Hanging around, waiting for inspiration to strike can be a fruitless exercise, especially when it’s not inspirations job to find you. It’s your job to notice something around you, get curious, follow the thread of curiosity and physically make something. Don’t worry about what the next ‘right’ thing to make is (that could stop you from making anything at all). Instead, make something—anything—in order to find out if you’re inspired by it. You’ll collect much richer and accurate data about preferences and the real-time experience once you’ve physically made something, compared to only thinking about it.
Lynda Barry in Syllabus explains “We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practices rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory’, but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about.”
Inspiration grows through repeated practice and experiments. It’s more likely to find you while you’re playing around with making something. This is your call to immediate action.
Worrying about the worth of your art can turn into a black hole of negative thinking if you continue to ruminate over it. No singular small sketch, drawing or piece of art will ever be visually ‘worthy’ if your expectations for the outcome are sky high to begin with. That’s a lot of pressure on one small singular piece of art. Having high expectations can also stop you from making anything at all, when the options of what to make are infinite. Constraints are your lifeline in this case.
Overthinking about what to make next is unhelpful to the inner artist. There needs to be space for the unexpected, unplanned moments and ‘happy accidents’ that all are as useful a creativity tool as drawing something ‘perfectly.’ A spontaneous drawing of a pavement crack is no less worthy than a realistic drawing of a person. They are only different expressions of art. You cannot know where the perceived ‘lesser value’ pavement crack drawing will take you. Lynda Barry in Syllabus contemplates on students asking her what things are worth drawing or writing about: “I don’t believe THINKING can give you the answer to this. Though it feels like it can long enough to stop us from trying… Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we make cannot demonstrate it’s worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way.”
If you’re still sat staring at a blank piece of paper thinking about what the best next thing to make it is, stop immediately. Instead, start to make marks on the paper, pick a prompt or draw the first thing you see in the room. Any fast trick to get you from inaction to action is the best way to work out what art you want to make next. Making anything is better than being immobilised.
Imagining how you’d feel making art before starting you’d think would be an accurate indicator of the reality. Ignoring the fact that the last time you were creative may have been in childhood, it’s likely you don’t have accurate data to work with. Thinking or ‘prefeeling’ can only get you so far. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness warns that prefeeling has its limits: “Each of us is trapped in a place, a time and a circumstance, and our attempts to use our minds to transcend those boundaries are, more often than not, ineffective… we think we are thinking outside the box only because we can’t see how big the box really is. Imagination cannot easily transcend the boundaries of the present, and one reason for this is that it must borrow machinery that is owned by perception. The fact that these two processes must run on the same platform means that we are sometimes confused about which one is running. We assume that what we feel as we imagine the future is what we’ll feel when we get there, but in fact, what we feel as we imagine the future is often a response to what’s happening in the present.”
If you currently don’t make art then you’re most likely sitting in a very small ‘making art’ box. Your present is art-making free, thus what you imagine in the future is based on limited art-making experience. Deepak Chopra and Mena Kafatos in You Are the Universe speak of the minds’ limitations around transformation: “There’s a huge roadblock to such dreams of renewal, and it’s the second problem we face when approaching reality as a whole. The limited mind cannot do it. It cannot think it’s way to renewal, imagine it’s way, feel, see or touch that transformation would be like. The linkage between the uncertain universe and the mind that created it is as strong as iron. In other words, if the mind is trapped in its own perceptions, how can the same mind free itself?”
How can you free your mind from its limited perceptions around making art when you don’t currently make any art? MAKE ART! Take action by making something and note how it feels. That data is infinitely more useful than trying to think, imaging or prefeel your way into knowing. You can’t know if you don’t try and this is your call to action to make some art today. Let’s see if we can transform the size of the box beyond your expectations.
Developing a style, improving or honing your art-making craft is not something that happens overnight. Before you make something new, the desire to be prepared before taking any action can be strong. Why not research how other people have done it before you start? Doesn’t it make sense for you to have a clearer understanding of how to do things ‘right?’ Not really, given there are no official rules to making art (only self-imposed rules/beliefs) and the best way to develop your craft is to get busy making stuff.
Eric Maisel in Creativity for Life encourages “Craft is doing. You learn to write by writing, you learn to paint by painting. The creative life comes with a long apprenticeship that begins with “first paintings” and “first drawings” and continues throughout an artist’s career, as each new piece poses its questions and makes its demands. You learn your craft by doing: there is no substitute for getting to the work.” Whether you’re building an art career or making art for fun, development comes from action,
There are times when you feel stuck and need to step away from your art in order to let your subconcious ‘work’ on it and not-doing can be as important as doing. But thinking harder and doing more research won’t necessarily get you closer to honing your craft. Maisel explains “It is fine to give credence to the idea that we must incubate work and that therefore there will be times when we are not actually working, But we must give at least as much credence to the idea that without doing a ton of work we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.” You can’t think your way to developing craft. Endlessly researching what brand of materials to use or how to draw/paint/make something without taking any action won’t get you far. It’s far better to dive in and start making than to wait until you feel ‘ready’ to start.
Starting can feel like facing a huge mountain to climb. But it looks bigger looking up from the bottom and after a few steps, the climb of developing craft won’t feel as steep as you get into the swing of things. Take action and keep repeating.
If you are currently asking “What is worth my time drawing?” the answer cannot be found by thinking about it. Trying to think your way into knowing will only get you further away from an answer. The answer is always to take action immediately and make something—ANYTHING—and stop questioning its potential value.
Lynda Barry in Syllabus explains “We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practices rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory’, but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we make cannot demonstrate it’s worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way. [emphasis added].
Inspiration about what to draw next won’t always pop into your head before you pick up a pen. Most of the time inspiration finds us when we’re busy making art by responding to that thing we’ve just made. Thinking keeps us stalled while taking action is an invitation for inspiration to show up.
When you begin to make art as adult, it can be daunting deciding what to make next. Three things to bear in mind:
- There is no wrong decision
- No time making art is ever wasted (even if you think the result is a failure)
- Taking action will reveal the next step
You can get stuck procrastinating over what to draw/make/paint next when the answer may pop up whilst you’re taking action. In other words, make something – anything – and while you’re making it, notice what you enjoy most about the process. Say you start drawing a plant and feel satisfaction from moving the pencil in a curved motion. That feedback could lead to the next drawing, where you make more marks that mimic those curves. You then start looking for more curved objects to draw and this reveals more of the path to follow.
You cannot know what the next step is unless you’ve taken the previous step and standing still halts the creative process. Take action by making your art and keep repeating to discover more of your path.
If you had 3 creative wishes, what would you wish for?
- To draw better?
- To feel more confident about making art?
- To be able to paint?
- To write better?
- To make something you’re proud of?
- To be good at ________ skill?
- To be more creative regularly?
You can pick any of the above and take your first step today. Actually make something. Anything. Taking action is better than just thinking about it. Go make something messy today. Your wish may not happen automatically like it would with a magic wand, buthrough practice and time comes change.
But if the joy, excitement, curiosity, fun and satisfaction is to be found along the way and during the learning of the skill, why miss out on all that good stuff? You don’t need a magic wand because you have everything you need already to get started right now.