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.
This experiment brings together collaging and quick drawing to create loose, playful images. This process allows you to break free of drawing ‘good’ by embracing a looser way to create images and allows you to focus on quantity over quality. While being learning to draw realistically–drawings that look almost as lifelike as a photograph–has its merits, it can be harder to achieve as an amateur which could halt your future creative enthusiasm and art practice. Lynn Whipple in Expressive Flower Painting suggests this exercise will help you to create marks with energy: “This is “in the moment,” “get out of the way,” “make yourself laugh” stuff… Make scribbles, scratches, and smudges. Make yourself laugh knowing that any way you do this exercise is 100 percent perfect. Approach your flower drawings with the curiosity of a child.”
You will need: flowers, paper, pencil crayons, scissors, glue or tape and a timer. Optional to use a plain pencil or pen instead of pencil crayons.
Set timer for 15, 30 or 60 seconds and quickly draw a flower with the pencil crayons within the allocated time.
Repeat the process multiple times. Experiment with using one or multiple colours to draw flowers.
Draw a vase using the same process as above
Cut out flowers and vase with scissors
From your pile of cut out flowers and vase, start arranging on a piece of paper. Play around with different layouts.
Once you’ve finished arranged your flowers, fix them in place with glue or tape.
If you don’t have flowers nearby to use as inspiration, find images from a book or online or use your imagination. Whipple suggests not looking at the paper while you draw (blind drawing) and use two hands to create: how will a two-handed drawing differ from using just one hand? How about if you tried using your non-dominant hand? This quick drawing method can also be applied to other themes:
Animals in a zoo
A family portrait of unusual looking people
A collection of aliens from outer space
An outfit for a haute couture fashion show
Things found at sea
Any collection of objects, people or greenery, the skies the limit!
If you find yourself still focusing on perfecting lines or trying to make it ‘perfect,’ try a shorter time frame. What would a flower look like drawn in 5 seconds? Lynda Barry in Syllabus encourages using time constraints: “There is a kind of calibration of what to include given the time constraints, and time constraints are vital in the beginning.” Barry explains the time constraint doesn’t allow space to think but instead allows “a natural kind of picture comes about.” How some of these pictures look like children’s drawings and adults don’t like that. But Barry argues “But what if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand? A live wire! There is an aliveness in these drawings that can’t be faked… that aliveness seems to come into me…. Real aliveness of line is hard to come by.”
“Children see magic because they look for it” – Christopher Moore
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.