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.
Getting into an open frame of mind is essential before embarking on drawing as an adult. With limited experience beyond art classes at school, it’s going to be a challenge to get through early attempts making marks on a black page. The challenge lies in subconscious expectations about what ‘good’ art looks like and if similar art that speaks of ‘good’ or demonstrates skill isn’t made instantly, the mind will have a field day judging every single mark made. The belief you’re either born with creative talent or not will limit any future potential and may even halt the art making process entirely. Talent can only get you so far and doesn’t always produce the most interesting art, while ‘mistakes‘ and messiness can have more expression and aliveness to them. With this in mind, it seems illogical to focus only on things being perfect and ordered so having an open mind to what is ‘good’ is essential moving forwards creatively.
In Drawing Portraits by Henry Carr, written in 1961, he suggests that for students who have a natural ability to draw beyond the average, it can be a danger to have such ease: “Not having to work so hard at drawing they tend to become superficial.” The really important aspect, is to have “overwhelming interest.” This interest will help you persevering in the face of failure and disappointment. Carr encourages that “Things that have to be acquired by great effort are sweeter than free gifts.”
Be intrigued by your chosen subject and use that interest to fuel the fire whenever you feel disheartened. You don’t have to be perfect to continue because ‘superficial drawings’ are not the goal—the process of drawing something from scratch is.
When getting creative, it’s important not to judge artwork during the actual process of making, and instead to focus on the action taking place. Evaluating artwork before it’s finished takes you from being present in the moment of creating, into a judgmental (often emotinally challenging) position of editor and critic. The added pressure of evaluating everything while in the creative mode could turn into second-guessing every mark made and force you to be cautious about getting anything ‘wrong’ at all. Artwork could be prematurely rejected before even finishing which could limit unexpected discoveries or the space to practice.
A constant judging-while-making-process doesn’t help you develop as an artist, encourage ‘bad’ art, messy mistakes or allow for the unexpected. The judgmental editor thinks it’s helping by critiquing the artwork but actually is limiting potential growth and improvement. Shut the editor down and focus on the making. It’s the way to improvement in the long run.
Make marks with paper and pen.
Make anything, it doesn’t matter.
Don’t call it art if that’s too intimidating.
Instead, call it the-thing-I-made.
Don’t focus on the entirety of the-thing-I-made, if it’s ‘good’ or if it ‘works.’
Instead, look for the tiniest of interesting areas details.
A curve of a shape, a criss-cross of lines, an unexpected smudge.
Cut up the work and keep just those details if you like.
Any ‘mistakes’ can give you feedback.
Repeat this process regularly.
“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out,” – Robert Collier
We need your bonkers ideas and your crazy art! Sometimes it’s the crazy ideas that fuels creativity more forcefully than the ‘normal’ safe ones. Crazy and bonkers might also inspire others a little bit louder and who knows where it could lead to.
“Change the world with your brilliant and bonkers ideas!” That’s what Little Inventors wants: helping kids by encouraging inventive thinking. It connects kid inventors to skilled grown ups who make their ideas work in real life: workable models of the brilliant and bonkers ideas. The founder of the project Dominic Wilcox says in this behind the scenes video “I think we’re all born creative but some people say “Oh I’m not creative.” But that’s not true, you were creative when you were a child, you’ve just lost it… by going through the education system and then the work as an adult. Your mind gets a little bit limited and restricted and you get a bit self-conscoius suddenly your creativity can be lost.”
If you feel your creativity is lost right now, know it’s never completely gone. You can always find your way back to it, whenever you’re ready. Start by picking up a pencil and paper and making some marks. Any marks – messy ones, bad unperfected ones, ones full of mistakes and rough ideas. Because making anything is always better than making nothing at all. And who knows where it could all lead to.
Ps. Dominic Wilcox has a Ted talk on his project called Turning children’s imagination into reality.
There’s no better time than the present moment to start making art. Here’s what you need to do:
- Get a pen and paper or whatever is lying around nearby – old receipts and envelopes work just as well as blank paper.
- Make some marks for 2 minutes. Increase time as you progress.
- Repeat daily. Voila, you’ve begun making art!
Stuck as to what to draw? What’s in front of you: food, pets, family, faces, plants, shoes or possessions. From your imagination: doodles, cartoons, dreams, patterns, shapes or words. Fun experiments: blind drawings, using your non-dominant hand, foot or mouth, dot to dot, use a stick or draw in the dark.
If you’re silently expecting to be as good as artists like Da Vinci or O’Keeffe right away, you’re going to be VERY disappointed. Your art will be messy, ‘bad’ and gloriously filled with wonderful mistakes (aka learning potential). Focus on the fun making something out of nothing and continue in the face of disappointment that you’re not a master artist immediately. It takes time and a lot of practice to move past the beginner artist stage, but this stage is the most exciting and messy because everything is new and you can make your own rules as you go. Embrace the fun of being a beginner!
“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” — Robert Collier
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.
On the whole, we don’t like making mistakes. We may take them to mean we’ve failed or that we’re no good. When making art, thoughts like this can stop any future practice taking place altogether. This is a shame because mistakes are a valuable creative tool and a vital part of creativity. So what if we re-framed ‘mistakes’ to mean a twist or unexpected event? The illustrator Ralph Steadman was quoted talking about his art “People used to say, ‘Don’t you make a mistake?’ But there’s no such thing as a mistake, only an opportunity to do something else, change, adapt it as you go along.”
The artist Robert Motherwell encourages his mistakes “I begin a painting with a series of mistakes. The painting comes out of the correction of mistakes by feeling. I begin with shapes and colors which are not related internally nor to the external world; I work without images. Ultimate unifications come about through modulations of the surface by innumerable trials and efforts.”
What if you started off making art purposely making mistakes and see where it leads? Who knows what interesting things you may discover.
“The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal – it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.” – Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc