One of the most common questions I’m asked when chatting about art is the fundamental: ‘Where do I begin?’
I thought I’d share a few of my answers to people who are trying to be more creative / trying to rekindle some creative energy / keen but stumped.
1. Be clear about what you’d like to do
I know it sounds silly, but many of us do a ‘bundle package’ style wish list of all the things they’d like to do right from the off. Although it’s great to have goals and big dreams, when you unpack something you think sounds quite simple, you might find it is actually a big old bag of stuff that might be a bit difficult to achieve all together, especially if it’s your first time ever (or in a long time) of trying something.
Be really specific if you can. Try and reduce your goals and expectations to smaller steps that fit in to the time, places, and equipment you can get your hands on right now. Focus on taking the first, smallest step of the activity you’re thinking about, and think of it as a trial.
It will become a lot less stressful, less pressurised and more playful to use a step by step approach. It also gives you lots of flexibility about what you might want to do next.
We all know trying things out gives you an insight you didn’t have before, and who knows, this may well be the permission you need to have a bit of fun and not take things too seriously from the get-go.
2. Pick a subject that you LOVE
Or feel deeply about. Don’t do what you think ‘artists’ do. Don’t do what other people ask you to do. Don’t do something that you feel would make a good picture. Do what YOU want to do.
Not fussed about landscapes but feel like you should be able to do them - walk away.
Mum’s asked for a portrait of her beloved dog, but you secretly hate him and you find it really hard doing animals - don’t bother.
Love looking at a vase of gorgeous flowers but trying to draw them always seems meh. You’re probably working on the wrong subject.
Think again guys, don’t stress, make up an excuse. I promise it will be the right move.
Think about something you really care about, something that makes you react, that stirs real emotion (in YOU not others). If you’re really struggling, something if you died tomorrow you’d love to have thrashed out and tried to capture. Have a go at that.
Think about why you care about it? What does it represent?
Wallow in that love for a while and then think about how you’re best going to get creative about it. Once you are in the flow of making and creating, you might not need such big guns (heart-tugging emotional inspirations) all the time, it’s likely you’ll find more and more inspiration/motivation in much smaller and subtler subjects, but I find these epically personal ideas really help to spur you over the hump and into the meadow of creative frolicking.
So for example you could…
- Think of a plant growing in the garden when you grew up that brings back memories.
- Imagine illustrating your favourite book of all time.
- How would you create an abstract work telling the story of an amazing song.
- Imagine the view from the door/window/veranda from a great holiday/your favourite place, what’s happening in the scene? What items are there?
- What would a self portrait of yourself back in time look like? Where would you go?
- What item/s in your house summarises life right now? What would a still life arrangement of these items signify?
- What’s your guilty pleasure? Make an artwork about it (we won’t tell :))
‘The Witching Hour’ available at Gallery No.3
3. Give yourself a break
The truth is anything worth doing takes time, energy and a mountain of mistakes to help us learn and shape the best way forward. We know all this and yet it’s so easy to keep piling pressure on ourselves to deliver more and do better from the outset. Be good to yourself, be forgiving, be loving. The chances are you deserve it. Some days are good days and some days are bad, pick your timing carefully. Don’t feel bad because today is not going to be a creative day, if you feel it in your gut, that’s a wise move. Do the other jobs (see below).
Positivity must balance any critique you are giving yourself for any work you’ve tried, or worse you haven’t tried yet, but you’re berating yourself for it anyway in advance! Put a kind arm around your own shoulder and whisper “Let’s go for it, fortune favours the brave!” and when you’ve got started - “We’re getting somewhere. High-five”(P.S. don’t leave yourself hanging).
Detail of ‘Winter Scene’
4. Don’t overcommit too early
Trust me when I say that I have splashed on equipment and gone all-in on my newest creative addiction more than a few times in my life, only to later discover that the buzz of finding ‘my thing’ was far greater than my interest in that particular fad I thought I was into for life.
Save yourself the dosh and the compounded confusion, by making an effort to manage your expectations. Buy/commit small and simple to start. If you can borrow, consider and try it out - do that. Time really does tell. If you try, give it some time and it sticks…fantastic!
Detail of ‘Three Crows’
5. Trick yourself into it.
You’ve tried everything, something always gets in the way… it’s time to get underhand and trick yourself into it. Try these sneaky methods out individually or together and get past that clever rationalising part of your brain that always has an answer (or dig) to share…
*Telling someone what you are planning / find a creative buddy - this can really help to motivate us to deliver. i.e. ‘I’ve told Sarah I’m going to do it so I have to do it now.’ Hell you could even ask Sarah to help you by reminding you or encouraging you…maybe Sarah was thinking the same thing and you arrange a creative get together. Sarah’s nice.
*Set a deadline - not always one of my favourites, but for some people, who like targets and structure, it can work really well. Creating a strict (or more relaxed) timeline, for a task / project / series can spur you into action and tick off the jobs that you didn’t want to start but actually now you have, you’re having fun.
*Incentivise - i.e. ‘I’m going to treat myself this evening if I manage to get started on this project today.’ ‘I’m going to spend this hour just on my art and then I’m making myself a really nice lunch.’ You know the drill. Everyone loves a nice lunch.
*Beware the other jobs - there are always other jobs. Other jobs are poisonous and sometimes fatal to your freelove-on-the-freeway creative vibes. You must freeze the other jobs with all your mental and physical weapons - go for a walk, work in a cafe, sit in the tidiest room in the house and close the door, turn your phone on silent, turn off whatsapp notifications… whatever it takes - it you can buy yourself some time it might just be enough to get you started.
With any luck once you’ve started - there’ll be no holding you back.
Thank you for reading x
Check me out on Instagram, facebook or keep in touch via my bi-monthly art journal here.
So… I’ve recently developed a small obsession with wolves.
I never before felt the calling for a funky jumper with a dreamcatcher and a wolf howling at the moon on it, but, you know, this just might be the time.
It all started with a story I wrote about a heroine lost in a wood. She was being chased and hunted down by a pack of wolves, which spurred some research and the more I found out, the more I wanted to know.
In creative terms, I started filling the ‘pot’ with everything wolves… wherever I looked I saw wolf symbolism, pack dynamics, parallels with us, another highly social, intelligent species, I wrote stuff down and started making sketches.
One day an animal life-drawing class I follow (www.wildlifedrawing.co.uk) sent word of a Wolf life-drawing class, in-person (I had done some great zoom sessions of Hawks and Owls before with them over lockdown). This class was with wolf-dogs, a wolf hybrid very close genetically to wild grey wolves. I jumped at the chance to join the fun, and when the time came, off I went with my art supplies and a big smile.
And I didn’t really stop smiling…the experience was fantastic.
Run in partnership with the Watermill Wolves who brought their beautiful beasts along for us to draw, paint and pet carefully :)
As well as great sitters, who snoozed a fair bit, they are talented animal actors, able to jump up, howl and snarl all for the price of a secretly supplied snack.
I had the pleasure to be sitting close to the handsome ‘James Bond’ who napped in front of me for a good period, giving me a chance for some great drawing time.
When they weren’t relaxing, the wolves were up, playfully pacing their area. Sniffing around, alert and very lean in real life. They were tall, for me their most distinguishing feature from dogs, that and their long nose and distinct mask-like fur colouring on their faces and along the tops of their bodies.
They were calm at times and intensely boisterous at others, and although a lot like dogs they had a more wired, intense energy.
When the session was closing and artists were giving their final pats, I got an unexpected wolf-hug from 007 - I felt very honoured. I like to think it was our deep wild connection that forged our connection and not the five minute belly scratch I’d given him earlier.
In drawing terms, sketching an animal in real life or from a reference photo, gets easier and stronger the better you know your subject. So it helped that I had done research, spent time observing wolves online, in videos or books and also explored that knowledge through my own sketches and writing.
I also find I check back often to what I believe the unique elements of my subjects are. Both in their physical makeup and their psychological identity as far as it relates to us, and most specifically to me. Symbolism, connection and emotional resonance all seem to play a part and I try to incorporate all of this into my work to bring an energy, narrative or sense of character to it.
It’s true that some of this energy, we bring without trying, without realising, it just comes as part of the expression package… but I find understanding the layers of knowledge and attention we bring to the creative process can help to inspire us and allow us to be more expressive and make more exciting work. Accentuating differences, allowing feelings and symbolism around a subject filter into the work, or ensuring dynamic lines are strong and characteristic, are just some examples of the tools of the trade.
A friend mentioned to me that all of my wolf-related energy and endeavour coincided with the time of the wolf moon, a full moon in January traditionally was said to have been a time that the wolves were more likely to howl.
Perhaps then I have just been a little moon-crazed lately. Howling in my own way.
Since the session, I’ve been making other work that feeds off my thoughts and experiences with these beautiful animals, it plays off all the wonderful things about wolves and what they represent to me.
I hope to have some more beautiful work to share with you one of these days, when everything comes together and the time is right.
Perhaps by the next Wolf moon :)
Thank you for reading x
Check me out on Instagram, facebook or keep in touch via my bi-monthly art journal here.
I could sit and talk at length about about the benefits of being playful, mindful, present, etc. and small talk you into a nice micronap, but I’m not going to do that just now. Instead I’m going to jump to the heart of the matter (for me at least)…
Play is the antidote to death.
Whether it’s humour, imagination, free exploration in whatever you are doing, play releases the mind from the shackles of order and your neverending to do list and brings your creativity into motion.
It’s well known how children’s play is fundamental to their development, it’s less discussed how critical it is to adult development and I think, emotional survival.
I’ve got a sneaky feeling that we should all be playing a lot more and creating more opportunities to play, as often as we can. The harder life becomes the more important play becomes.
So what counts as play?
Well - for me, art is a big part of my play. But so is getting into a great book, solving problems, getting into any kind of physical activity beyond the ‘when is it going to stop phase’ or laughing hard about stupid stuff.
I try to look for opportunities where I can, and try to make the most of them.
I find it lightens up life, a lot (which is generally hard and often boring) and allows my subconscious to have a roam around and stretch it’s legs.
When it comes to my artistic process, how I play can be quite varied and like most artists, is more a broader way of doing things rather than a structured set of activities. But I can give you some examples …
- I draw weird stuff in my sketchbook, (not cute-weird or interesting-weird, just weird).
- I sing along to stuff and love to hear other people singing (especially while they’re working)
- I enjoy a good wind up, although it’s often on me. I’ve got a stupid sense of humour and love the absurd.
- I spa with/tickle my kids, friends and family. Basically anyone who looks ticklish. Surprise attacks are the best.
- I love to hear kids mad/honest views on things.
- I befriend cats and dogs (I often use the dog language ‘play pose’ to bond with new pals I make).
I’m learning how to play the guitar, very slowly but surely. I make up little melodies.
- I (privately) like making up stories about strangers on the train or drivers sitting in traffic in the car across from me, there is a lot of drama.
In the studio…
- I play with leftover paint after finishing a session and see what happens. Some really good stuff can come out of these sessions.
- I keep snippets and cut out good areas of discarded work for collages and future projects.
- I set myself small timed exercises when I’m feeling a bit stuck - like 5 mins with a postcard and fineliner and see what happens.
- I set myself totally out of the norm projects to keep things interesting and break up big projects that follow similar lines.
- I search for obscure podcasts and radio stations of special interest and listen to new ideas and get the cogs turning.
- I enjoy walking and day dreaming.
- I observe as much as I can.
- I try to follow my instincts towards ideas, images, sounds and things of interest.
‘Towards Paradise’ Limited Edition Fine Art Print
How do you play and how could you play more?
Perhaps I can help… have a little read of this story and see where it goes in your head. Follow the thread where does it lead?
‘Behind the fallen fence panel was the alleyway. Behind that alley was the local cemetery, and beyond that, the park with it’s crisp, green cricket pavilions and the distant laughter of the playpark. We always felt that geography, always knew where we were in relation to it. It was a special thing, knowing how many layers of things lay between you and the dream.
We got together with the other local stragglers that were around, having gained permission from our mums on the basis of a sketchy promise to ‘not go too far’. Then we queued, whispering, at the place in the alley’s fence where two planks had rotted away and disappeared one by one like a line of small, scruffy limbo dancers bending into the unknown.
On the other side the graveyard stretched out, eery and sleepy quiet. Small green stones twinkled brightly like they had been mined from the Emerald city. We waited, assessing the terrain and reminded ourselves it took one long minute to pelt across to reach safe passage on the other side (another broken fence where we would emerge into the park and the best of times). Glancing around at the others, I knew they were no help. I had to go first.’ …
(Tell me what happens next)