This is for anyone who feels a pull towards visual art but doesn’t know where to start.
What should I make?
Art for me has been a process of learning how to ask myself questions and listen to the answers: What do I like about this? What is weird about this? How is this different from what I was trying to make?
If you haven’t got a particular medium in mind (what a piece of art is made of; eg. acrylic paint, fabric, wood), you might start by asking yourself some questions:
- What kinds of art are you drawn to?
- What kinds of art do you seek out on Instagram or Pinterest or in bookstores?
- What textures and colours do you like?
- What makes you think, “WHOA I wish I could do that!”?
- What makes you think, “pff, I could do that”?
- What/who do you feel envious of?
- Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but been afraid to try?
Start with the most interesting thing or the thing that matters the most to you, especially if you can think of lots of reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t 😆
Sidenote: It’s normal and 100% okay to try something for a while and abandon it for a different thing; by making art you’re learning and growing and in doing so, you might outgrow your first ideas. You can only do your best with what you know now. Start somewhere, anywhere, and then go from there!
Once you’ve chosen something you’re interested in, you can start asking…
Where do I start?
It’s easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of special tools and supplies, and it can be intimidating to try to figure out which of them are strictly necessary – especially if the hobby is outside your comfort zone!
Find a list of basic supplies on the internet. Buy anything you need for sure and can’t make, improvise, or borrow. If applicable, buy a handful of colours that make you feel good. Start!
It can be very tempting to spend a bunch of money upfront, but my biggest advice here is to start small: don’t make any big investments until you need to. Let me tell you, it feels really good to upgrade after you’ve tried it: you know more about what you like and you can make decisions that serve you better.
On that note:
How do I find supplies without spending a fortune?
Every hobby has tools and supplies that range in quality and cost. It’s smart to be frugal when you’re trying something for the first time, just in case you don’t like it. Here are a few options:
- the dollar store often has a fantastic supply of acrylic paint, canvases, etc.
- if you join and make friends with members of a local art group (quilting club, pottery guild, stitch n bitch, etc), they might have extra supplies they could trade, sell for cheap, or give away
- becoming a member of a local artist group can sometimes get you discounts around town
- some places have scraps you can take for free (IKEA in some places has broken furniture panels, lumber yards might have wood scraps, anywhere they do sewing workshops might have fabric scraps)
- estate sales
- thrift stores
- used online (Kijiji, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and the like)
Here are a few weirdly specific examples for inspiration:
- buy only white clay and paint it instead of buying every colour of clay (at first, just to see if you like it!)
- find knitted sweaters at thrift stores, unravel and wash the yarn
Also, I am consistently surprised by how many things can be made out of cardboard:
- A weaving loom and even the shuttle for passing your yarn back and forth
- Paint palettes for mixing your paint on
- For actually painting on, like a canvas
- Stamps for printmaking
What if I buy all the supplies and then it turns out I don’t like what I thought I’d like?
This really is just part of it. Sometimes with the best intentions we get the wrong thing for us, sometimes we don’t know until we try it (or until it sits on the shelf for 5 years and we don’t try it).
First of all, this should be fun. Don’t force yourself through something you don’t enjoy. Sometimes it feels like it’s more than just the materials – it’s the guilt and shame of buying them, it’s beating yourself up for not “following through”, and every time you see them sitting there you think and feel about it.
You might have to grieve the loss of the dream you had, the possibility and excitement you felt about this thing, and what you hoped it might mean for you. That can be tough.
Ultimately, this is a necessary and normal part of making art and learning what you like. In fact, you’ve just learned something fantastically useful: you do not like this thing! Why not? What is it missing?
When you’re ready, here are your options:
- Hold onto it until you can use it for something completely different, or
- Sell it and maybe use the money to buy something you will like and use, or
- Give it away and become the blessed way someone gets craft supplies without spending a fortune
However you put it to rest, let yourself move on.
What if I waste my stuff?
Art supplies are meant to be used. In fact: the more you use them, the more often you’ll make stuff that doesn’t feel like a “waste”. There is more paint in the world, more ink, more yarn, more paper, more canvases. When you run out, you can get more.
How do I choose colours?
The same project in different colours can look and feel like a completely different project. Choosing colours can be an overwhelming part of making art, as if the art police are gonna break down your door and bust you on a colour theory violation.
I’ll save you some time: there’s no way to make something that will look good to everyone . The only thing you can control is making something that looks good to you. Limiting your palette can take some of the pressure off and help you with that.
Here’s a few ways to use a limited palette:
- Copy a colour palette from an artist that you love.
- Don’t give yourself free choice of all the crayons in the box. Choose 2 - 5 that make you feel good and play with those.
- If the medium allows, mix colours!! It makes them so rich, even with black you can put another colour in it to make it feel special and more you.
- Try using complementary colours (eg. blue/orange, green/red, or yellow/purple) with black and white
- Try using a triad – only three colours and white
Above all, choose colours that you like to use and look at. This might call for some play!
You don’t have to jump right in, either. You can make small studies (test pieces) to try out your colour scheme before you go for the final piece.
Okay, you’ve got the tools, you’ve got the colours, now…
How do I actually do the thing?
With some hobbies you can just sit down and wing it (like painting), and for others you need some basic instructions to get anywhere (like knitting). For anything you could ever want to learn, you can find tutorials on the internet or books in the library. Use them whenever you get stuck.
This part involves a lot of checking-in, and if you’ve listened to Art Horse you’ll know that can sound like: what am I feeling while I’m doing this? Why do I love/hate it? How, precisely, is what I’m making different from the photo/instructions/my imagination?
While you’re doing the thing, you might find you don’t have everything you need: your brush might be the wrong size, your beads are uneven shapes, you don’t have enough yarn. Take note.
What if I ruin it?
You’re going to ruin lots of things. It might upset you. Keep going!
What do I do when I’m finished?
Share it if you want, keep it to yourself if you want. Invite it into your life if you want: hang it up, wear it out, when someone compliments it tell them you made it, or don’t. Tuck it into a drawer somewhere or give it away as a gift or take it to the thrift shop or unwind it or paint over it or burn it.
Most importantly: take what you’ve learned and start again, or if you learned that you hate it, try something else.
What if I suck and everyone notices?
You’re supposed to suck at first! You suck and then you learn lessons and come back with more clarity, skill, and nuance. Anyway, hopefully you’ll be so deep into the next thing that you won’t even notice anyone noticing.
If the idea of sucking is preventing you from starting, look at it this way: what if you make something you really like, or that means something, or moves someone? What if finishing a project actually feels really good?
Weirdly enough, “bad” art can bring a lot of joy! You never know who might be inspired by seeing you try something new. If you want to make silly art and laugh about it with your friends, here’s How to Host a Virtual Art Party .
Give it a try and let us know how it goes! Send us an email at email@example.com