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.
Do you feel you have no time to make art? If you think you need to schedule a whole afternoon for art-making to get anything of value made, you don’t. Instead of setting aside large blocks of time, focus on finding small daily gaps. You may be underestimating the value 5 minutes could bring–or overestimating the value of 2 hours). It’s better to practice frequently in smaller amounts than to practice infrequently in a longer session where you may feel more pressure to make something ‘good.’
How can we find smaller daily blocks of time? Beth Pickens in Your Art Will Save Your Life suggests “Be honest with yourself about the amount of time devoted to feeling bad on the internet and social media, watching television, having anxious thoughts about life, gossiping, or sending mind-numbing texts to dozens of people about the minutiae of your day. These time sucks are ripe for relinquishing in favor of making art.” 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there all add up over time. The time spent consuming (media) can be reclaimed as time for making. Many smart phones now give you a breakdown of time spent on your phone so check in and see the real figures of the time you spend online. If you can spend hours on online “time sucks,” you can find 5 minutes to practice making art.
As Pickens points out, “Your practice deserves practice,” and it won’t happen unless you get intentional about spending time on it. Over time those small time investments add up to something much bigger.
Self-critiquing allows reflection on current progress but it is also is a tool for your future self. Looking at thoughts about past art allows you to spot development over time. While visually the art may have improved or changed, it’s the insight into how you felt at the time—your inner world—that can provide valuable feedback. If when making some of the first drawing attempts, you wrote how unconfident you felt, today you may have forgotten how nervous you were back then. Comparing against the past self, you recognised today you don’t feel as nervous and so your inner world has changed. Many small steps of progress that can’t be measured visually can be overlooked or ignored, but they add up in big ways over time. It could be argued that this inner development is more important than the visual improvement of the art: when inner confidence is grown, effects other areas of life in a positive way.
Get into the practice of regularly writing a small critique for some of the art your make. If you’re drawing in a journal, consider writing a note next the the art, or if on paper, write it on the back. Otherwise write on a post-it note and stick that on the work. Or use a seperate journal/notebook but make sure to date art as you make it so it’s easy refer back to specific pieces when writing about them in your notebook. Dean Nimmer in Art From Intuition suggests “Your sketchbook can also be a good place to write down notes to yourself about any topics that relate to your art, or to your creative process. For example, writing down self-critiques about what you think of your own work.”
Self-critiquing: While every ‘mistake’ in an artwork can be glaring obvious, feedback only why something is ‘bad’ isn’t as useful (or kind) as constructive feedback. If a friend asks for feedback on a drawing, you wouldn’t list all things wrong with it. You’d want to encourage them by focusing on the positive aspects of the art. You should offer the same encouragment for yourself. A helpful comment might look like: “It was tricky deciding on the colours. I like the blue corner best because its bright and I enjoying making it. The red area looks messy. I felt better using colours but want to work on drawing smaller details. I enjoyed the sensation of drawing the curves.” Or a shorter version: “Fun to make, love the squiggles, enjoyed making while listing to x music. Want to do more like this.”
However you choose to critique yourself, remember to be kind and compassionate. Making art takes a great deal of courage as an adult so there’s no need for harsh judgements. We are all doing our creative best and that’s good enough.
Major improvements to creativity confidence and art-making skills cannot happen overnight. We intellectually understand this, that you don’t go from nervous amateur to confident master in the course of a making few drawings. But why then, immediately after making something, do you expect to see something “better,” more finessed and perhaps even worthy of being hung in a gallery? Why are we so disappointed when what we’ve made doesn’t match the imagined image in our minds? We can get disappointed after only a handful of art-making sessions because we’re essentially expecting to run before we can walk.
The only pathway to improvement is small, consistent steps over a period of time. Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path explains “You wouldn’t try to run a marathon without running a little every day. Making art is the same. You’ve got to keep at it, keep trying to increase your strength, stretch your imagination, and practice the language. You’ve got to do it constantly…. remember that preparation is an invaluable part of any pursuit, and being physically conditioned and relaxed is a prerequisite to good work. Don’t deny yourself this opportunity.”
Are you allowing plenty of space and time for your inner artist to grow gently? Commit to making a small piece of art every day and let of the expectation to be “better” immediately.
4 steps to becoming more creative:
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!
We long for progress and improvement when making our art. The desire to fast-forward through being a ‘lost’ and shaky beginner is strong. The mind wants us to master things far quicker than what is actually physically possible. It’s going to take time and regular practice to make space for the grown to occur. You don’t plant a seed and then wonder why it hasn’t instantly grown into a fully-fledged flower. That would defy the laws of nature! You understand that some things take time to develop and your art-making practice is no different.
On the Take the Upgrade podcast, Leanne Peterson invites us to think about where we’re feeling we should be ahead of where we are and encourages “instead of getting mad at ourselves, we should be honouring the version of us that we are, that is going to enable us to grow into the version that we see ahead of us that we know we’re capable of.”
She uses the example of her son learning to walk: “I don’t get mad at my son right now because he can’t run. I’m excited that he’s taking little tiny baby steps to walk so that some day he can run. And I think a lot of us can almost picture ourselves running but we’re still in the baby step phase and then we’re mad at ourselves that we’re not running.”
Peterson’s advice on how to overcome the frustration of growing through tiny steps? give yourself “a) room to grow in, b) a direction to grow but c) grace while your growing in. Can I have grace for myself and my mistakes as I’m evolving into the version of me I see? Versus disqualifying myself because I’m not as good as the 10-year-from-now version which was built on the version I am today.”
Who you are today is the foundation for who you will be in the future. Similar to how Rome wasn’t built in a day – it took time – the same goes for your art evolution because it will be built on the foundations of 1000’s of little tiny steps.
“From Little Acorns Do Mighty Oaks Grow” goes the English proverb. This may be a helpful mindset to adopt when you’re making art as an adult. Instead of judging every little mistake, mark or piece of work as not being good enough, see each thing you make as a tiny seed. It takes a lot of time and water to become fully grown and its impossible to transform into a tree overnight (unless you have magic beans and live in a fairytale).
Robert Louis Stevenson advises “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Your art doesn’t need a harsh judgmental critic. It needs a kind and positive cheerleader to give encouragement and support so that you’ll continue making art. An acorn is no less important or valuable than a tree even though it is smaller in size. In the same way your beginner art is just a different stage to the art you’ll make years from now. Both have their merits and show creativity. But if you’re enjoying the process then that’s all that really matters.