This post is for those who believe they aren’t “allowed” to make art because they lack training. It’s for those who put aside creative pursuits for years, maybe decades, and think it’s too late to heed the call now. It’s for those who let fear stifle that still, small voice inside urging their creative expression, believing their efforts won’t be good enough so there’s no point in trying.
We talk about “igniting” our creative spark, but I maintain that if you have any desire to create, your spark is already lit! And if you aren’t expressing your gifts despite the call, the problem is not that there’s no spark, but that it’s imprisoned somewhere deep inside of you, banging on the bars of its cell, desperately seeking escape to light the fire within you that will propel you to make manifest your unique creative gifts.
From my experience, the solution to freeing the spark is simple, but may feel impossibly hard because of our resistance.
The answer is to just experiment. Pick some creative form of expression and give it a try. And then, if you don’t like it, pick another one.
Eventually, you will hit on something that unlocks the prison door!
That’s truly all there is to it.
But, that inertia, fueled by fear, makes doing so equivalent to moving a mountain. So let’s not move the mountain.
We just need to take all the heat out of the choice. And take one step in the direction of creating. The first step can be as simple as coloring a picture or doodling on a piece of scrap paper. It’s all just an experiment that builds your creative muscle. And you’ll know when you’ve hit on something that unlocks your spark.
I’ve been there, and still experience some of the turbulence of wanting to create but feeling paralyzed about doing so. But, as with any endeavor, taking an action despite fear and trepidation is the only way to start walking around the mountain instead of feeling like we have to bulldoze it without a bulldozer.
Through hard-won experimentation, I discovered my favorite form of creative expression, drawing repetitive patterns, which I find a comforting and soothing practice. But I’ve experimented with lots of other art forms (and still do).
The process of experimenting is extremely uncomfortable to me because I want to be good at anything I do right off the bat, which is an absurd attitude whose sole purpose is to keep me stuck!
But playing around with different types of art making is the only way to discover what you love to create especially if you don’t know where to begin. So I had no choice but to experiment in the beginning. And, now, I embrace experimenting as a way to grow creatively.
Because when the day comes that you find yourself lost in the process of creating, and feel a rising joy within you, you’ll want more of whatever it is that makes you feel that way.
Helping You Express Your Creativity
I hope this post will help you overcome your fear and anxiety about making art (which includes writing, crafting, knitting, gardening, movie making, sculpting, flower arranging, wood carving, design, or any other activity that you consider an expression of your creativity). If you never start, if you stay frozen and paralyzed, sitting on the sidelines just because you think you aren’t “good at it” (yet), you can’t open yourself to finding a creative outlet that makes your heart sing.
You can read my previous post, called “I am Not an Artist” to understand more about my experience. I stopped making art as a little kid, clearly having been given the message that I wasn’t good at it, and didn’t start again until I was disabled in my mid-50.
Because I could no longer work, I was encouraged to find a way to express myself creatively, but all I felt was fear and shame at the very idea of doing so. I didn’t have any type of artistic ability. No, I was just a consumer of the creativity of others, those real artists who had talent.
With tremendous trepidation, I moved forward despite those feelings, and today, making art brings me joy and gives my life meaning. It’s also become a soothing, meditative practice that helps me cope with chronic illness.
If you’re reading this, then you may relate to the feelings I had around creativity, even if your life experience is different. But if making art can become a fulfilling part of my life, I know it can happen for you too.
So, to share my own experience, here are just a few types of art making I tried early on in my journey (starting in 2011) and the results of a couple of my experiments. I’ll write more about experiences with other art forms in future posts.
This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure here.
Making an Art Journal DIY
My first non-disaster was a fun artist journal (following the instructions of Teesha Moore on YouTube for her 16 page journal). This involved collage and a variety of watercolors. Collage is a terrific way to ease your way into creativity, and for some, becomes their primary form of expression.
All you need is paper, glue, and a scissors … and to cut out images that move you in some way! The paint is just background and cheap watercolors will do the trick. I just picked colors I love. By that time, I had also bought a stencil or two, so used them.
It’s almost like putting a puzzle together, if you don’t overthink (uh, that’s me) placing the cutout images in some “perfect” layout. As an exercise, don’t give yourself more than a few seconds to decide which image to paste next and where to put it!
Here are some pictures of my finished journal:
The “Dharma Box” as Art
Then, after reading the book, Dying with Confidence: A Tibetan Buddhist Guide to Preparing for Death, I made a Dharma box that contained all types of papers (such as my will, my living will, life insurance policies, notes to my son, etc.) and other meaningful items in the event of severe illness or my death.
But I wanted to decorate it because I felt it was meant to embody my spirit and what was important to me. So here are pictures of my box, which is created using a process called decoupage (similar to collage). That black curly item (with the white flower image glued to it) is actually part of a tree that I glued to the box.
The image below shows the inside of the box. The words, “Everything will be alright. I love you,” are part of a letter my son once wrote to me when I was very worried about how he was doing in school. Update: he turned out just fine, and, at 28, continues to make good decisions in his life. 👍
This last image is the top lid inside the box. It contains the Sanskrit word Om and the Sh’ma, a Jewish prayer.
What Didn’t Work
I had a fun time with a Donna Downey video workshop that taught me how to create art using Panpastels along with gesso, crackle paste, etc. I loved PanPastels. Though I had a terrible allergic reaction to them, the magnificent way they spread on paper was amazing. I highly recommend them to anyone who can tolerate them. And, while I adored the texture of crackle and other gel medium and pastes, they felt too labor-intensive, plus the smell began to bother me.
Here’s one of my first attempts, something I made using PanPastels (and mixed media, including painted tree pods). It’s 20″x30″. I consider it rather a dreadful monstrosity (think “experiment” as in Frankenstein’s monster), but my very supportive husband wanted to hang it on the wall. 😊 I just kind of ignore it. 😏
Pencils and Paints
About colored pencils: For some strange reason, I really dislike using them. It always felt like I had to press really hard (or do way too many layers) to get strong color. Yet some artists, like Cynthia Knox, produce absolutely brilliantly colored, astonishing, photo-realistic art with them.
Graphite pencil was also not for me. Besides the fact that I crave color, I’ve also discovered that I much prefer the permanence of ink. Pencil keeps me in a loop of erasing and redoing that just feeds my perfectionist and “not good enough” tendencies.
Oils and acrylics were out for me due to my chemical sensitivities. And believe me, I’ve tried acrylics more than once! And I have the migraine to prove it!
In general, I don’t enjoy making art with brushes. And watercolor just seems too transparent, though I’m stunned by the way Joyce Dunn works with them! She takes watercolor to a whole new level I never imagined. Absolutely gorgeous work! And, I’m sure her process came out of LOTS of experimentation.
I began this adventure by drawing in coloring books, but soon desired to create my own art. As I’ve already written, I was clueless how to break open my creativity and could barely draw a stick figure.
When I discovered repetitive pattern drawing with ink, it became my passion. I’m forever grateful to Rick and Maria, who created a method called Zentangle®. As described on their site, “[Zentangle is] an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. We call these patterns, tangles.”
Zentangle taught me that a wobbly line, a circle, a squiggle, in fact, every single mark I could make with a pen could become art! It was the game changer for me.
If you are similarly stuck, I urge you to give their method a try. Go to the Zentangle® website to begin. There are also many other free resources, books, and a fabulous website with hundreds of patterns to learn for free!
Zentangle was unquestionably invaluable and a core component of my journey. But over time, I found myself struggling to learn new patterns and wanting to move beyond the bounds of the method, such as adding color. So my art became inspired by the Zentangle® method.
Eventually, I dropped most of the formal tangle patterns and just used simple lines and shapes to fill in spaces. I was surprised to discover that once my creative spirit was freed, recognizable shapes began appearing in my art! But I believe this only became possible because I made a start with one little line.
My Favorite Supplies
Early on, it was clear that pens and markers were my preferred tools. (Copic markers are beautiful and easy to blend, but I react to the chemical smell. So they weren’t an option.)
In the end, I keep coming back to the beginning: drawing lines and simple shapes with pens and markers. My favorites are Pitt Artist Big Brush and Pitt Artist Regular Brush Pens. I’m so grateful that I found them. They come in gorgeous, vivid colors, and flow beautifully.
These markers and pens use India Ink, which is permanent and seems to be highly lightfast (none of my drawings since 2011 have faded at all!). I’ve even figured out how to blend them (the key is to use a lighter color over the darker one, and do it quickly before it’s dry). Plus, they’re odorless!
As for paper, etc., I tried drawing on small and big paper, watercolor, coldpress, hotpress, rough, pastel, mixed media paper, canvas, boards, and even Ampersand Scratchboard. Once you start experimenting, you will find that you love the feel of some material and despise others! My favorite is mixed media paper, but I have one favorite brand!
I’ve been in love with Strathmore papers since 2012 and my new favorite is their heavyweight mixed media paper. I love drawing on it, and it takes layer after layer! Though I tend to draw no larger than 9″x12″ (and usually 6″x8″ or smaller), a few months ago, I actually bought some 11″x14″. But I still gravitate toward the smaller 6″x8″ size.
Painting with Thread!
Because I now seek inspiration to encourage my art making and experimentation, I’ve discovered the most amazing thing! I can draw doodles right on canvas and paint them with thread!
After seeing the geometric work of the amazing Victoria Potrovitza, I was inspired to try making my own artwork in this way. And then, I discovered other amazing artists using thread to create beautiful artwork, like The Sewing Songbird and Michelle Kingdom.
Using thread to paint is a long, slow, laborious process (yeah, not for anyone who wants instant gratification, for sure!), but there’s no problem with toxic chemicals and odors! And the vivid colors of DMC embroidery floss is amazing! And pretty inexpensive. Plus, hand sewing is another very soothing practice.
Mind you, I know next to nothing about stitches and am experiencing that painful learning curve inevitable with any new activity. But I’m doing this to make art, not to meet some arbitrary criteria of stitching expertise. Though I’m grateful for the YouTubers who make stitching tutorials available!
Here are the results of my first two experiments:
Yearning to Do More
Today, my frustration is that I want to make big acrylic abstract paintings! Pretty tough when I can’t use acrylics. And I love to work small. And I don’t feel at all comfortable (yet) making them. But, still, I YEARN to do so.
Through continued experimenting, I was excited to discover that I CAN tolerate Uni Posca acrylic paint markers, so that’s something. Unfortunately, Pitt Brush Pens aren’t really conducive to layering though they work sometimes. But the Poscas work pretty well over the Pitt pens. Here are a couple of layered abstract experiments:
Get Inspired … and Start Experimenting!
If you yearn to create art, but fear you won’t be good enough so you don’t even attempt it, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and just try experimenting. You may want to start by giving yourself a daily dose of inspiration.
I use Instagram as my source of inspiration (more on that in a future blog post).
I don’t use Instagram for anything that might upset me. I just follow whatever makes me feel happy when I see it. Scrolling through my feed every day makes my heart sing, and has encouraged me to try new ways to make art.
Yes, sometimes I want to curl up in a ball instead of exploring my own creativity when I sink into that compare and despair mindset. But when I stop listening to that voice, my Instagram feed is a springboard to my creative expression and I have found an incredibly supportive community for my efforts through my interactions with other artists on the platform.
Of course, it’s going to be hardest the first time you make the attempt to express your creativity, but each time you don’t give in to negative thoughts about your own ability, you strengthen the muscle that enables you to freely create. That’s how you free your creative spark!
It may take a good deal of experimenting to find what resonates with you, but if you persist in your efforts, that spark will eventually lead you to discover your creative outlet and experience the joy that comes from making art.
I’ll leave you with just a few of the artists who most inspire me lately. You’ll notice there’s a variety of styles. Some of the work is abstract and some more realistic, but each has a unique voice that “sparks” joy in my heart.
Pamela K. Beer
Suraj Fine Arts
Dreams of Abstraction
Jennifer Bishop – her handwriting is a work of art!
Debbie Rose Miller
I’d love to hear your thoughts about freeing your creative spark! Please leave a comment.