Bad drawings are the best teachers

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Why does it feel uncomfortable to make a ‘bad’ drawing? Does it really matter if a drawing isn’t any ‘good,’ if lines are wonky or in the ‘wrong’ place? What if there’s magic in the ‘badness’ of the art and in order to progress you had to first make a huge pile of bad drawings?

Danny Gregory in Art Before Breakfast encourages “Bad drawings are the best teachers. Every drawing has one great part, maybe just a line or a curve, a record of a moment when we were fully engaged. But we are not looking for perfection; we are seeking mistakes. If you somehow did knock out a perfect, near-photographic drawing, then what? What would it teach you, that hole in one? Would the journey be over?”

A hole-in-one drawing might theoretically seem like the best outcome, but it doesn’t leave any space to wander, explore and experiment. It’s those adjectives that make the creative process so interesting and rewarding. Why not try embracing the idea of making lots of bad drawings and see where the journey takes you.

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Setting up an art space work-place

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Finding a physical space to get creative in, is an important first step in the creative process. While some artists will have a dedicated studio to work from, any small, designated space can provide an ample environment for creating in. While creating on the move is just as good a way to make art, being able to settle into a carved out space may help nudge out creativity on a regular basis.

Shaun McNiff in Trust the Process offers that setting up a workplace is vital as “the environment has a significant impact on expression.” Having a space to create in is a “grounding influence and a partner through every phase of expression.” Viewing the creative space as a helpful partner may provide some comfort, especially when navigating the unknown—and often challenging—experience of making art. McNiff sees his artistic work-space as “a sanctuary, a place at home where creative expression is nourished and regenerated.”

And if space is limited, a temporary sanctuary can be created using a tray with art supplies. If you enjoying making art stood up, tape paper to a wall and use that as your canvas space. If you prefer sitting down, any chair or sofa setting with paper and pen on your lap (or placed on the tray) can become your workspace—a workspace that moves to suit your daily life. Follow McNiff’s advice and go set up your space to get creative process moving,

A mountain shaped pile of ideas

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Generating new ideas can be an exciting stage in the creative process, when anything is still possible and optimism for success is at its highest. It can simultaneously be a disappointing stage, if no idea is deemed ‘good enough, to put into practice. When making art, the possibilities are endless as to what to make, which materials to use and the approach to take. With all that endless possibility, any small idea can be easily instantly dismissed if the belief is ideas should always be big, bold and impressive. The reality is nothing is original and everything has already been done before so no idea can be completely revolutionary. Small and simple ideas can even be more effective than big and bold ones. But that’s okay because now we can get on with making an unoriginal thing, lowering the bar of expectation to a workable height.

How can we free ourselves from unachievable levels of expectation on our art? Come up with a mountain of ideas. Spend time to write down as many ideas as possible. Set a time for 5 minutes and don’t overthink, just write. Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize winner said “The best way to have a good idea, is to have lots of ideas.” The pool of possibility is limited if you stop at 5 ideas because it’s more likely the mind will resort to more obvious ones first. With a goal of, say 100 ideas, that’s when things can get weird and wonderful. The large number forces you to think in divergent and unexpected ways. By idea 50 you’ve written done everything obvious and have begun ‘scrambling’ for more. Now things are getting interesting as the mind starts searching for unusual connections in an attempt to complete the idea-collation challenge.

Quantity of ideas is a better strategy compared to trying to come up with 1 or 2 ‘best’ ideas. That may keep you stuck because that bar or expectation will keep rising up in the face of ideas judged to be sub-par. As Albert Einstein suggests, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Judging art during the making process

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

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.

The hidden rules of ‘good’ art

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

We all have biases and judgments about what we consider to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art. When making art it’s important to question why you choose to label something as good or bad, especially because you may not even realise the real reason why. Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy explain “Ideas about what is ‘good’ art are not formed by themselves. They are the result of complex systems of patronage, ideology, money and education, supported by university courses and museums, all of which guide our sense of what makes a work of art especially worthy of attention.”

Simply put, your beliefs around what art is ‘good’ are comprised by other people, institutes and industries beliefs. How could you not be influenced when viewing ‘successful’ art in a national gallery space, building a visual set of rules about what constitutes ‘good art?’ Just because someone else believe X artwork is brilliant, doesn’t mean their opinion is the hard and fast rule of good/bad. This is worth questioning because having the courage to make your own art may bring up black and white rules and discourage you from making more art if you don’t seem to measuring up to an invisible standard that’s been subconsciously bought into.

Make your own rules about the art you make and measure ‘good’ by the amount of enjoyment you feel when making the art. That’s a far more accurate (and kinder) measure of attention.