Do you spend any time standing still in your daily life or are you constantly rushing around like the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? If you’re always in ON mode, never disconnected from a device or other people, it’s harder to justify spending time making art. If you believe you don’t have the time to stand still, or to make any art then it will never happen.
“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” — The White Rabbit, Lewis Carroll
But the truth is you don’t need a huge block of time to make art. A 2 minute investment each day is all you need to get started (and it adds up significantly over time). We think we need to spend a bigger amount of time to make it worthwhile, otherwise what’s the point – Surely 2 minutes isn’t enough to make anything significant? But your art don’t need it to be significant for it to be a worth the time or effort investment. It’s much more important something gets made and that you had fun doing it.
Significance is overrated and is entirely subjective so it’s far better to judge how you feel once you’ve spent 2 minutes making art something compared to only thinking about it. Taking action brings feedback and clarity while thinking can bring fear, excuses and procrastination. So find a pocket of time to stand stand still and make something.
Is a painting that took weeks to complete any more important than a sketch that took five minutes? You could argue the painting demonstrates more skill and labour because of the extra time spent but when it comes to creativity, more time doesn’t necessarily mean more reward.
Carolyn Schlam in The Creative Path explains “A sketch that takes five minutes to make can be more complete, expressive, and satisfying than a painting worked and reworked over months. In five minutes you don’t have time to steer too far away from a single idea if you’re on, you can capture the essence in a few strokes, which will make your inspiration vibrantly manifest.”
Don’t underestimate the power of small and don’t assume you have to spend hours working on something for it to be labelled ‘good.’
Doing one small thing every day may not feel like much when you do it, but it adds up over time. Committing to a daily art-making action is a way to x10 your creativity and get you in the rhythm of making something regularly. The writer Jack London encouraged in 1903 to “Set yourself a “stint,” and see that you do that “stint” each day; you will have more words to your credit at the end of the year.”
This echos Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to Brad Isaac on how to do something every day: “He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Set yourself a creative stint or the challenge to make a chain and discover how little adds up to a lot.
Do you believe you are born creative and some people have natural talent, or that creativity is a skill that can be practiced and improved over time? Your answer will reveal whether you have a fixed mindset (natural ability determines skills) or growth mindset (improve is possible) around creativity. With a fixed mindset you believe because you’re not an instant artist, there’s no point putting in more effort. You’ve either got it or you haven’t, which is a very black-and-white way of looking at creativity. This mindset can sabotage further practice which ironically leads to improvement over time, the way mastery is really built.
Mastery doesn’t happen overnight and because we’re not present to witness the hours, weeks, months and years of practice that goes into an professional artist’s journey, we believe it takes far less effort and practice than in reality. We see the shiny results but none of the hard work, effort over time, doubt, uncertainty and self-judgement the artist experienced. We imagine the artist perfect from the start and so there’s no way we can catch them up even if we wanted to. Angela Duckworth in Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance suggests that “a high level of performance is, in fact, an accretion of mundane acts.” Consistent repetitive practice over time builds up. There is no magic sauce you can add to get better quick. She suggests we “prefer our excellence fully formed. We prefer mystery to mundanity… In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us off the hoot. It lets us relax into the status quo.”
If you choose to believe in the instant artist, you buy into a myth of magic and mystery so it’s no wonder you don’t feel you can live up to those standards. Choose instead to believe in the mundane — the act of showing up at a blank page consistently over time to make your art.
The desire to rush your progress is ever present for beginners, (and even full-time artists). You want to get ‘better’ or look like a pro before any significant time or practice has been invested. “How can I jumpstart my art so I’m great NOW?” In a faster paced world we’ve come to expect things to happen quicker – it’s much more convenient and we do so love convenience. Why wait when you can have it all now? But your creative progression doesn’t happen according to a speedy time line. It unfolds s l o w l y, steadily and naturally if you consistently practice.
Evolution doesn’t happen instantly, which is something that Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve explains “More often than not, our creative dreams aren’t launched overnight. They are built gradually.” And if you don’t have much time right now to commit to your practice, that’s okay. As long as you accept that it will be a slower process for you, you can focus on the fun of creating and not worrying about if you’re getting better.
Small adds up as Goins suggests “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. The effort may seem small and insignificant, but the work adds up.” Small is the goal. Instead of asking “Am I improving?” ask “How much art have I made this week.” Quantity beats quality hands down when it comes to growth. Don’t try to rush your evolution because when it comes to art, practicing regularly IS the goal.
“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.” – Danielle LaPorte
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.