1. Carry a small notebook/sketchbook and pen/pencil wherever you go
Write down your ideas, make notes of things you like as soon as you see them, practice making art on the go or in fringe time that normally gets swallowed up looking at your phone. Get curious about your daily surroundings, mine your life and record your discoveries. The scrappier and cheaper it is, the more likely perfectionists will actually use it instead of keeping it ‘unspoilt’ in its perfect original state!
2. Make something everyday
Make something, ANYTHING to practice exercising your creativity muscle. If you can find a spare two minutes, then you have enough time to make something. If you think “what’s the point of only spending two minutes?” It adds up to an hour after a month and creates a small pile of art. Spending two minutes is better than spending zero minutes (especially if the myth of having to spend hours making art feels overwhelming and is stopping you from making anything at all).
3. Focus on quantity not quality
When you make art for yourself, you can let go of it needed to look ‘good.’ You’re not in school trying to please the teacher anymore. You get to make bad, messy and imperfect art because you ENJOY it. That’s the only important reason you need. By focusing on quantity, it helps to shift focus from worrying if you’re not doing it ‘right’. And when making quantity can actually accelerate creativity, quality can be so overrated.
4. Start making art right now
Don’t wait for the start of the year/month/week to roll round. Start NOW. You’ve heard you only need two minutes so pick up a pencil and paper and make some marks immediately!
What would ‘letting go’ look like when making your art? Perhaps it looks like allowing yourself to follow a strange curiosity or interest in a subject. Allow yourself to spend time, to indulge in the process of making art (although it can be argued that the act of making art – reconnecting to yourself – is not an indulgence, but a necessity and worthwhile endeavour). Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic encourages us to “Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.” It may mean choosing to ‘get it done’ or ‘good is good enough,’ and ignoring the illusive (and impossible) goal of perfection.
Letting go could mean making art in the face of your fears. Steven Pressfield in The Artist’s Journey suggests “The artist is afraid of the unknown. She’s afraid of letting go. Afraid of finding out what’s “in there.” Or “out there… This fear, I suspect, is more about finding we are greater than we think than discovering we’re lesser. What if, God help us, we actually have talent? What if we truly do possess a gift? What will we do then?”
What if we stepped out into the unknown to find out what lies beyond our reach? Discovering what lies ‘out there’ is worthy of your attention and time. For within the unknown, lies your power.
Failure. It has multiple definitions but if we take “omission of occurrence,” then a failure is the lack of something happening. For example, you didn’t complete the art you intended. That doesn’t sound serious but we can make failure mean something much more heavy and dangerous – I am a failure. The mind complicate things by making it feel the stakes are higher than they actually are. The mind interprets failure as life-threatening and will try to avoid at all costs, which is why it feels so bad not to reach a goal. It’s trying to protect you from getting ‘hurt’ again. But picking up a pencil to draw is not life-threatening and ‘failing’ at making art is a vital tool in your art-making practice. How else are you going to improve as an artist and learn what you like visually?
Ken Robinson in Out of Our Minds talks about failure: “I asked the renowned chemist, Sir Harry Kroto, how many of his experiments fail. He said about 95 percent of them. Of course failure is not the right word, he said “You’re just finding out what doesn’t work,” Albert Einstein put the point sharply: “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative but if you’re not prepared to be wrong, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever come up with anything original.”
Expect to fail, expect to make mistakes, expect that there is no perfect way to make art and if there was is would be boring and predictable. The joy of making art comes from making messy mistakes, being open to spontaneity and colouring outside of the lines. Safe and perfect sounds far less fun. Robinson encourages us that “A good deal of creative work, especially in the early stages of a project, is about openly playing with ideas, riffing, doodling, improvising and exploring new possibilities.”
Failure is a vital part of creativity and not something we should try to avoid. So when your overdramatic brain whispers “You’re a failure,” know that you’re on the right pathway to letting more creativity into your life. Thank your brain for its concern and then go make more creative mistakes.
A playful approach to let go of making ‘good’ art or help release perfectionist tendencies is to use unorthodox tools or methods to make art. Jayson Zaleski talks about play: “Within the process of play there is a freedom to try new things, to take risks, and the latitude to approach the generation of work with whimsy, potentially with humour, with a sense of playfulness. This approach may not produce the highest quality of work, but it does begin to break down self-imposed rules and boundaries.” This experiment gives you less control over the outcome because you’ll be focusing on the tools and keeping them together. It’s a positive distraction to help you get making marks quickly.
You will need: paper and pens, felt tips or coloured pencils. Optional rubber band or sticky tape to hold tools together
Group together your pens/pencils in a bunch so that the tips are flush (none stick out more than others).
Fix together if it makes it easier, otherwise hold them tightly in your hand.
Imagine the bunch is one big tool and make marks as you would with one pen.
Play around with the number of pens and try different colour combinations.
Finding it tricky?
Use less pens/pencils to start with and add more with practice
Move your hand slower
Don’t think, just make marks. Even ‘bad marks’ provide information for your next attempt.
Using ‘childhood’ art materials like pens and felt tips also allow less attachment to making ‘real’ art: art that’s been made with paints and more more expensive tools. Taking action and making marks is far more important than the quality of what you make. Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action suggests “The discovery of new forms and significant changes in expression require risk and experimentation with unfamiliar situations, which reliably generate errors and setbacks.”
Trying an unconventional (and fun) approach to making marks offers you space to experiment without worrying about how good anything is. You can just get on making as many crazy and spontaneous patterns as you can.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein
Should you keep every piece of art you make? If you’re not making much quantity, it may be beneficial to keep more of it to track progress over time: The physical evidence of improvement can help inspire you to continue practicing, if having fun during the process is not enough to validate the time spent on something ‘frivolous,’ (especially as adulthood seems to bring the concern to be productive all of the time).
If you’re focusing on quantity and start to accumulate piles of artwork, you may want to consider throwing some of it away. In the Atlantic.com articleThrow Your Children’s Art Away, it argues “If it’s the act of making the art that’s useful and good for children, then let this part of the art live, and then let its results die. Like its aesthetic quality, the output of children’s artistic efforts is incomplete. Throwing it away actually does everyone a favor.” And “The correct answer is to make the art, bestow it upon someone to behold and admire for a while, and then toss it.”
Children make art for fun, with minimal focus on quality because the act of making something IS the result, not the main point of the exercise. Its’s through the process of making art that you gain feedback so it almost seems irrelevant if the art is any good or is kept. The art is the means to an end in order for you to be creative. Why as adults, do we pressure ourselves to make a thing that has enough value to be kept (and admired) forever? By adopting the childlike spirit of making art and throwing it away, we release ourselves of the burden to make ‘good’ art. We become less attached to the art needing to be perfect which ultimately helps us to be more creative individuals.
Perfectionist tendencys won’t get you far when you start making art. We can forget to simply enjoy making and to have fun because we want to make art that visually communicates the time and effort was worth it. Suddenly the little piece of art you make has a lot of expectations weaved into it: Be good. Show creative skill. Communicate creativity. But that’s setting your quality bar far too high, especially when you’re a beginner.
Making art is not about a perfected final piece, something that is so perfect that no one can criticise it. Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection explains “Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” This kind of perfectionist thinking freezes creativity in its tracks and will ultimately make you a more nervous artist because if you can’t make a mistake, you may stop making altogether. Brown goes as far to say “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Making ‘perfect’ art won’t make you a better artist or make you more creative. If you’re not allowed to make mistakes then you instantly limit your experimentation and creative potential. Experimentation requires freedom from quality and a willingness to get it wrong. The world needs ‘no perfection’ art because making something is better than never making anything.
Allow yourself to make ‘bad art’ because making no art at all is a far worse outcome.
“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.” — Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic
Have you ever started making art but suddenly you feel like you’re doing it all wrong? Or your pen slips and makes a unexpected mark that you’re cross about? In those moments the urge to want to start over is almost impossible to ignore but ignore it you must. Your future creative progress depends on it.
The reason for not wanting to make any mistakes and why we seek perfection is something Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks about: “I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
What if being imperfect and making mistakes makes you a better artist? What making mistakes now actually means if your future self can thrive? David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art and Fear explain“Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further. It is precisely this interaction between the ideal and the real that locks your art into the real world, and gives meaning to both.
When making art, the more mistakes the better! There is beauty in the imperfect – it’s human and real and that’s exactly what’s required when making art.