In order to Make Good Art, you’ll have to Make More Art. By making more art your skills will improve, you’ll get clarity on what you like, and your confidence will build. This is a pep talk.
If you’re feeling stuck, here’s some ideas for how to get back on the Art Horse.
Big, unfinished projects can be a barrier to our creativity. The longer you leave it, the more work it is to pick it up again. Where was I? What was I doing next? Maybe it even feels like we can’t start fresh until we finish what we’ve already started – looking at you, sweater sleeves in a dusty bag at the back of the closet.
Finishing something in one sitting can help you get back into it. There are two easy ways to make small: limit the size of the project, and set a timer.
Limit project size
Choose something that can take you through the full course of a project, from planning to executing to the satisfaction of finishing. For painting and drawing, I like to use a small canvas (such as paper cut to 4 x 4 inches). You can knit a headband, make a zine, sculpt an ornament, carve a whistle, write a short poem, cover your favourite song. Something that you can call completely done in an evening.
Set a timer
Setting a timer takes away the “luxury” of obsessing over details - there’s no time to stop and think! That time limit can be sweet respite from negative self-talk, and when the timer goes off you might be surprised what you’ve made. Setting a timer and Just Starting can get you in the mood to make. Sometimes I like to draw the same subject with 2, 5, and 10 minute timers just to see where it takes me.
You might find it so satisfying to finish a small project that you want to start another! Which brings us to the next idea…
Everything you do is practice. Whatever you’re working on now will one day be in the past, and you will be making even better things. Don’t get stuck stopping to fix; take what you’ve learned and use it to make the next thing.
Sit down and crank out a bunch of small things in one sitting. Notice what you like along the way and use that to inform your choices. When you sit back to admire what you’ve made, seeing the range of your creative output might soothe you. Maybe it turns out it’s fine that you don’t like some of them because there’s one piece you like a LOT. And just think of all the things you’ve learned. On to the next!
Host an Art Party
Making art doesn’t need to be serious, solitary suffering in tireless pursuit of a masterpiece – it can be casual and joyful, it can be full of laughter, and it doesn’t even have to be good . Sharing creative experiences with friends and family feeds your creativity, make memories, and deepens relationships.
You’ll need enough art supplies for everyone (whatever you have on hand). Play some games. Make small. Make lots. Show and tell and laugh at what you’ve made.
Here’s some game ideas for a Virtual Art Party: https://arthorsepod.com/blog/how-to-host-a-virtual-art-party-2 . Many of those activities are just as fun in person if you happen to be in Covid-19 lockdown with roommates or family.
Make Art for Your Life
Making things that you use and enjoy will help you learn what YOU like. Let your inspiration come from things you need, whether that’s a decorative plant pot, a pencil case, or a gift for your mom. Take your chosen art form and make it work for you:
- Make art for your walls
- Knit yourself a hat
- Carve yourself a coaster
- Collage, paint, or weave a bookmark
- Bead yourself some earrings
- Craft gifts and cards for friends’ birthdays
- Compose yourself some study or bedtime music
- Throw yourself a special mug for your morning beverage
Making art for your life suddenly makes it practical, which can take us from an external what should I make? to something more rooted within: what do I want?
Not to mention, when someone notices it you get to say “THANKS, I made it!” (obviously the best part).
Display Unfinished Art
As we know, pieces that go unfinished for a long time can hold us back from moving forward: even when they’re hidden out of sight. Inviting unfinished art into your life as it is makes space for three things to happen:
- Either you decide it’s already good enough, or
- You decide you never want to finish it (and now you can throw it out or paint over it), or
- Having to stare at it will make clear exactly what you need to do next 😆
This works especially well for drawings and paintings (you can even go as far as to frame them!). It’s already art, it doesn’t need any further meddling.
A note on “good enough” – this idea reminds me of _ceci n’est pas une pipe_: not a pipe, only a picture of a pipe. Just by existing, your artwork is documentation of the moment in your life in which it was made, which allows for it to be “unfinished” because that’s exactly how it went down.
Your work is valid even if it never gets the so called “final touch”. You’re allowed to move on.
Find Your People
It can be intimidating to go looking for your people, especially when you’re new at something. What if I go to this life-drawing event and I can’t keep up? What if someone puts me on the spot and I’m exposed as a beginner – or worse, just plain bad ?
I don’t have an answer for this Big Fear, except to say that your people are assuredly out there, and if they make you feel like shit they’re not your people. Finding Your People can feel kind of like coming home, like community, like warmth in an atmosphere of growth.
Making art alongside other people, you’ll be surprised and relieved by how much you have in common with other “artists”, whether you consider yourself one or not. Where you find difference or “lack”, you can think of other people’s work as a juicy buffet of skills, style, and tricks that you can riff off of and use in your own work.
Where are your people? Are they at a particular convention? The pottery guild? The local stitch n bitch? The choir? Facebook or Discord groups? An online forum?
Boost Your Skills
At my first ever life-drawing event, it was uncomfortably obvious that I was missing some skills. Everyone around me seemed to draw more in less time, they had all the proportions right, and their drawings were confident and even stylized.
In contrast, my sketches were headless and crooked, dark and light in the wrong places, body parts not lining up. I was mortified.
When I got home, I looked up “how to draw people” and I discovered something called “gesture drawing”, a basic skill that would take my figures to the next level.
Learning a skill after I realized I needed it was so empowering! Identifying this gap helped me focus my energy, and tangible improvements built my confidence. With a few hours of study in an online class, I went from struggling to draw outlines of the models to drawing the underlying shapes.