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How to Start and Make Time to Create Art
“I really love making art, sketching, drawing etc., but I find it really hard to get started on anything or to make time to do it. I sort of have to force myself to do art because I often don’t feel like I have any ideas of what to draw or what to do. If I go to a class or do a tutorial where someone gives me a topic or something to start me off then I’m usually off and running and really enjoy the process.
But I’m wondering whether this means that maybe I’m not really supposed to be following this path – wouldn’t an artist just wake up in the morning and get started painting? And wouldn’t they just do art rather than reading books about artists or watching videos of other people making art or scrolling thru Instagram to see what their favourite artists are doing? Is this something that others struggle with?”
To be honest, I think just about every artist I know (professional, teacher, student, amateur — you name it) often has difficulty when deciding what to draw or create. It happens to all of us and it’s completely natural. It doesn’t mean that you should stop pursuing art or that it’s not your calling. It just means that you don’t have many ideas at the moment. And remember, part of being an artist is problem solving. It’s not simply about making a pretty picture, there are many elements involved.
Look at it like this: even the best chefs in the world aren’t always able to walk into the kitchen and create 5-star level dishes. Sometimes it takes patience, trial, and error.
Personally what I like to do when I get into one of these ruts is to practice the fundamentals. Usually when I do this I’m not thinking of super conceptual things, but something simple like drawing the human figure or the human head. I especially like this because after a while it gets my juices flowing again and new ideas start to form. I also have moments when I just scroll through Instagram or Artstation.com to get inspired. There’s so much out in the art world to get inspired from and I try to take advantage of it.
As far as making the time to draw, what I’ve found is that consistency is better than binge drawing. Meaning, it’s better to draw for 2-3 hours every day, than to draw for 6-8 hours once a week. Binge drawing gets you nowhere but a sore wrist.
Hope that helps! Keep the pencil mileage going!
I think most artists have experienced the uncertainty and frustration you’re describing, no matter how talented or experienced they may be. Making art itself is hard! It’s called a practice for a reason: you not only practice technique, but also practice habits and motivation. Very few people can wake up in the morning magically inspired and on track to create beautiful things: trust me, we all get distracted scrolling through Instagram and watching videos of other people at work. I don’t think your struggles mean that you’re not meant to be an artist: I think the more important point is that you enjoy the process once you’re in it. So, the trick then is coming up with a system for getting yourself out of that rut.
You mentioned that you find making art easier when you’re in an art class, because you’re given prompts, and deadlines, and there’s an expectation of a product. Why not adopt elements of that structure for yourself outside of the classroom? Some artists give themselves a routine, promising themselves that they’ll be in studio working at a certain time every day. It doesn’t matter what they’re working on: just that it’s happening regularly, and therefor becomes a habit.
Additionally, many artists find setting a constraint for their work to be extremely helpful for getting their creative juices flowing, because it gives them a starting point to bounce off of. Challenge yourself to do twenty drawings just of shoes, or using only shades of blue. You could participate in Inktober, where participants are challenged to create an ink drawing a day for the entire month of October. (I love this concept because you’re given a schedule to follow, and because seeing other people’s work on social media helps you stay on track and inspired.)
The thing about these prompts is that they not only give you a direction, but they also lower the stakes of art-making in your mind. I have a terrible habit of psyching myself out over making “good” pieces, when paradoxically the work I’m proudest of has historically been the pieces I did just because I wanted to explore. When you build a piece up in your mind, you’re too preoccupied with making it good to actually… make it good. If in your head you’re just making the piece to fulfill the prompt, the piece becomes less intimidating, and you’re actually able to loosen up and explore your options more easily.
How to Get Started Again
“I just wanted to ask for some advice on where to start making art again. I am currently working in the special needs education/rehabilitative sector and have consulted with several universities around seeking to apply for an MA in Art Therapy. However, all of them had declined my application given that I did not have any background in art but they urged me to complete a fine arts degree and try again.
I feel strongly about obtaining my Masters in this area as it would help so many of my students and patients (children, adolescents and stroke patients) in the Philippines who have difficulty communicating verbally but are all such visual learners. As such, I would really appreciate it if you can point me in the right direction on where to start practicing and which areas I need to start on.
Full disclosure, I do not have any formal training in art at all but I am quite determined to learn. I have been doing some self-study from books and trying my hand at doing still life using pencils and watercolors.”
I think a great place to get started is to create a daily sketching routine for yourself; it’s a terrific way to hold yourself accountable to make sure that you are producing artwork on a regular basis. It’s really helpful to establish a routine that you can rely on; perhaps you sketch for 15 minutes during your lunch break, maybe set an alarm for every evening at 6pm, whatever it takes to stay on track.
I have found social media platforms to be helpful too; I always make sure to post my work to Instagram at least a few times a week. You can track your progress this way and look back on older pieces to see improvement. Often times when you’re drawing a piece, it feels like nothing is happening in terms of progress, but if you can refer to older pieces you will see progress over time!
If you aren’t working in a sketchbook, it’s super helpful to set up a work space at home that is always waiting for you. Makes it so much easier to create work if you don’t have to lift a finger to get set up. Doesn’t have to be fancy, it could be a small desk that has a few materials on it, with a sheet of paper that is always ready to be worked on.
I found during art school that staying productive and simply creating A LOT of artwork was so important to my development. Every time you sit down to create artwork, it’s a contribution to your development and progress, no matter how good/bad the piece you are working on turns out. I have many students who give themselves a really hard time if their piece doesn’t go well, but every experience is important for one reason or another!
I highly recommend participating in our monthly Art Dares, there’s a new prompt every month and you can work in any media. It’s a great place to get ideas for where to start, and again, hold yourself accountable because the pieces are due on the last day of each month.
It’s really inspiring to see how you want to explore art in this area, it’s one example of the countless directions art can take you!
Many things you can do to approach art have already been covered in previous comments. Keeping a sketchbook and having a daily drawing routine are all very useful things to do. As Prof Lieu mentioned, Art Dares are also a really good way to push yourself in making new art everyday. Not only does it give you the opportunity to try different ideas and mediums for each prompt under a deadline, but you can also see how others react to the Art Dares as well.
It’s extremely helpful to observe and communicate with other artists, whether they be professional or students themselves! It’s encouraging to be able to share your progress with others and receive feedback and support from them. Fortunately, Art Prof and its many social media platforms (facebook, instagram, twitter…you name it) is a priceless resource!
Another thing I would recommend is don’t be afraid. Whether it be trying new mediums, reaching out to others, or taking on a challenging piece of artwork, any attempt you make to try to better yourself is already a step in the right direction.
It is so great to see you heading in this direction and taking upon the initiative of introducing art into your work! I feel, a good place to start is to begin in a medium or area of art or design (2D or 3D) that interests you but also, with which you have some familiarity. To start off, keeping things simple is the easiest. You mentioned creating still life. I would recommend building upon it.
Art Prof offers some really great courses, for Still Life and Portrait. This will help you cover foundation skills such as space, light and shadow and perspective. And this will also allow you to further develop your technical skills of pencil studies as well as venture into other materials.
I think another thing to look into is local art courses offered by universities and art organisations. See if they offer any short module courses or weekly open drawing/painting sessions (which will provide more flexibility with your work schedule as well) that you could enroll into. It will be a good means of connecting with other artists as well.
And lastly, one of the easiest ways of just getting into the process of creating art again is keeping a sketchbook. It is a wonderful way of insuring to sketch everyday and even though its not immediately realised, it eventually improves one’s thinking and creating process. It is also a great place to observe and explore, without the pressure of creating something finished.
It is a rumour that formal training is required to create a work of art, I think its important to keep working at it, something which you are already doing. So, just keep at it! The intersection of art and education is an area that interests me deeply and I am excited by the prospects of your initiative, and wish you the very best.
“Can I ask a question about composition in abstract, nonobjective paintings? I’ve heard that the focal point can be multiple points in abstract art. Sometimes I’ve made an abstract painting, and when I’m finished, it seems like I’ve completed a background–my eye just slides across and doesn’t know when to stop- it seems decorative but missing something essential .
Should there be a central image with abstraction? How does one begin to approach composition in abstract paintings? Any reference books you can suggest?”
I would say that in all paintings (regardless of whether they are abstract or not) there are no inherent rules to composition. What works in one painting (such as having a central image) may not work for another. I think the more important concern would be how you balance all of the parts of the painting in relation to each other. Frequently I see paintings that have areas that are engaging, but don’t relate to the other parts of the painting, making for a fragmented, almost patchwork quilt-like looks.
My recommendation if you want to think about composition would be to look at abstract paintings you enjoy, and ask yourself, what is this artist doing with their composition to keep it exciting? I find that starting with pieces that you enjoy, and trying to deconstruct what, in your opinion, makes those pieces exciting is one way to help define your own goals.
I think this is a really great question and I wanted to add my two cents on the matter. I think one of the greatest aspects of abstract art is its endless possibilities in composition. Without having to worry about fully – rendered objects, you really do have endless possibilities.
Some amount of balance is key to engaging pieces and having flow can really keep a piece from looking too choppy and disorganized. That being said, I feel that the greatest part about painting is that you can easily go over something that you think does not work, or needs to be altered. There are no limits!
The best piece of advice I can offer is to find an artist, specific movement or style that inspires you- and find what you like about their work. Find out what you think makes them successful and incorporate those ideas into your own work.
I think another great resource to look at is principles of graphic design. Graphic design is all about creating a balanced image without necessarily relying on realistic representation of objects. There is a focus on value relationships, relative scale of elements, and the function of color, which I think are all things that can be translated to the world of abstract painting. I have found it helpful to read about concepts of negative/positive space and what happens when work gets too busy (too many visual “voices”).
There are tons of great design books out there. I love going to the art/design section of a book store and flipping through different books to see what catches my eye visually! For specific recommendations, I would suggest “The Little Know-It-All: Common Sense for Designers” by Silja Bilz. There is a whole section on fundamentals of design, where it talks about color relationships, pattern, and general composition rules, which I think could be really useful.
Two other books are “Geometric” and “Geometric Two” by Kapitza (a multi-disciplinary design firm run by two sisters). They are super visually stimulating, full of bright and dynamic compositions that very successfully use subtle asymmetry to achieve balance. Plus, they apply these graphic design principles to a couple different kinds of mediums, not only print/advertising.
“My question is about surface protection. I like to work with acrylics on watercolor paper, and then mount that paper onto hardboard. I want to protect the surface, so the work can be hung without glass- I don’t like the barrier between the viewer and the art. I don’t really like canvas- the texture seems to be both loud and flimsy.
Watercolor paper, the good stuff, is toothy and grabs the pigment in a way nothing else seems to- but can it be protected? Can a viewer get nose to nose with it? Is it considered archival to use some type of acrylic medium on the surface?”
A terrific solution to working on watercolor paper on a large scale is to stretch your watercolor paper on canvas stretchers. (as if you were stretching a canvas on stretchers)
Wet the watercolor before your stretch it, then staple it on the canvas stretches (same technique as stretching a canvas) The paper will look awful on the canvas stretchers while it’s wet, all wrinkled-BUT- the next morning, when the paper is all dry, you will have a smooth, perfectly flat canvas!
I was amazed the first time I did this technique, it’s fabulous and so easy! I used to do it all the time when I was in art school and didn’t want to pay for canvas.
I’ve stretched watercolor paper on canvas stretchers as large as 3′ x 4′, so I know it works on a large scale. This way, your watercolor paper is on canvas stretchers which is so easy to hang! If it’s on stretcher bars, I don’t think acrylic medium is necessary.
Size of Artwork
“My question is about size- I find myself wanting to work in a small scale- really small- ATC up to 5 by 7. I keep forcing myself to go bigger but the work I enjoy the most, and the results I like the most, are these smaller pieces. They feel intimate and like a quiet moment between two people- but I feel like this size issue is a limitation. Should I continue to try and force myself to work in a larger scale, and if so, what is the best way to start moving larger?”
In my opinion, if you feel that working at small scale is the best fit for the effects you are looking to achieve in your artwork, then by all means do it! I don’t see a compelling reason why you need to force yourself to work at a larger scale.
In fact, I once went to an artist lecture in NYC where the artist admitted that he “didn’t know what else to do” so he decided to make gigantic paintings. To me, that artist didn’t have a strong drive to create artwork at a large scale; it’s common to see artists working on a large scale only because they think it will be more impressive, not because their artwork demands it.
I’m not sure whether you feel the size issue is a creative limitation, or whether you are concerned about selling the artwork. If you are concerned about sales, I can tell you that small artworks almost always sell more easily. (how many people can make room for a 4′ x 4′ oil painting in their house?)
Working large can be a logistical problem as well; I once created these woodcuts that were 2′ x 3′. After getting them framed (which cost an astronomical amount of money) the pieces were so large that I had to rent a truck to drive them to the gallery, another big expense I didn’t want to deal with. My new “rule” is that I don’t create artwork that doesn’t fit in my car!
If you do want to go bigger, I think a good way to start is buy a really inexpensive surface (like a roll of newsprint) so that you can feel okay about tossing it and starting again. If you stretch a 4′ x 6′ canvas, (which is very costly!) you won’t feel free to experiment because the surface cost so much.
I’m also someone who tends to work relatively small, and often feel pressure to work at a larger scale. When I create from that head space, however, more often than not it just doesn’t work; and instead feels stiff and false. The size you work at can be really personal – not only specific to you, but also to your interests in that given moment, and the medium you’re currently working in.
When I was in art school and learning how to paint in oils, I found that I could only make a composition work if I blew it up to a giant scale. When I was working on smaller canvases, I found that I was getting overly nit-picky with my marks, and as a result my paintings were extremely muddy-looking. Once I’d stretched a larger canvas and started using broader brushstrokes, however, that problem disappeared.
On the other hand, for my illustration work – which I do almost exclusively in ink – I feel more comfortable working within range of a 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper!
Just because you’re working small doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious, though – Break up a larger composition into manageable pieces, if you have to! Try tackling your subject as a series of numerous smaller works that build to some kind of greater impact, as a whole… You could even plan a painting as a giant polyptych, like Andy Warhol’s soup cans, a Catholic alter-piece, or a Gasoline Alley comic strip.
Confidence in Your Ideas
“I have a question about having confidence in your ideas. When I first think of an art idea I always love it…at least in my head. Then, when I start working the doubts start creeping in. ‘Is this concept really that great or important? Is it really that creative? Is it original enough?’
It’s like I only like my ideas in my brain, instead of on paper. It worries me that I will put a lot of time in a concept, for it to be not that great in the end. How do you have enough confidence in a piece to be able to follow through till the end?”
Building concept for a piece can be just as challenging as building up your technical skills – specifically, they both share the same problem of being either underdeveloped or overdeveloped.
First, I would try to look at your work objectively and see which one of those two you fit into if you don’t like the piece. Do you think the concept could go further, or did it get away from you and become a little too cerebral?
Second, I would explore contemporary artist that are making the kind of work you aspire to, and look at how they’re using technique to explore they’re concept. Sometimes, it helps to look at the challenge they met and think of how you may do it differently! (best to get words like “better” out of your mind, art is still subjective after all!)
But the overall mood of your problem is a staple of the artist dilemma – I feel this all the time with every piece I make, but most of the time the solution lies in the sketches and not the concept: I firmly believe, and have seen enough examples by many artist, that a strong composition and design can make any concept work!
There are no bad ideas, just bad executions of those ideas. So when you find a concept that excites you creatively, don’t give up on it, just get a bunch of sketches and studies done to find the best way to give your concept justice!
You are certainly not alone in this feeling of insecurity over your content. I think most artists out there can relate to this feeling, even ones who have been practicing art for a very long time.
A frame of mind that really helps me in this situation is called design thinking. In design thinking, you test out a bunch of ideas at once coming up with a bunch of little experiments or prototypes. You reflect on these prototypes, maybe seeking critique from others about which work and which don’t, and from there you can expand the most successful prototype into a full on project.
This design thinking can go on and on and on where you continue to test and modify your project based on that cycle, but I think the point is it keeps you from putting all your eggs into one basket, which is what artists are afraid of when they start on a new idea.
No one wants to waste their time on something that won’t work out. Design thinking keeps your failures small by diversifying and checking in with yourself and others often.
Decisions & Finishing an Artwork
“It is so difficult for me to make decisions in my artwork. I can always imagine a piece in a different way so I am always changing things, improving areas and repainting. So much so that I never have pieces finished.
I feel like I am on an art treadmill. I am constantly working but when I look around nothing is ever done. How do you stop tweaking and be happy with the end result?”
There’s a great phrase that I learned from the one and only Garrison Keillor, that we have to be content with being good enough. I too am a horrendous noodler with my art, and left to my own devices I would nit-pick on the same area with a tiny brush for hours on end!
Two things that helped me get out of it were paintings where I would limit how small I could let my brushes get, it became very helpful in keeping me thinking about the big picture.
Second, get yourself a little kitchen timer and set yourself a time limit on a drawing or painting for 1-2 hours…thats a good amount of time, but you’d be amazed at how little you get done if you’re noodling on small details for the whole piece! DO this a few times a week until you start to see your work changing for the better…and then keep it up!
There are several ways of approaching this, and I think the answer depends on what kind of artist you are, and what kind of work you’re doing.
If you work commercially on deadlines, setting smaller sub-deadlines can help keep you on track. If you’re a painter or sculptor doing studio work, I think it helps to physically hide the work. Face the painting toward the wall, or put a drape over the sculpture.
Feeling for the finish line with a piece is really difficult and vague, and often you need a totally fresh eye and a bit of perspective before what needs to happen becomes clear. It’s also totally okay to be that artist who never finishes everything. I know so many artists who have been painting over the same canvases for 10+ years and that doesn’t diminish their work.
Maybe “done” isn’t something that is relevant to your practice. If this is the case, I would advise taking pictures of your work every time you hit a landmark or stopping point in a piece, so you and others will have a history of how these pieces have evolved.