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.
Make it easier to create more often by putting pen and paper in ‘resting’ or waiting spaces. Having pen and paper to immediately grab increases chances of making art and will work more effectively than if they’re tucked away somewhere. Spaces like on the sofa, in your bag, on a regularly visited desk or in the car. The physical presence of a notebook or blank paper acts as a reminder to be more creative and make something (and not spend so much time on a device).
Cassie Bloomston in The Little Spark suggests “I use beautiful Japanese ceramic cups and mason jars to hold the markers. They sit in the centre of the dining table where we eat every day, three times a day… like an artful bouquet of creative possibility… They are an invitation to creativity. Whenever we want to draw, sketch, or write, they are there. We don’t have to go find the materials. The paper sits on a nearby shelf—within arm’s reach of the table.”
Go one further and have multiple spots with materials laying in wait to make it even easier to practice. Allow the art materials to be a fixed part of the furniture and see if you get creative more often.
Seeing your creativity as a muscle that must be regularly stretched and moved may be the motivation you need to take action. Pat Williams and Jim Dennery in How to Be Like Walt talk of Walt Disney saying “Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination… But just as a muscle frowns flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.”
Having flabby creative muscles don’t sound ideal but you can exercise them to make them stronger: to move from flabby to firm. And it doesn’t take that long a time to do it. A couple of weeks of practice can be enough to get you feeling much more confident about your creativity. The writer/poet Ashley Ormon agrees “Creativity is the brain’s invisible muscle — that when used and exercised routinely — becomes better and stronger.”
Practice making art regularly to give your creativity muscle the chance to get strong and firm.
The point of art making is not to make perfected-everybody-loves-it products. It’s about getting immersed in a process that feels fun and giving yourself the permission continue to do it regularly. The product is just a thing that came out of the process which we attach imaginary significance to. We have to let go of creating ‘final’ polished things and instead focus on practicing if we want our creativity to fully flourish. One way to do this is to focus on the quantity of art you make (and not the quality).
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path talks of her own experience with quantity: “So you don’t get stuck spending a thousand hours doing one painting that isn’t very good, instead make a thousand paintings of one subject. I once painted a thousand ways of looking at the sky… You then get to select which is the most successful, and you can make this a departure point for signature work.”
Focusing on quantity allows you to take more risks and not get hung up on ‘mistakes’ or making ‘bad art.’ All of those creative failures create a richer soil for further departure points of investigation to grow. The process of trial and error will ultimately create more opportunities to make work you do like compared to only striving to make polished work. In reality you’ll be too nervous to make any mistakes which could mean you stop making art altogether. Now that would be a mistake.
We can be in such a hurry to be better, faster, wiser right NOW that we don’t realise the full potential of a slow evolution process. In art-making the gap between where you are and where you want to be is even more obvious because you can compare side-by-side what you just made to an artist/designer/creator’s master work in seconds. Ira Glass explains this taste comparison; “Your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you… A lot of people never get past this phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.”
In a word of instant gratification, entertainment constantly available at a moments notice, fast food and next day delivery, we are becoming increasingly more impatient. Can my next level of improvement arrive tomorrow please? What the artists’ work you admire so much doesn’t show, is the rich, diverse and challenging journey it took to arrive at that final piece. Their journey wasn’t straightforward or linear. It was full of failure, uncertainty and making bad art. They once stood where you’re standing and didn’t have all the skills they have now. They committed to consistent practice, showing up and making work that wasn’t perfect. It was a slow evolution of development and growth through practice, but you don’t see any evidence of that when you only look at the final work.
“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. Because not too long from now – and right on time, you’ll be spreading your wings and life will never be the same again.” – Danielle LaPorte
There is no overnight success or hack to get better. It about making a LOT of stuff and then one day far from now, you realising how far you’ve come. Ira Glass encourages us that the phase of not making good enough work is “totally normal.”
“And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.” – Ira Glass
The volume of making work is key. Even a tiny 2 minutes making something every day adds up to 12 hours a year, which becomes more significant in the future (you may currently spend 2 minutes each day unlocking your phone so it’s not a big investment). If you make work every day and compare what you made on January 1st to December 31st, there will be a noticeable difference.
Make work – make a lot of bad work and don’t rush your evolution because the gold lies in your journey.