Believing you’re not creative is the only mistake you can make when it comes to making art. We tend to think of art ‘mistakes’ as making a mess, drawing inaccurately or failing to reproduce the image in your head. But those mistakes are learning curves, unexpected lines for further experiments and the potential for messy fun. But believing you’re not creative limits the chance to explore your creativity further.
While children embrace the art making process with no thoughts around if they’re good or not, many adults firmly believe they can’t draw. But Graham Shaw in his TEDxHull talk argues “When people say they can’t draw I think it’s more to do with beliefs rather than talent and ability. So I think when you say you can’t draw, that’s just an illusion.” He suggest that you only need two things to draw: “One is have an open mind… and two, just be prepared to have a go.”
If you allowed yourself to explore your creativity, who knows what beliefs you might change for the better.
“How many other beliefs and limiting thoughts do we all carry around with us everyday? Beliefs that we could perhaps potential challenge and think differently about. And if we did challenge those beliefs and think differently about them, apart from drawing, what else would be possible for us all.” — Graham Shaw
Sometimes you’ll make art you like and will want to keep it and other times you’ll instantly want to throw it in the bin. It’s okay to feel that way but before you do throw anything out, consider using the rejected art as a starting point for new art.
Having a pile of rejected bin can be a helpful source to mine from. Why not use the art as a background, cut it up, tear bits off. draw over or reassemble to make something new. You don’t have to start with something ‘good’ to make something interesting. The fact the binned art was initially rejected may help lower your expectations to make anything ‘good’ and instead make unexpected art for the fun of it.
It’s a challenge to let go of wanting to be good at something new and making art is no exception. It’s a very human trait to want to make only ‘good’ art. Our ego doesn’t like it when we make ‘bad’ work and so it’s not surprising if you feel like giving up right away. Invariably this robs you of the potential of improvement, but most importantly it robs the experience of having fun with your creativity.
One way to help you keep making art is to purposely make ‘bad’ art. Label it as your messy, unruly, unperfected bad art practice so you can focus on enjoying the process. The quality of your work is irrelevant because you’re seeking to make an arty mess! Your ego may still pop up to question what you’re up to but if it says your art is no good, you can reply “that’s exactly the point so I’m doing great!” You’ll be less likely to feel defeated if you give yourself freedom to make mistakes with enthusiasm.
Debbie Millman in a Creative mornings talk said “I’m not that good. I’m just really unwilling to give up.” Giving up is far more disappointing than making something bad because making bad art takes courage and choosing to continue the process allows your creativity to develop and grow in ways you haven’t yet imagined.
I do have to step back, take a breather, and realize that it is just a project and not the end of the world if it’s not perfect.” – Mary Kate McDevitt
Deciding to try to make art for fun as an adult is a big step and overcoming the multiple hurdles you face before picking up a pencil is a huge victory. The lack of time, material or space can be hard enough, but overcoming the fear of not being ‘good’ at art and the guilt of not spending time productively can halt all creative endeavours.
Continuing to make art regardless of the above is an act of bravery. It takes determination to face the white page and put pen to paper and create from the unknown. But once you decide to do it and you get into the flow of making, the rest will take care of itself. All you have to do is turn up at the paper and be willing to make some marks. That’s it. Don’t over complicate it by having to make something worthy of being in a gallery, that’s not what making art is about. Art making is about having fun and enjoying the process.
Just make something. ANYTHING. Nobody is watching and nobody cares if it’s ‘bad’. How will you know how creative you really are if you never give yourself permission to make any art?
“Don’t give into your fears… If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
That frustrated feeling when you’re in a hurry, sat in traffic or forever waiting at a red light – being stuck and unable to move – is the same when you get emotionally stuck. Art-making can be a vulnerable process, especially when faced with a blank sheet of paper and believing you don’t have the skills to get started. But making art for yourself doesn’t require any skills and being a beginner means you’re open to more possibilities, essentially making you more creative. The fear of making ‘bad’ art will stop you from taking any action, but paradoxically, action (making art) is the solution to overcoming your fears.
Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now asks “Is fear preventing you from taking action? Acknowledge the fear, watch it, take your attention into it, be fully present with it. Doing so cuts the link between the fear and your thinking. Danielle LaPorte advises us to “Stand outside of the story. Every fearful expectation has a big “story” behind it.”
Are you metaphorically sat in a traffic jam with your art-making. Is fear keeping you from getting started or making more art? Watch and notice what negative thoughts (stories) come up when you’re feeling discomfort but then take action anyway. The little voice of fear cannot thrive when you ignore its advice to stop and you immerse yourself in the process of making and start to enjoy yourself.
We hear repeatedly about how important it is to disconnect from our phones and technology regularly, that our brains need to rest from the overstimulation our devices create. The disconnection from technology allows you to cut off the constant distractions, giving you the mental space to reconnect to yourself. By making art you can strengthen that connection and move away from being just a consumer into being a maker.
In Ladies Drawing Night the authors agree: “It’s refreshing to have a good outlet to make things by hand by hand again. There’s something immensely satisfying and relaxing about how you’re immediately connected to the thing you’re making, as opposed to through a mouse and cursor.”
Making something by hand stimulates your brain in a much healthier, nurturing way than technology does. And if spending your time endlessly scrolling through your social media channels or the internet feels more ‘productive’ than making art, that’s just the ego spinning a story. It doesn’t want to ‘fail’ at doing something new so it will attempt to stop you from even trying. But art is about the making and not about being productive or ‘good’. It’s about getting your hands involved and having a play.
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.