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When You Used to Make Art

I loved everything about art as a kid. My excitement for creativity followed me through my teens, and I doodled and dabbled with art studio courses in college.

And then I got a job. Then I moved, and got another job. And life got busy, and I stopped making art. I was pretty miserable about the dust collecting on my art supplies, but I was very committed to my Have-To list while ignoring my Want-To list.

My sweetheart at the time encouraged art-making with kidnapping-note styled newspaper cutouts, surreptitiously taped to things around the house. (Thank you, BJK. XO) Despite the support and encouragement of family and friends, I only made art occasionally, with long droughts in between.

File Cabinet labels - one says Are You and Artist? And the other says Prove it.
Newspaper heading clippings mysteriously inserted into the file cabinet labels twenty six years ago. They’re still there, as reminders.
Simple set up: photo, brush, pre-drawn watercolor sketch, water & paper towel, pocket-palette and good light (outside in this case).

Which Mantra for Art Do You Play on Repeat?

For years, I made my art-pining worse by focusing on all the art-making obstacles: too tired, not enough time, rusty skills, no space, don’t know where to start, etc.

Instead of taking a proactive approach, and looking for ways to insert art into my life, I continued talking about, and shining a light on every stone wall I perceived blocking my creative path.

I habitually awful-ized the notion of art-making as an unsolvable problem. I did this so much that eventually, thinking about art just bummed me out. #Eeyore  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Flat blocks of color, and a careful brush rinsing in the water, and not the iced coffee

Everyone Says You Just Have to Start

After a decade of art-drought, and a cascade of sad chapters, I started reading about art again, and subscribing to art blogs.

I went on a paint out, and joined a weekly watercolor group. I cried a lot, because it was hard, I was rusty, and I had no idea where to start or how to catch up with the time I lost. 

Making things with my hands again resonated so much. Art felt like vitamins. Through older and more determined eyes, and research, I flipped my perspective around, and started baby steps of prioritizing creative practice.

Those first forays into climbing up over my rustiness changed my world. Social media espouses the phrase Just Start, related to diet and exercise, entrepreneurship and creativity. The reason it’s so popular is because it’s true.

You have to stop thinking about it, and just start. You’re wiser than the last time you tried.

Adding some shapes to the next layer of pigments, and pushing them darker than necessary to prep for colored pencils

Tough Art Love

Spend fifteen minutes looking at a typical week, day by day. If you have an iphone, the weekly Screen Time totals will help survey how much time you spend surfing online. Think about how much television you watch each day too.

If your totals in screen time and television are high, no one is judging, because you’re in charge, and how you use down time is no one else’s business. But it is YOUR business to know those numbers, so you can scan with an excited eye to search for a 30-60 art session.  Can you find (and reserve) a slot *before* you usually get online, or before your favorite television program starts?

I’d recommend the first place time slot, because the computer/television activities have a way of oozing into other plans.  Making something before your favorite sitcom is finite; there’s an end time, if you want it. Or you can skip the sitcom and keep painting. 🙂

Playing with fun colors on top of the watercolor with prismacolor colored pencils

Reach for Motivation

Success is a great motivator, and baby steps forward of more art making keeps you engaged, and encouraged to continue. Find some time if you can this weekend, or next week, and commit to a sketchpad, or a tissue paper collage, or a painting. Anything that sounds fun and flexible at the art table is fair game, and if you bring a friend over to join you, that’s extra points!

Whatever you create, try to focus on the fact that you MADE something. If you start judging the merits of the finished work, swat those thoughts right out of your head like a bad fly, and circle back around to the attaboy; you made something! Good Golly Miss Molly! Let’s do that again!

a quote superimposed over feet embedded in wet beach sand with water rolling over it
Folks have chased creativity for decades, and they’ve recorded, documented and written about solutions. Don’t reinvent the wheel: get online and research a handed-down solution that fits your needs.

You’re Driving the Car

Shine a light on solutions for more art making. Re-record the internal tapes about creative obstacles, and make them into questions: instead of thinking “I don’t have time for art.”, ask “When would be a good time to schedule 30 minutes of drawing this weekend?” Listen to podcasts about creativity. (Here’s a list to explore.)

If each attempt at art-making is met with (perceived) failure, it’ll be hard to make room for it in a busy life. Who wants to do anything when the result is awful?

Ignore the end result. Make art for making’s sake. Fear of Failure hides like sharp nettles under serial procrastination. Grab at every tip and trick you can find, think proactively about making time for art, fire your inner critic, and march on.

Dont. Give. Up.

You’ve got this, and we are all rooting for you.


P.S. Is there a motivational book, a podcast or a film that helped you get back to art? Please share your insights in the comments.

P.P.S. If you have a friend who would enjoy this post, share it with them.

standing on a sloped lawn, bookended by cypress trees, looking up at an italian villa with a second story arcade and blue skies beyond
Prayer Lawn 5×8 moleskine sketch (NFS, but you can browse around in here.)

Art Quote

I think perfectionism is just fear, in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more that a deep existential angst the says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.’
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

make art more often
Click the watercolor palette to visit BelindaTips.

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8 thoughts on “Sketchbook Practice – programming motivation with mini-successes”

    1. Hah! Yes, those bits of paper are as antique as I am, and I wouldn’t dare to move them because 1) they’d crumble and 2) I like them exactly where they are/have always been. Thank YOU. 🙂

  1. Have you ever stopped to notice that when you are involved in something artistic, time seems to stop ticking? Making art is the way I suspend relentless schedule of my daily life. It’s the gift I give myself of jumping off the merry-go-round for a while.

    1. Hi Barbara – Yes! Art makes an insular cocoon around us while we work. Time stops tapping on our shoulder, all noise recedes to the background, breathing regulates, chaos slips away… Maybe it’s our reward from the Creative Muses for picking up a tool and getting started. Thanks for that reminder.

  2. Thank you Belinda! This post reminded me how important has been and is art in my life. It’s always there, as an expression or another, but always there, as my guardian angel and best friend. It truly is a blessing. Love and Happy December! 🙂

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