One of the watercolor problems that every artist needs to learn to solve is handling the paintings that they don’t think are good enough. It happens to us all, believe me. Eventually you will hear yourself say I hate my art ! Here are some strategies for handling that eventuality with grace.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, ‘why paint’? Do you wonder about the importance of painting and whether there are any benefits to it?
Have you heard the story of Goldilocks and the 3 art supplies? If you have ever wondered if you are choosing the ‘right’ art supplies, this is for you…
Apparently if you ask Neil Gaiman where ideas come from he might just say something like, "a little shop near Bognor Regis". For inspired creatives who produce consistently it seems to be something of a tiresome question. Hmm, must be hard for them. But what do us lesser mortals do?
Well, as far as I can see, the difference between consistent creative producers and those of us asking these sorts of questions is that the producers have figured out how to 'show up'.
You see it’s a bit like that witty comeback. You think of the best one liner - somewhere between a few hours and a few days later, don't you? You had to have the snarky encounter and then give your brain a bit of time to work on a suitable response. Same with writing, same with painting, or any creative work for that matter. It’s only when you engage yourself in the physical act of doing the creating that the wheels start turning.
Don't have great expectations of that first effort or two, however. Remember your comeback line? The first thing your brain came up with on the spot was probably something close to, "I know you are, but what am I?" Then, instantly recognising that some improvement was possible, your brain kept grinding away churning out pithy alternatives until, at last - perfection! (Too late of course, but a perfect reply, nonetheless.)
So the trick is to create. Want inspiration and ideas? Show up.
That's when you get inspired. And also improve your skills, problem solve, not to mention just plain old enjoying the process of creating. Writing, drawing, basket weaving - doesn’t matter. It applies across them all. Begin the process. Enjoy the process. Let the product begin its evolution into something better and better.
You see, it’s science. There's this thing called the Reticular Activating System in your brain. It sets out collecting bits of data from your world that match whatever it thinks you are looking for. If it is a witty comeback line then all of a sudden snippets of eavesdropped conversation, Seinfeld reruns and newspaper letters to the editor all seem to appear with some relevant insights, feeding into your creative problem solving machinery.
So it is with any other creation. The difference between composing a witty retort and writing a novel or painting a picture is simply a matter of scale.
But back to that question regarding the source of inspiration for a moment. The answer is you. Your world and everything you experience. Anything that touches your heart in any way.
You swim in a sea of inspiration. In fact, there is so much of it that you can't see the wood for the trees. Only when you begin - something - anything, do you give the Reticular Activating System its command to seek. Then like a bloodhound on a scent trail it is off, filtering and collecting salient pieces of your world to inspire your creation.
Now, I'm not saying showing up is easy. But it is better to have a more practical step to take as opposed to waiting for some sort of mystical holy grail of ideas to be revealed.
There are pitfalls, like of course, that inner critic poised to speak out as soon as creation begins, if not before. But whatever form your creative work takes, your job is to get started.
Put pen to blank page, apply fingertips to keyboard, clay to the wheel. Dip your brush in the paint and get it moving.
Over the years I have come up with a process to prime myself for any studio time. (I have inventively named this My Prime Process.) It is the best way I know of helping me to Show Up. It addresses nearly all my objections and gets me working. I do it first, before I start painting anything else or even writing. But I have also found that it serves so many other purposes.
Find your way to get started.
Then do it.
You never know where it might get you.
Looking for more tips about showing up in your art practice? I have an online class that’s got you covered - click here to find out more about it.
I know. You have this little creative itch to scratch. Plans of starting a sketchbook practice, journalling regularly, getting back into painting or dusting off that guitar.
But somehow actually Doing The Thing just doesn't happen. Life seems to get in the way. All other things seem to declare themselves more important than your creative urges. And if you do manage to tip toe towards starting there's that little voice that pipes up as soon as your first tentative steps are taken. She's mean, that voice, isn't she?
She is your inner critic, and fear not, everyone has one. Some are just noisier than others. Perhaps some are just better managed. I spent so much time listening to mine especially when I first started learning to draw and paint. Such constant companions were we that I even drew her once. Want to see?
Since we spent so much time together it seemed only logical that we should be on a first name basis. I call her Aunt Enid, and she's a bit of a shrew. And yes, in my head she wears a stiff, scary matron's uniform and scowls a lot.
Even though I really wanted to make some art, I seemed to do an awful lot of procrastinating. The creative urge would tug, but somehow I always managed to find an excuse to put it off. Aunt Enid would pipe up as soon as I thought of getting out my art supplies.
Shouldn't you be doing something more useful... laundry, perhaps?
Isn't it a bit late to start learning to be an artist?
I thought this would stop once I was a bit more accomplished (who knows what I thought that might mean - let’s not forget that art is subjective). Thing is, you can only get more accomplished by actually doing some art. But when you have this nagging doubt that you are not good enough at it you tend to find anything but art to do.
It's self protection really. What we call the inner critic that pipes up with all that judgement is really a well meaning part of us that is trying to save us embarrassment or hurt. So well intentioned, but misguided because it's just paper and paint after all and you don't need to show anybody.
And allowing yourself some time for creative expression is good for your soul. It can be a restorative, replenishing sort of activity that actually leaves you better equiped to return to your regular responsibilities and activities.
One of the things I have learned about the inner critic is that she doesn't go away. But actually, since she does have my best interests at heart, perhaps that is as it should be.
For a while, I laboured under the delusion that the inner critic was a beginner's problem and that I would overcome it eventually. Now I think that that is partially true. The inner critic is a lifelong companion, she is family. So like a crotchety old aunt who might be a bit mean, the best thing to do is to figure out how to manage her. Want to know how I did it?
I made you a free workbook that steps you through my approach.
Creativity is such a great practice ground for so many things. Managing the inner critic is just one. For I’m not sure if you have noticed but that critical voice that pipes up about your drawing is the same one that has opinions on how you are managing your life in general, your level of fitness and waistline, your forgetfulness … you know what I mean.
So learning to work with her, or perhaps in spite of her, in the sketchbook is great practice for managing any of the other negative self talk that creeps in to other parts of your life.
When I first started drawing, or rather wanting to draw, I spent so long shuffling paper, wondering what to draw, researching different types of paint and so on because I didn’t want to hear want Aunt Enid had to say about my efforts. But giving in like that is like failing before you begin.
If you know what I mean, and need some help taming your inner critic grab the free workbook now, so that you can get back to creating today.
I know what it is like. There is that tiny little voice inside. It is like a small child tugging at your sleeve. There are things she would like to do. Paint. Draw. Bake cupcakes. Write that novel. Start learning to play the guitar. (I'm kiddding... obviously its a ukulele she wants...) She gets quite excited about these things. It we are honest, she has been wanting to do these things for quite some time. But you always have an excuse for her. Do any of these sound familiar?
We don't have time
Yes, you are busy. Of course you are. But you still have some control over how you spend at least a portion of your day. If an emergency arises or a friend pops in to visit unexpectedly you will probably manage to shuffle things around and still get everything done that you need to. And if we are honest, even 15 minutes a day doing this thing that your inner voice won't give up on can be enough to make significant progress on your project if you can be consistent with it.
We have more important things to do right now
By important, you mean not fun, right? There is a danger that we can start thinking that life is hard, that important things are difficult, that the good things in life are only acquired through struggle. So if you are doing something that is easy and fun, it must therefore not be important or worthwhile.
We need to spend our time doing something more useful
Discounting a project on the grounds that it is trivial and time wasting is an easy trap to fall into. The thing is, that little voice is still nagging you, isn't she? Even if you avoid your project in favour of something practical (like the laundry, shopping around for a better insurance policy, or some other tedious, grown up, but very 'useful' chore) you are not fully present to it. Part of you can't shake the doubt that you are letting yourself down. Is this thing going to be on your list till the day you die?
We could, but we don't have the right supplies
Ah yes. You would start that novel, but you just need to wait until you get a new notebook from Typo.
You already have all you need.
Just start. You will be glad you did.
We are a bit old for that, aren't we?
So is that it then? It's all over? If we didn't start this thing young or get it out of our systems before we grew up it's too late?
Did ice cream stop tasting good because you stopped being a child?
If it was fun then, it is probably still fun now. And it is never too late to learn something new. Better do it today, because tomorrow you will be even older...
We are not very good at that
Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. This is fear.
We tend to think that we will be judged, scorned or humiliated if we attempt to do something that we are not totally adept at. This still seems to be the case even if we are doing something totally private like drawing in a sketchbook that we have no intention of sharing. We are protecting that inner child from criticism. But we are also eliminating the chance of new experiences and the acquisition of new skills not to mention the fun you might have in the process.
We are not really 'creative'
Oh yes we are. Just look at how many imaginative excuses we came up to avoid having to face our fears and do this creative project (which we actually really want to do).
No matter which one of these excuses you tend to use, or how many you combine, you have not managed to dismiss that little voice. So you may as well just heed that creative calling.
Life is finite.
Don't miss your chance to do these things that you can't stop thinking about.
Some days you just feel pulled in all directions, don't you? We manage to fit more and more into our lives. The more you do, the more you can do. But there is a cost. We cannot run on full steam every waking moment of the day. This is easy to forget. Especially when you have prioritised everything that you have to do for everyone else. Everything for which you are accountable. The risk is that you end up doing the urgent tasks in favour of the important tasks on your list, as Stephen Covey would say.
We have so many goals, even if we perhaps haven't articulated them as such. But I bet we all can come up with a list that goes something like this:
It goes on and on, doesn't it? And we haven't even started on any work-related to do list. At times like this finding time for a self care practice, like doing something creative can seem hard to justify. But I think that we almost have to. If you don't oil the wheels the machine stops turning. We are those machines. And the self practice rituals that we devise for ourselves are the oil.
These things are important although they do not demand to be heard in the way the urgent tasks do. They are important because they maintain our capacity to function, and because they come from our truest values and desires. Our values and needs - not those of someone else.
If your creative practice soothes your soul and refuels you, can you really afford not to do this? To be fair to ourselves though, we have to make sure that these self care routines are manageable. If you only have ten minutes to spare to be creative, then make it count. Let it be enough.
The fact that you set aside time for yourself is more important than the amount of time you allot. Make those few minutes precious and sacred. Not negotiable. Surrender yourself entirely to your practice, whatever it may be. A few minutes with a colouring book. A cup of tea and a sketchbook. Baking a batch of cookies. Ten minutes of writing in your journal - with or without a prompt. A short walk with your camera. Immerse yourself completely in the process, with no expectations for the outcome. Engage all your senses, breathe deeply.
Let every fibre of your being yield to your task. Let your complete mindful engagement in your task feed your soul. Nurture yourself so that you can replenish your ability to help those who need you.
If you have the creative urge - heed it. A few minutes in each day can add up to a surprising body of work. It is infinitely preferable to leaving that need unmet to grow into resentment. We regret the things we don't do far more than we regret the things we have done.
Let your ten minutes of creation be a reminder that you have the power to create the sort of life experience you desire. Moment by moment. And even if you only have a few moments to spare, it can be enough.
I can't believe I am already at the end of my flower faces series. I have to admit I am tempted to do another month of flower faces because it has been so much fun. But I already have something else in mind, so my series for June will be something a bit different from this. New medium, new surface, new subject. Exciting.
Creating something every day and posting it is certainly a challenge. But a good one. After the first month, I still highly recommend it. Even though my task of creating one flower face in pen and mostly watercolour is a relatively small one, it has still been tricky to fit it in some days.
And I think that is rather the point. Even a comparatively small task is easily squashed out of the day by things that seem urgent. Having promised myself (and you!) that I would post every day has helped me remember that while there are other urgent tasks in my day, this one is still important to me. It deserves its space.
So my project of monthly series continues.
In closing off the last of the flower face posts for this series I would like to share seven of my fave flower quotations. Which is your favourite?
“The earth laughs in flowers.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Perfumes are the feelings of flowers.” ― Heinrich Heine
“A flower blossoms for its own joy.” ― Oscar Wilde
“Don't let the tall weeds cast a shadow on the beautiful flowers in your garden.” ― Steve Maraboli
"Happiness held is the seed; happiness shared is the flower." ― John Harrigan
"A woman should be like a single flower, not a whole bouquet." ― Anna Held
"When the flower blossoms, the bee will come." ― Srikumar Rao
You know and I know that flowers just make us feel better. Actually, they make us perform better too. You can boost your creativity, productivity and memory by ensuring that your environment contains plants.
At the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, the Identity Realisation research group at the University of Exeter carried out 90 experiments in association with Indoor Garden Design. Results from the 350 participants that took part in the study show that allowing staff to make design decisions in a workspace enhanced with office plants can increase well-being by 47%, increase creativity by 45% and increase productivity by 38%.
An earlier study by Robert Ulrich found that workers demonstrated more innovative thinking, generated more ideas and came up with more creative solutions to problems in an office environment that included flowers and plants, relative to those in an office with no flowers or plants. And of course, plants and flowers improve the quality of the air in the office which also contributes to the improved well being and productivity of the workers.
In this study by Ulrich, the men generated more ideas than the women when the work environment included flowers. However, the women exhibited greater creativity and contrived more flexible solutions to problems when flowers were present in the environment.
According to Sherry Burton Ways, the integration of plants in offices has been proven to reduce absenteeism and stress levels and lower blood pressure. Other proven benefits include lower noise levels, lower room temperature and reduced humidity.
It would be a mistake to think that design decisions are nothing more than superficial and that decorating your work environment with flowers is frivolous. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown improvement across measures of psychological comfort and business performance in spaces that incorporate natural elements such as plants and flowers.
So get yourself a cheery plant or fresh flowers for your work environment and raise your creativity and productivity. It has to be worth a try, surely?
Explore more of the Flower Faces series
One of the things that plagues me regularly is wondering what to draw or paint. I worry that if I am not particularly inspired then perhaps I am not actually all that creative. But I am realising that inspiration is everywhere. And deep down I believe that every one of us is creative.
But doubt inevitably creeps in. I think it is part of the process. And it is not so much that I am not 'inspired'. I think it is more about a fear of not being able to make something lovely out of that inspiration.
So the plan is to 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. Let go of needing to make something lovely. Sometimes making something is enough in its own right. The process is often worth so much more than the final product.
The other day I found an enchanting photograph of a sunflower on Instagram. I have to be honest - sunflowers are not exactly my favourites because I often see them in their later stages of life and it is that picture that unfortunately sticks in my mind. Giant stalks with bedraggled leaves. Dry and brown, heavy with seed. I am so pleased to have found a far more hopeful image which will hopefully replace the one to which my mind has been defaulting!
The sunflower looked happy and hopeful and like it needed a face (currently every flower I look it seems to need a face drawn on it!). The other thing that the photo I saw inspired me to do was to use up the white space. As much as I have been enjoying the white space around my little flowers, I liked the change of dropping in a nice textured background. So much fun splashing in lots of lovely greens, extra clean water and even a bit of salt. Voila. Flower face Number 9.
So if you are having a spot of trouble feeling inspired (or scared to put pencil to paper - which I am thinking is basically the same thing) here are a few strategies to try:
Pick the first thing that comes to mind and draw lots and lots of them. Just doodle loads of cats/flowers/tea cups - whatever you think of first. The more of them you draw, the more variations you will think of because as I have found, ideas come from ideas
Take a class. If you don't know what to draw then let a teacher tell you. Allow yourself to be inspired by the teacher as well as your fellow class mates. One cautionary note, if I may - be inspired by these people, but do not compare yourself with them. Only misery can follow that...
Choose a masterpiece that you love and copy it. Leonardo da Vinci said, " If one knows how to copy, one knows how to do". Its ok. You have permission from da Vinci. Go ahead and copy.
Productively surf your social media faves.... visual cues bombard us - choose to notice which ones are speaking to your muse. You might just find a lovely picture of a sunflower to draw.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the rest of the Flower Face Series.
Today, I had the urge to add doodles to the petals of my flower face. And one should never resist the urge to doodle.
I have been a doodling fan for quite some considerable time. I stumbled upon Zentangle very early on in my creative journey. I was drawn to it as a less intimidating form of artistic expression. Life drawing, perspective, proportions, value scales.... these are all pretty intimidating to a beginner. But lines and dots and repeated patterns? Everyone can have a go at that. Little did I realise how soothing it was. I concluded that it was like meditation for people who struggle to meditate.
Aside from Zentangle, I often feel drawn to including doodle patterns in my journal pages. (If you want to have a go at this you could hop over to Joanne Sharpe's website and take one of her doodle classes - she is a lot of fun and so are her classes.)
I realise I was originally prey to the invisible indoctrination of the 'doodling is the antithesis of intellectual thought movement'. Not for serious people.
It turns out that science came to the fore a few years ago and proved this to be false*. Doodling actually has been shown to enhance memory function, and stimulate creativity. Although we generally tend to believe that doodling signifies a loss of attention or concentration, it is in fact a preemptive measure that engages the brain and prevents it from losing focus.
In her terrific TED talk, Sunni Brown explains that we take in information in 4 ways:
In order for deep learning and engagement with this information, two of these forms must be simultaneously present, or one form plus an emotional experience. Doodling combines all four forms and the possibility of an emotional experience.
Well, I don't need any more convincing than that. But I have just added another book to my reading list. Sunni Brown's Doodle Revolution. I will tell you all about it in due course... Have you already read it? What did you think?
*Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24: 100–106. doi: 10.1002/acp.1561.
Explore the rest of the Flower Faces Series.
When I started this series I worried about whether I would just create different colour versions of the same sort of doodley flower I started with. Would I come up with anything else? Enough to fill a month? It turns out that ideas come from ideas.
Committing to a series is like an extended brainstorming session. If you have ever been in a corporate style brainstorming session - first of all, sorry about that - and secondly, you may have noticed that they usually begin with awkward silence.
No ideas. Some one well versed in management speak will then usually say something like 'there's no such thing as a bad idea... don't be shy...'
Eventually a small voice pipes up. Hmm. Some thinking ensues. Perhaps a little smirking. Then another voice. It is often easier to criticise an existing idea than come up with a new one. But funnily enough, criticising an idea is the first step to making the idea better. Or coming up with a substitute.
Before long the brainstorming snowballs. From little or nothing in the beginning to multiple ideas. It's like our idea generating equipment needs warming up.
When I first felt a twinge of doubt about having enough flower faces to fill a month I got out my sketchbook. Made a scratchy doodle of something that looked more like a dandelion than a flower. From there other flowers appeared in my sketchbook. Each idea a little easier to come by than the last.
Now the only thing I have to ask is - is a dandelion a flower?.... well for my purposes, yes. And she looks far too regal to be a weed. But then, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said...
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
Explore more of the Flower Faces Series
Jane Davenport says ...
Not everything you create is a masterpiece - love it anyway.
Well, today I got a chance to try and do that.
Here she is Flower Face No 3...
One of the joys of mixed media is that you have unlimited options when it comes to 'improving' your painting. I think I used nearly everything today...
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be producing work we like. But the truth is that producing something you love every time you sit down is unrealistic. Ira Glass explained it for us - that it is the gap between what our good taste wants to see and what our hands are able to make as beginners. You know the one?... this one...
Explore more of the Flower Faces Series
A little while ago I started a new habit - I create something every day. I draw and paint a little character using limited supplies in my ten minute journal and post it on Instagram daily. I have found this small but consistent practice enormously helpful. Want to check it out? Here you go...
Then I came across Elle Luna’s 100 days project over at The Great Discontent. These words really spoke to me.
I had only been doing my daily journal page for a few weeks but already I knew this to be true. The muse doesn’t come and chase you down. You have to keep showing up consistently and then she can find you. Of course I signed up to #the100dayproject and today will be the 26th day out of 100 for my #100daysof10minutejournals.
The point of the exercise is process and discipline. I have realised that making time to sit down and create every day has helped me so much more than the counting of the art hours that I have been doing up until now. So I am changing tack. Actually it feels more like getting back on track. What I really want is to make art. The best way to do it is to do a little bit every day.
So the theme for this first month of May is flower faces.
This is Flower Faces No 1.
I have had a few challenges since the art bug bit me. Like the fact that I was a maths/science kid at school, and then a business graduate and professional who had never before considered painting or drawing. So knowing where to begin was rather tricky (not to mention entirely daunting!)
I started with books, then online courses. It’s all good. When you don’t know where to start the solution is simple…. Start anywhere! And then for the last year or two I have noticed that I only tended to do artwork from online classes - assigned tasks if you will. Now I want to do something that has nothing to do with anyone’s class. (I’m a classaholic, so I won't be giving that up) but I am challenging myself to make something every day, Monday to Friday and post it here. I am picking a different theme for each month.
Explore more of this series of Flower Faces.
Visit the shop to see if you can find your favourite from the series.