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.
If you accepted the challenge to draw more often, what kind of marks do you visualise making and of what types of subjects or objects? The idea of what we should draw can keep us from making any marks at all – especially if a perfectly photo-realistic pencil portrait is what you consider drawing to be. The Oxford Complete Wordfinder defines ‘drawing’ as “a picture, depiction, representation, sketch, plan, outline, design, composition, monochrome, cartoon.” That definition covers a very wide range of possible marks and styles. With no mention about how realistic the drawing needs to be, how closely it reflects reality, you are free to pursue drawing without any refined technical skills.
David Maclagan in Line Let Loose suggests an endless range of drawing possibilities: “Drawings are records, observations, discoveries and inventions, sometimes all at once.” If you widen your definition for what drawing can be, a whole world of possibilities opens up. Possibilities may include ‘bad’, messy, childish, spontaneous, quick and colourful marks, plus any other marks that surface during the making process.
Can you cultivate mindfulness while making art? What is mindfulness and how do you go about being more mindful? Nhat Hanh Thich in The Art of Mindfulness explains “It is very simple and also very challenging. The practice of mindfulness requires only that whatever you do, you do with your whole being. You have to invest one hundred percent of yourself in doing even very simple things, like picking up a pen, opening a book, or lighting a stick of incense.”
He suggests pouring tea into a cup can become an act of meditation, if done with mindfulness: “Everyone knows how to pour tea… but not everyone pours mindfully and drinks tea mindfully. This is because we have a tendency to run away from the here and now.” If mindfulness can be applied to pouring tea, then it can be also applied to making art. What would giving 100% of yourself look like when being creative? Focusing attention on the physical action of making art is all it takes to be mindful. A simple concept that takes practice to get used to. Being able to repeat the process on a regular basis may be the hardest part of the practice.
“It is not simply the brightest who have the best ideas; it is those who are best at harvesting ideas from others. It is not only the most determined who drive change; it is those who most fully engage with like-minded people. And it is not wealth or prestige that best motivates people; it is respect and help from peers.” — Alex Pentland
Sometimes a small reframe of a word to can make a surprisingly big difference. Take for example when making art – creating. You may not have any objections to the word create, or it could be it has a negative connotation (perhaps even subconsciously). If someone once told us years ago we weren’t good at art, the belief of not being creative may still be with us unchecked today. Or perhaps the idea of creating something at all feels like too much pressure – the pressure of making something original or really good. It would be easier to make nothing at all in that case.
A reframe might be in order to get you from not making art, to making it with less pressure. If you have any hesitation around the word create, try using instead ‘curiously react.’ It essentially means the same thing except it may not have any of those negative thoughts attached to it. You’re getting curious about making marks and then reacting to those marks to make more ones in the future. The ego-mind can’t argue with that, but it will argue about whether you’re creative or not.
Reframe the action of creating and see if it helps you get curiously reactive.
“Chase and track down passion.”
When drawing or making art, snap judgments can be made about the quality or successful of the art. Labels such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can quickly be added to art, even while in the process of making it. It’s challenging to let go of the labels that pop up while creating, labels that make you feel disheartened and may even make you force you to question continuing. How can move through these moments of doubt in order to continue the joyful experience of making art?
Henepola Gunaratana in Mindfulness in Plain English suggests to see things as they really are: “… we do not mean seeing things superficially, with our regular eyes, but seeing things as they are in themselves, with wisdom.” Can we look at the art with deeper wisdom that is more forgiving that the judgemental voice in our minds? The wisdom that knows you’re not an expert and that the art doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. It knows the joy is found within the process and not in the visual outcome of the art.
Gunaratana encourages “Don’t cling to anything, and don’t reject anything. Let come what comes, and accommodate yourself to that, whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad mental images arise, that is find, too. Look on all of it as equal, and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don’t fight with what you experience, just observe it mindfully. Let the judgements sit with you, don’t hurry them away. Before long you may find they start to quieten and slip away as you get into the momentum of making.