themes?

Your dreams can hold a lot of information if you can remember them. Keep a notepad within reaching distance from bed so you can note down any details immediately when you wake. It’s more likely you’ll remember them then compared to later in the day.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

How to collage typography

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Finished rearrangement of the original below

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.

  1. Divide your chosen text into squares of equal sizes and cut out
  2. Optional: Use pencil and ruler on the back if you don’t want to do it by eye
  3. Rearrange the squares into a new arrangement
  4. Optional: fix in place with glue
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: original printed typography found in a magazine. Right: image cut into equal squares, ready for rearrangement

Why not try cutting different size shapes and then fit things together like an abstract jigsaw puzzle. Play around creating more irregular shapes and arrangements that aren’t so neat and square. Cecil Touchon uses a similar process to create his Typography Abstraction art and so ‘frees the letters from their burden of being bearers of meaning.’

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

Collaging and cutouts by Matisse

The Sparkle Experiment Matisse Cutouts collage

The cut-outs by Henri Matisse are some of his most colourful and playful work, made simply with paper and scissors. He even created some art from bed as his health deteriorated. It’s inspiring that he continued to make art into his 80’s and right up to the very end and was still doing it with such passion and commitment.

“During the last decade of his life Henri Matisse deployed two simple materials—white paper and gouache—to create works of wide-ranging color and complexity. An unorthodox implement, a pair of scissors, was the tool Matisse used to transform paint and paper into a world of plants, animals, figures, and shapes… He described the process of making them as both “cutting directly into color” and “drawing with scissors.” – MoMA explaining Matisse’s process

The Sparkle Experiment Matisse Cutouts collage

In Matisse A Cut Above the Rest as part of BBC The Culture Show 2014, his work was referred to as “Simple, almost childish, blazing with colour,” and “He had the audacity of simplicity.”

The simplest of ideas is usually the best. We tend to over-complicate, wanting things to be more complex in order to be ‘good’. Danielle Krysa in Collage, reminds us “You don’t need any fancy equipment or a workshop full of tools – every household has a pair of scissors and some glue or adhesive tape. In the book she interviewed Anthony Zinonos, who spoke of a special relationship with his tools: “My scissors and glue have become my best friends, they never judge me.”

The Sparkle Experiment

Spending time moving paper around with no final outcome in mind can be very meditative. It creates an intuitive, loose method working as nothing has to be fixed in place until you’ve settled on a final look. Even then you can take a photo of the arrangement and not commit to sticking it permanently which is perfect if you change your mind a lot!

Start small: Pick a few colours, cut some basic shapes and have a play. Either use a timer to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default. Or use the intuitive method of feeling when it’s ‘done.’ There are no rules when it comes to collage.

Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical

The Sparkle Experiment creativity make art leap

Considering starting a creative project? “That sounds great,” you think. But time passes and nothing happens. You’ve been wondering about it though. Is it worth spending your time and energy on this thing that seemed small and easy at first, but now seems much bigger?

Advice? DO IT. Take action and THEN have a think.

Wondering if you’ll like it won’t give you the whole picture because you only know what you know (i.e if you haven’t tried, how can you really know?). And what if this little project is the beginning of something magic? Compare that to taking action and finding out exactly how you feel. That’s a lot more data to work with and more accurate than looking into your imaginary crystal ball.

In Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg asks us not to think:

“Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)” [emphasis added]

Advice not just relevant for writers, but for any art-makers.

How to start? Jump in for 2 minutes: set a timer and start making. But only for 2 minutes so your ego doesn’t talk you out of it. Commit to repeating this daily for a week. Then see if you can do 2 weeks. Maybe you’ll start to feel 2 minutes isn’t long enough, maybe you get on a roll and surprise yourself. You’ll most likely feel different doing it on day 1 compared to day 7, gaining a dash of confidence along the way. If you can get over the scary hump of “I’m rubbish at this, what’s the point?” then magic is waiting for you (hint: the answer is to regularly show up in those 2 minutes).

How to collage

The Sparkle Experiment
Cutting different coloured shapes from origami paper

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.

  1. Cut out shapes. Squares, triangles and circles are the easiest to start with.
  2. Cut out images. Don’t overthink it, cut it out and add it to the pile.
  3. 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.
  4. If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
The Sparkle Experiment Collage
Images sourced from the book ‘In Vogue: Six Decades of Fashion,’ published 1975

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.

Collage 01
Using old photographs to create fun collages

“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.

How to do a blind drawing

The Sparkle Experiment Blind Contour Drawing
Created using a 1/2 blind drawing approach

Sometimes when getting creative, we get caught up in judging our art before we’ve even finished making it. Focused on wanting to make something ‘good,’ we limit our potential by having such a low tolerance for ‘mistakes’. There is so much potential in making strange and weird marks, allowing for spontaneity and happy accidents, that making bad art is a way to get better a making good art. Sam Anderson suggests blind drawing is “the fastest way to break them out of old bad habits, to make them unlearn lifeless conventions.” As well as being “Joyful and meditative…you can do it anywhere, anytime, with any subject. It will flip you, like a switch, from absence to presence.” It’s a kind of active meditation where you let go of the outcome and get very still while drawing.

You will need: paper and a pencil or pen. Optional board or book to fix the paper to, if you find the paper keeps slipping.

  1. Fix your gaze on your chosen subject and without looking at your paper, slowly draw what you see
  2. Take your time to finish your drawing without looking at your paper

Kimon Nicolaides reminds us that “a contour study is not a thing that can be ‘finished.’ It is having a particular type of experience, which can continue as long as you have the patience to look.”

The Sparkle Experiment Blind Contour Drawing

A couple of variations you can try:

  • close your eyes and draw from your imagination
  • set a timer and draw until it goes off
  • Place the paper within your peripheral vision so that it’s still fuzzy but you can see where your pen is in relation to the paper. This creates a sort of 1/2 blind drawing, allowing more control
  • Use your non-dominant hand to draw and either choose to look at what you’re drawing, or not. Be prepared for some fun mark making!

Your first attempt is likely to make you laugh because it will be so strange and bad but that’s exactly the point. Art should be about having fun and letting go. Blind drawing is a wonderful exercise in letting go, embracing bad art and getting clumsy like Piasso. But with practice comes improvement, more speed and confident according to Felix Scheinberger.  “As strange as it may seem, blind contour drawing will teach you to observe more closely and to draw more confidently.”

“Lately I’ve been experimenting a lot with “un-perfecting” as a way to loosen up, embrace the grit, and explore new kinds of energy in my paintings. While a highly refined painting can certainly be lovely, I find raw, messy, human expression and experience to be incredibly compelling – and refreshing… One way to achieve this kind of less controlled look is to explore using your nondominant hand.”Flora Bowley, Creative Revolution.