What if we allow creativity to be hard, simply because sometimes creativity is hard?

Not because we’re failures as a human being. Not because we aren’t creative enough. Not because we’re not inspired. Not because of artist’s block.

Creativity means sitting with a blank page of nothing and attempting to create something of substance from that very nothing. Creating something from nothing is hard.

Creativity involves growing and evolving as a person and an artist and allowing the work that we commit to to change us. Change can be scary. Change can be hard.

Creativity means facing the uncertainty of the blank page over and over again. Our brain hates uncertainty, so it does everything in its power to move us away from this perceived threat. That includes invoking all our personal demons and past failures to remind us why we shouldn’t be doing this. Sitting with that discomfort is hard. It’s painful. And that’s okay.

Creativity is hard sometimes. Personally, I find it hard quite a lot of the time.

Nothing is wrong with you if you find the hard things in life to be hard. We need to stop perpetuating a romanticized version of creativity that says it is always easy and flowing and fun and that if that’s not the case, you’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes creativity just is hard work. And I feel we are forgetting the value of hard, deep work and the rewards that we reap on the other side of it.

Sometimes things are hard simply because they are hard.
But we can do hard things.

You Can’t See the Road Ahead

When you start out you may look at other people’s art and wonder how you would even go about getting to that level of skill. You look at where you are now and where you want to go and all you see is a gap in skill that seems unbridgeable in your lifetime.

You haved to keep in mind that learning to draw is a long-term process and it’s hard to plan ahead. You don’t know what you don’t know until you start trying. You don’t know where you need to build knowledge or skill until you collide with your lack of it. You can’t determine your style without trying a million different things and then subconsciously curating them into something that is uniquely yours.

Learning is not linear. You may be stuck at one level of skill for weeks or even months. Then you take a surging, massive leap forward to a place you couldn’t even have imagined before.

As you keep showing up, observing the world and practicing, your brain is doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Then it finally goes “ta-daaaa” and presents you with something unexpected and new.

But to get to that place you have to keep showing up though doubt and uncertainty and trust the process.

You never know how long it will take you to reach a certain level. Sometimes it will take much longer and sometimes it will take much shorter than you expect.

You can’t plan ahead because you never know what the struggle of the day will be. All you can do is show up and meet it in the moment, over and over again.

The path will reveal itself one step at a time.

Your job is to keep taking those steps.

Can You Redefine „Letting Yourself Off the Hook”?

We all have bad days. It’s normal. We all have days we really don’t want to do what we said we were going to do.

We’re tired, we’re sick, we’re sad, we’re mad. The temptation is high to let ourselves off the hook and sometimes it’s the right thing to do. If you’re trying to build a consistent drawing habit though, missing one day makes it easier to miss another. In the same way if you keep going for one more day, it will make it easier to do so in future.

In the past I’ve given up on complete challenges because I missed a single day.

It’s silly and it’s unnecessary. It shows I lost sight of why the challenge was important to me, and it’s happened to me several times. With Making Art Everyday I was determined not to let that happen again. So I had to redefine letting myself off the hook.

On days where I feel terrible, have no time or just really don’t want to draw, I try and reduce the pressure anyway I can.

I fall back on my minimum goal of 10 minutes. I know I can be uncomfortable for that long. I fall back on colour palettes, tools and techniques that I know work. I go back to simple shapes and let myself play with texture. I’ll sketch. I’ll turn a sketch into a finished piece. I’ll reuse a background from another image. I’ll recycle an old image into something new. I’ll redraw an image.

I do everything I can to reduce expectation and pressure, to make the experience as easy as possible. But I still show up. The important thing is to keep building the habit until it feels weird to not draw.

If I let myself miss a day, my brain will register that it got to take the easy way out by having a tantrum. And it will throw a bigger tantrum next time. Because I don’t give in, my inner critic has gotten a quieter over time.

But the moment I miss a day it gets louder, as each “failure” confirms what it was saying all along: That I’m useless, a failure, that I never stick to anything. If I persist in making art despite its nasty voice, it fades into the background over time.

I’ve created some of my best drawings on days I didn’t want to draw at all, simply because I showed up anyway. If I hadn’t shown up, those pieces would never have happened.

So let yourself off the hook if you have to, but don’t let yourself quit.

What if you Don’t Quit on the Bad Days?

Creativity is often sold to us as this wonderful, magical thing that is supposed to flow out of you with ease because you love doing it so much, and there seems to be a lot of people under the impression that if this is not the case for you, then you are somehow “doing creativity wrong” and you might as well not bother.

Reality check – this is not what my experience of creativity has looked like, pretty much ever.

Creativity is a form of problem solving and that can be frustrating.

Creativity means facing uncertainty in the form of the blank page, and to our primitive brain the uncertain is terrifying – because tigers.

Creativity means learning and growing and if you consider a child learning to walk you’ll see that learning and growing as an artist comes with the creative equivalent of frustration, bruised knees and falling flat on your face. A lot.

And that’s okay. There is a romanticized version of creativity that is oversold to us but rarely seen in reality. We stand in awe of the finished work, not realizing the sweat and blood that has been poured into a craft for many years for the artist to get to this level.

When you create regularly, you will inevitably hit a wall. You may hit it in every piece you create, you may go through weeks of blissful creating, but at some stage, you will hit the wall, and it will hurt. Sometimes you hit the wall over and over again for days or weeks or months and that’s what a lot of us call artist’s block. And that still doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it just happens. It’s annoying, frustrating and totally, totally normal.

It’s how you deal with those difficult moments that matters. Do you gently calm the temper tantrum of your brain and keep going or throw in the towel and decide you’re obviously just not creative enough? Do you push yourself to the edge of your endurance a couple more times to see how much more you can actually give or do you immediately fold and Netflix binge instead? Do you show up even when you don’t feel like it and do your work, or do you buy into the myth that you have to be inspired or motivated to create and put off that day until someday never, because if you don’t use your creativity it just withers away.

People don’t quit during good times. They quit when things get hard. What if you decided to just not quit on those bad days? What might be possible if you just kept showing up?

You Don’t Need Any More Knowledge.

There comes a point where watching yet another tutorial on how to get better at drawing is no longer helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, tutorials are amazing and can be very helpful when you’re using them in a targeted manner. But if you’re watching tutorial after tutorial without actually picking up your pencil, chances are more information is not what you need.

For example: For getting started on ProCreate I’d say watch one quality tutorial on the basic functionality, and then start drawing. You don’t need to understand the whole programme or all the tools. You’ll learn most when you dive in and get to work.

You will never feel quite ready. You will never feel you know enough. You will not understand all the things you don’t know until you test your drawing skills in the wild.

All the preparation in the world will not save you from making mistakes. You will make many messy, crappy drawings until you learn enough to make better ones and that’s fine. That’s simply how it is. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

You have to work through the bad drawings to get to the good ones. Everyone does. You cannot cheat or shortcut the creative process.
More important than watching tons of tutorials is training your own skills of observation and translating what you see onto the page. Most important is that you pick up a pencil and actually put marks on a page. If you watch tutorial after tutorial you get good at watching tutorials. If you draw everyday, you actually get good at drawing.

If you watch loads of tutorials, but never draw, it is nothing more than inspiration porn. If it hasn’t worked already, watching more tutorials is not what will get you drawing.

Start before you feel ready. When you start, you’ll be able to figure out where your actual areas of struggle are and you can watch targeted tutorials to help you master those areas.

But if you’re not putting that knowledge into practice, it’s a waste of time. Time you could better spend drawing.

Feeling Your Work is “Never Good Enough”

No matter how good your work gets, you may feel it is never quite „good enough“.

Chances are, this is due to something called the perception gap. As you get better at your art, you develop good taste. You see what you like about the work of other artists and you begin to understand what makes a good piece. But your actual drawing skills take a while to catch up with your new level of perception.

When you reach a new level of skill, it‘s likely your perception will have evolved again. At each stage you become aware of new, more nuanced details that you can now focus on improving.

Because your perception of what makes good work keeps evolving as your skill does, the two never match up. This can lead to you feeling that your art is sub-standard and that you‘re not improving, even though you are.
Look back at your work from a few weeks, months or years ago. It might surprise you how far you‘ve come.

This perception gap is a normal and quite universal artistic experience. You aren’t doing anything wrong. Keep practicing. You will improve if you keep putting in the work.

And don‘t be too hard on yourself.

Don’t Quit on a Bad Day

It’s generally not the good days you have to worry about when you take on a long term commitment such as drawing everyday.

The good days are easy.
The bad days are the days that you need to mentally prepare for.

It’s the bad days that will trip you up and make you question why you’re even doing all of this.

You will not want to quit on the good days.
You will very much want to quit on the bad days.

I’ve found the best way for me to deal with this is to just not quit on the bad days. If I go for a long period and something isn’t working and I want to stop doing it even on my good days when I’m feeling reasonably emotionally neutral, maybe it’s time to consider if what I’m doing is worth pursuing. But if I just want to quit because I’m not feeling good or having a bad day, I don’t let myself.

We go through many ups and downs every single day, and every single day is different. Our emotions are not a reliable indicator of what we are capable of on that day.

Some of my best drawings were made on days I really didn’t want to draw. I’ve made terrible drawings on days I was highly motivated.

It’s worth showing up to the page with an open mind, no matter how you’re feeling. You might be surprised. And if a good day results in a bad drawing, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s nothing to worry about. It just happens.

Bad days are of course the days when you are most going to want to give up and throw in the towel. They are stressful, painful and you feel like nothing is worth it anymore. Those are the days you need to overcome. The good days are easy. It’s those bad days that will make or break you.

Don’t let yourself quit on those days. If you can survive the bad days, you can survive every other day too.

Don’t quit on a bad day.

Drawing Daily doesn’t Have to be a Big Deal

Drawing everyday can sound like a huge, insurmountable project. So big that the very thought of it is so overwhelming that we never even try.

But it doesn’t have to be the massive ordeal we often envision it to be. It doesn’t have to consume huge amounts of time or energy. It really doesn’t.
When I joined the Making Art Everyday Challenge, I started with a tiny commitment of 10 minutes a day. That’s all.

I could do more if I wanted and usually did, but my minimum investment to fall back on was 10 minutes. Whether I finished my sketch in that time was secondary.

By keeping my commitment small I disarmed my fear of starting, and of being uncomfortable.

I couldn’t create a masterpiece in 10 minutes, so that pressure was off. My drawing was rusty after years of creative inactivity, so I knew starting again would be hard and uncomfortable. But I knew I could stomach being uncomfortable for 10 minutes at a time, so it felt way less scary.
Now, 18 months into the project, I still fall back on that 10 minute rule when I’m struggling.

It’s better to uphold the habit with a tiny commitment, than break it because you decide you have to go big or it’s not worth doing at all. This all or nothing thinking prevents us from moving forward. Unless conditions are ideal and we have large blocks of free time we decide we “don’t have the time”, so we do nothing. But lots of small, imperfect blocks of time add up too.

Keeping my small daily commitment even on the worst days signals to my brain that I keep my promises to myself. That in turn strengthens my motivation to keep going in the long run.

When committing to a daily creative practice, we need to make sure the practice is sustainable for our energy levels and lifestyle.
It is so, SO important to start small and simple until you build up steam and start wanting to do more.

And you can usually start a lot smaller than you think. If you have five minutes a day to scroll your phone, you have five minutes in which you can make a tiny drawing instead. It can be a rough sketch. It doesn’t have to be a finished drawing. It doesn’t have to be good.

You can do a tiny sketch in five minutes, while waiting for your coffee. You can pick up your iPad or sketch pad instead of scrolling your phone. You can sketch for 20 minutes while re-watching your favourite show. You can doodle in your lunch-break (or during tedious meetings). You can doodle in ProCreate pocket on your phone while waiting for the bus.

Starting small allows you to engrain a habit and build momentum over time. This is much more effective than trying to willpower your way through a huge act of creation that will leave you exhausted and burnt out.

You’ll resist trying the same thing again anytime soon and that will raise your procrastination levels through the roof. It’s a vicious cycle.

Don’t sabotage yourself by thinking that drawing daily needs to be a huge commitment. Tiny commitments can grow into big things. Trying to go too big, too soon is a recipe for overwhelm and disappointment.

Start small. Even smaller. Let it be easy. And watch the magic unfold.

It’s Not Too Late to Start

There are dates that may feel like they are particularly auspicious to start a new project on. New Year’s Day being the first example to spring to mind, others might include the “official” start of a challenge such as Inktober, NaNoWriMo, Making Art Everyday and The 100 Day Project or the first day of a new month or quarter.

For long term creative projects, it’s never too late too start.

Disappointed you missed day one of Making Art Everyday and feel like you’ve already failed? It doesn’t matter! Starting Inktober a week late? Who cares?

January 2nd (or any other day) is as good a day as any to dedicate yourself to a project. You don’t even have to “catch up”. Just dive right in and get started. I often find trying to catch up on daily projects leads to unnecessary stress. If you miss a day let it go and move on to the next prompt. You can always go back to a missed prompt if you have the time or can use it to replace a prompt you find uninspiring. Or tack it on at the end of the project.

Many of these projects are geared towards making time for and establishing a regular creative practice. That is the ultimate goal. The start dates are often chosen arbitrarily and don’t have any consequential significance.

Avoiding a challenge that could revolutionize your creativity simply because the start date isn’t “right” is a BS excuse your brain uses to prevent you from leaving your comfort zone.

Dedicating ourselves to our creative work is oftentimes accompanied by a lot of fear. Our brain perceives attempting and potentially failing at something so meaningful to us as a threat, so it stops us from trying altogether to keep us “safe”, even if the status quo in isn’t actually what we want.

In short: Missing the “right” start date is an excuse.

Once you’ve seen the incredible results of regular practice, you won’t care that you missed a few days here and there. Your future thriving artist self won’t care that you started Making Art Everyday on January 3rd or missed a week in June. The missed days pale in comparison if you spend hundreds of other days creating.

The goal of these challenges is to build a long-term and sustainable creative habit and make time for things you love. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do them.

Don’t let your brain cheat you out of your creative potential with its bullshit excuses. Change can be hard enough as it is and your brain will often try and derail you because it feels uncomfortable. Don’t let it be over a missed day, or even a missed week. You can always get back on the horse. Start anytime. Keep going anytime.

Drawing every day for any extended period of time is a big challenge. Chances are high that you will miss days, no matter what you do. You might get sick. You might break your wrist. You might need to grieve the death of a loved one. Life throws us curveballs. Even with the best of plans, sometimes things go awry.

What you can do when this happens is take any missed day as a lesson in what you need to watch out for or do better next time.

Do you need to prepare ideas in advance? Download reference and charge your power bank before heading off the grid? Get your drawing in earlier in the day? Make sure your iPad is charging the night before?

Every drawing will teach you something. But every missed day can teach you something valuable too.

Treat every day as an experiment and take away the lessons it has to teach you. Then use that information to help you avoid missed days in the future. You can never control all the things. But you can do what you can to improve the things you can control.

If you can do that, there are no “failed” days.

No effort is ever wasted.

And it’s never too late to start that process.

How to Have Drawing Ideas based on a Prompt List

Some of you may be thinking about joining or are already participating in some sort of daily, prompt based drawing challenge such as Making Art Everyday or Inktober.

If you’ve ever attempted a project like this yourself, you may have struggled a bit with making the prompts system work for you. This is totally normal in the beginning, there is nothing wrong with you I promise, and you really have to think of coming up with ideas as a whole new skillset that takes time to develop. It takes practice, and you will get better at it over time.

The more ideas you produce, the more ideas you’re likely to have. Creativity breeds creativity. Think of it as training up your creative muscles.

As you may know, since beginning of 2019 I have been creating a drawing a day as part of Lisa Bardot’s Making Art Everyday Challenge. There is a monthly theme, then often a weekly sub-theme and then a prompt for every single day.

I found at some stage that I had developed something of a system to kickstart my idea-finding process for a piece when working with prompts.

1) The Obvious

First level is to just draw the most literal interpretation of the prompt. When you are starting out or stuck for ideas, this is a great way to practice your skills even if you’re stumped for creative ideas. It works particularly well for individual objects or animals and less well for more abstract ideas such as emotions.

You can just bring up some reference images from Google or Pinterest and start drawing without thinking about it too hard.

2) Getting Specific

Beyond just drawing the most stereotypical, stock-photo expression of the prompt you can then try and get more specific. Let’s take the example of a tomato. Not all tomatoes are red and round, they could be an odd shape, you could add some interesting textures and variations within the colours, it could have bruises, be mouldy or squashed.

3) Collections

Still sticking with a fairly literal interpretation of the prompt you could play with creating a collection of tomatoes of various colours, sizes and shapes, maybe even a squished one all together. Collections can be more exciting than a single object as there is far more for us to discover in the image and your brain doesn’t just gloss over it as something it already obviously knows. For some objects you could associate around it and create a fun flat lay style image, so maybe your tomato could be part of a picknic or you could create a flatlay image of an assortment of different vegetables.

4) Abstract

What makes a tomato a tomato? You can abstract the tomato and change one of its identifying features. What if it were square? What if it were blue?

5) Associations with other objects

You could brainstorm words associated with tomatoes and see if that sparks a different train of thought. Tomato sauce? Spaghetti! Tomato Ketchup? Spilling it on your shirt! Tomato soup? A tin with a tomato on it!

6) Put it in a Scene

Then you can start thinking about the object a little more and putting it in a scene from its “everyday” or even not so everyday life. Where does the Tomato grow? Is it on the plant or on a plate or in a salad? Has someone just picked it? Is someone or something about to eat it?

7) Usage and Abusage

Play with the use of the object. What do you do with a tomato? (Chop it, eat it, make a salad…) What should you not really do with a tomato, which would make an interesting or funny story? (Throw it, eat it whole, step on it, sit on it…)

8) Getting Personal

Do you have any personal stories related to the prompt that you could use? Something funny or interesting that happened to you, a sentimental object or experience that you could create a story around?

9) Give it a Face

You could try turning the object into a character. What features of the object can you exaggerate into character attributes? Maybe she has red shiny cheeks, maybe he is very angry and that is enhanced by how red he is. How would a tomato spend its day? How would a tomato definitely NOT spend its day, and can you create a funny story around that? What would a grand adventure look like to a tomato? What does a world look like in which a tomato lives? What other everyday objects might take on a different significance in their world? I.e. a fork could be terrifying and dangerous, a plant pot might be a cozy home.

10) Interaction

You could have a different character interact with the object. A person, an animal, another vegetable? What would they do, or how would they behave towards a tomato? If you’ve already turned your object into a character, how would it interact with this new character? What would their relationship be?

Be Persistent

Chances are some prompts will immediately spark ideas and some will be an instant turn-off for you.

I would like to invite you to give the ones that you have a “ugh – no way!” reaction to a second chance and sit with them for a bit.

If you immediately have ideas, it’s likely you already have some sort of connection with the prompt or it’s something that’s quite obvious. Getting to something a bit more creative and out there may take a little more probing and gentle pushing outside your comfort zone and maybe you’ll need to spend a bit more time looking up reference and working to understand how your subject is visually made up.

Some of my best images have come from prompts that I hated when I first saw them. Something about not instantly jiving with the prompt makes me think more creatively about what I can do with it to make it fun for me and that often leads to more creative ideas. It also pushes me to draw topics way outside my comfort zone that I wouldn’t even consider otherwise, which is one thing I love about prompt lists, it really helps expand your visual repertoire.

Final Words

Asking these questions can feel a little silly and clunky initially, but basically they just really help me think differently about the object and start brainstorming new ideas that I wouldn’t have hit on otherwise. It’s mostly intended as a kick-start, once I’m in the right frame of mind I’ll often go off on a totally different tangent and might start asking completely different questions, totally just go with the flow once that starts to happen and see where it takes you, then come back to the questions if you get stuck.

Now that I’ve gone through this process so often, it mostly works on a more subconscious level and I’m often not actually asking those questions in my head.

As with drawing itself, it will likely take some practice to get comfortable with this process.

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