One of my favorite parts of being a high school teacher was teaching IB Art, a two-year art program. There was a moment every year when a frustrated student, who felt their art was boring or too similar to everyone else’s, discovered the common thread that connected all the artwork they’d been making.
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Being witness to that lightbulb moment was magic.
Today’s message may sound obvious, but a lot of artists are surprisingly resistant to it: in order to discover your voice you MUST make a lot of art.
Sounds easy enough, right?
We creative types have trouble with this for SO many reasons. Does one of the following fit you?
Roadblock #1 – It feels wasteful to make all that art
A lot of artists feel that the only way to justify making art is to also SELL it, so they can make more and justify cost of materials. But it’s hard to sell art without having a consistent style—which means spending money and time on resources on the journey to discovery.
We have few reservations about getting materials for our garden or investing in equipment that help improve our skill at golf (just to give two examples). It’s time to see art-making as the same sort of investment in both skill and style development.
(And remember, if we really decide we want to sell our art, a consistent strong voice is a huge part of what builds a market and audience of collectors for your work!)
Anytime we make a lot of art, not all of it will be up to the standards we have for our work. In fact, in the beginning, most of the art may feel inadequate or not up to par.
This is really hard when you have perfectionist tendencies or face constant reinforcement that artists are innately talented and you either HAVE it or you don’t. Thankfully, loads of research debunk the myth of art as talent. I have a great book for you to read about it called Peak.
We don’t remember because we were kids, but I’m pretty sure learning how to ride a bike involved a few crashes and scraped knees. Art has this, too. Give yourself permission to make “bad” art. It’s the ONLY way to get to something good.
NOTE: If this is a super vulnerable area for you, make your art secretly for a while, and don’t share it! Our culture still enjoys celebrating the myth of talent, which can sometimes bring feedback you aren’t quite ready to handle.
Roadblock #3 – Our dreams are too big, for right now
I do this all the time to myself: I love to dream really big! But guess what? It makes the art or series I work on super difficult for me to actually finish.
Finding your voice is an exploration that already pushes you outside of your comfort zone. So ask yourself: what would make it easy for me to make a LOT of art?
Working small can help you have a regular sense of achievement and make art in small amounts of time (which means you have time to make more art!) Get 100 index cards to work on, or choose to fill a moleskine notebook. Find a system that works for you and stick with it.
On a related note, it never hurts to break tasks into chunks, or to batch your work. If you need to prime all of your canvases, for example, why not do it all in one go? Then it’s all done and you can focus on making your art. I have an article all about batching for you here.
Do any of the above roadblocks resonate with you? Tell me which one and how you’re overcoming it in your artistic practice—I’d love to chat with you about it!