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.
If you feel deflated about the art you made today, know that every single time you make something, you’re adding a drip of knowledge, practice and inspiration to your future creative self’s bucket. It may be helpful to imagine your future self as a separate person who you can help through actions taken today. If you make a mistake today, your future self benefits from the knowledge of what not to do, or how to do things better tomorrow.
Sean McCabe encourages that “497 of 500 most popular symphonies were made after the composers 10th year of work. Your best work is ahead. Be excited.” Your best work is only ahead if you take time to practice today. If you continue to make art, years from now your future self will be thankful for the commitment and praising you for your bravery.”
Continue practicing today to give your future self a helping hand.
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.
Is a painting that took weeks to complete any more important than a sketch that took five minutes? You could argue the painting demonstrates more skill and labour because of the extra time spent but when it comes to creativity, more time doesn’t necessarily mean more reward.
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path explains “A sketch that takes five minutes to make can be more complete, expressive, and satisfying than a painting worked and reworked over months. In five minutes you don’t have time to steer too far away from a single idea if you’re on, you can capture the essence in a few strokes, which will make your inspiration vibrantly manifest.”
Don’t underestimate the power of small and don’t assume you have to spend hours working on something for it to be labelled ‘good.’
Doing one small thing every day may not feel like much when you do it, but it adds up over time. Committing to a daily art-making action is a way to x10 your creativity and get you in the rhythm of making something regularly. The writer Jack London encouraged in 1903 to “Set yourself a “stint,” and see that you do that “stint” each day; you will have more words to your credit at the end of the year.”
This echos Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to Brad Isaac on how to do something every day: “He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Set yourself a creative stint or the challenge to make a chain and discover how little adds up to a lot.
Do you believe you are born creative and some people have natural talent, or that creativity is a skill that can be practiced and improved over time? Your answer will reveal whether you have a fixed mindset (natural ability determines skills) or growth mindset (improve is possible) around creativity. With a fixed mindset you believe because you’re not an instant artist, there’s no point putting in more effort. You’ve either got it or you haven’t, which is a very black-and-white way of looking at creativity. This mindset can sabotage further practice which ironically leads to improvement over time, the way mastery is really built.
Mastery doesn’t happen overnight and because we’re not present to witness the hours, weeks, months and years of practice that goes into an professional artist’s journey, we believe it takes far less effort and practice than in reality. We see the shiny results but none of the hard work, effort over time, doubt, uncertainty and self-judgement the artist experienced. We imagine the artist perfect from the start and so there’s no way we can catch them up even if we wanted to. Angela Duckworth in Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance suggests that “a high level of performance is, in fact, an accretion of mundane acts.” Consistent repetitive practice over time builds up. There is no magic sauce you can add to get better quick. She suggests we “prefer our excellence fully formed. We prefer mystery to mundanity… In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us off the hoot. It lets us relax into the status quo.”
If you choose to believe in the instant artist, you buy into a myth of magic and mystery so it’s no wonder you don’t feel you can live up to those standards. Choose instead to believe in the mundane — the act of showing up at a blank page consistently over time to make your art.
The desire to rush your progress is ever present for beginners, (and even full-time artists). You want to get ‘better’ or look like a pro before any significant time or practice has been invested. “How can I jumpstart my art so I’m great NOW?” In a faster paced world we’ve come to expect things to happen quicker – it’s much more convenient and we do so love convenience. Why wait when you can have it all now? But your creative progression doesn’t happen according to a speedy time line. It unfolds s l o w l y, steadily and naturally if you consistently practice.
Evolution doesn’t happen instantly, which is something that Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve explains “More often than not, our creative dreams aren’t launched overnight. They are built gradually.” And if you don’t have much time right now to commit to your practice, that’s okay. As long as you accept that it will be a slower process for you, you can focus on the fun of creating and not worrying about if you’re getting better.
Small adds up as Goins suggests “When you are in a season of life when you can’t dedicate hours a day to your craft, it can feel like you’re standing still. But at those times, when the odds are overwhelming and the busyness is suffocating, you still have something to give. The effort may seem small and insignificant, but the work adds up.” Small is the goal. Instead of asking “Am I improving?” ask “How much art have I made this week.” Quantity beats quality hands down when it comes to growth. Don’t try to rush your evolution because when it comes to art, practicing regularly IS the goal.
“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.” – Danielle LaPorte
Wanting to instantly be good at art or anything new is part of our wiring. The expectations around your improvement progress can be so sky high, that it can stop you from trying again if you don’t match up to those invisible standards. Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve suggests “More often than not, our creative dreams aren’t launched overnight. They are built gradually.” The idea that it’s going to take much much more than a few attempts is not ideal to our brains. We want to get the instant gratification of making something good and when we don’t, the feeling can be very uncomfortable. In this fast paced modern world, you may not have much time to spend on practicing and so the likelihood is that your improvement will be a slow process.
Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.” – Phillip C. McGraw, Life Code
Coons argues “When you are in a season of life when you can’t dedicate hours a day to your craft, it can feel like you’re standing still. But at those times, when the odds are overwhelming and the busyness is suffocating, you still have something to give.” Taking a brick by brick approach to making art, where small adds up is something that Coons agrees with: “The effort may seem small and insignificant, but the work adds up.”
Build things gradually because there’s no extra prize for improving quicker. The satisfaction comes from the journey of art-making – the practice of making art – and not from arriving at an imagined destination. If you have a desire to make art, MAKE ART and embrace your slow evolution. Don’t sabotage the journey before you’ve even got started.