How do I make art with no expectations?
August 1, 2021 9:06 PM   Subscribe

I feel that I have no right to make art because I didn't go to art school and am just a amateur dabbler with delusions of grandeur who would look foolish to others.

Background to this: I enjoyed art in high school and the art teacher who was well-known for being cranky and stern to students liked me. However, I also knew a girl one year my senior who was indisputably very talented (the whole school knew her) and the art teacher's favorite. This girl would later go to art school and end up winning a prestigious national prize when she graduated.

I felt that I wasn't obviously talented as she was and when the time to make a decision came, I chose not to take art. Moreover, my working-class Asian parents would definitely not have allowed me to go to art school because they felt that artists and musicians are bums who end up starving on the streets. My childhood dream was to be an English professor/novelist and art was more of a side passion. I went on to university as planned and then I went to grad school but I bombed out of academia due to a combination of lack of financial/family support.

I remain deeply scarred by my failed academic dreams and have been unable to find a fulfilling job that pays me enough ever since. I had invested all of myself into that dream and when that failed, I had nothing left and now, at middle-age, I'm mourning deeply the choices I made when I was younger and the paths I did not take.

I've lost a lot of time and my skills have atrophied. I painted on and off over the years with long breaks in between due to life issues. At one point, someone who saw my work online offered me money to illustrate a children's book he was writing for his daughter but I was unable to take up the project because I was then trapped in a terrible temp job that took up all my energy.I also took recreational classes on and off but that's difficult right now for both financial and Covid-related reasons (I am fully vaccinated but with Delta variant going around, I am just not comfortable with sitting for hours indoors with more than ten people even though classes have resumed).

I'm sort of like a vocation version of Miss Havisham. After investing all my love and identity into my passion, I was left at the altar and I'm afraid of loving anything again.

I know myself too well and I know that I want to be really good and recognized for any serious pursuit. I wish I can have the same relation to art, the way I have with cooking. I'm a competent vegetarian home cook who feeds myself tasty food with pleasure and I have zero desire to become a professional chef. My self-esteem doesn't rest on my cooking skills or what others think of my food.

The itch to paint again is constantly at the back of my mind whenever I see a photo of a beautiful landscape. Lately, I've been obsessed with beautiful cloud formations at sunset. I just yearn to play with colors. But I don't know how to paint for pure pleasure again with the weight of years of expectations, fear and failed dreams oppressing me.
posted by whitelotus to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: There is a joke here about how Hunter Biden can do it...

This may sound ridiculous, but if I was looking to paint for the sake of painting and joy, I would start by watching old episodes of Bob Ross. I don't know about his technique, but his soothing voice and encouraging words are very motivating. Then just do a simple painting. It may take a while to get back on track, but your enthusiasm and skills will return.

Forget your perceived failures (they are not real failures if you tried) and look towards the future. Some great artists started late in life. I can tell you that you will never know unless you try. As an older man, I can tell you that I never regret trying and not succeeding, I only regret not even trying. I regret the things I did not have the courage to try.

From simply reading what you wrote, I can tell you are talented and will exceed your expectations. Good luck. Maybe in a few years you can post a follow up to Projects linking to your pictures!
posted by AugustWest at 9:22 PM on August 1, 2021 [13 favorites]


I would suggest get some premium tempera paints a pad of mixed media paper and some brushes and then set yourself a goal of painting regularly, just following your intuition - doing whatever you want and resolve to never show the results to anyone else. I really like the Bick's premium tempera because it can do what you want it to do in terms of coverage and mixing but it is cheap enough that you don't need to be precious about it.

Later, you can do paintings for an audience but the key to this is just not give a damn how it looks because you are painting for the pleasure, not for an audience.
posted by metahawk at 9:25 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: It might help to set your ‘goals’ around how often you paint or how many paintings you make per time, which you can control, to avoid setting them around recognition of your skills or talent, which you can’t.

If you make a lot of paintings, you will get better at painting, as a bonus.
posted by janell at 9:29 PM on August 1, 2021 [15 favorites]


Best answer: The itch to paint again is constantly at the back of my mind whenever I see a photo of a beautiful landscape. Lately, I've been obsessed with beautiful cloud formations at sunset. I just yearn to play with colors.

You have the most important thing to be an artist - you have that urge, that ability to pay attention to the world.

Maybe stay away from the mediums that have such strong associations of failure, at least for a while. Let your sense of fun and play lead you. Draw with water on a hot pavement and watch it evaporate, revelling in the fact that you are the only person to have seen this beautiful artwork.
Laugh at your inner critic whenever it pipes up. Let it natter away about "real art" while you explore whatever you are trying out today - collage, drawing with food, taking photographs of shadows, embroidery.
Keep a watch out for that small, internal sigh of pleasure that will tell you what you are enjoying and follow its guide.
Accept that you yearn for external validation, (we all do) and that is not a sign of weakness, it's a part of being human. Accept that you will likely never feel as if you are competent. It's fine to feel unsure. Just keep going. Many of the artists you admire share your self doubt in their own abilities.
Try to challenge your idea that saying "I am an artist" is the same as saying "I am an exceptionally talented artist".
An artist is someone who creates art. Good, bad, boring, exciting, derivative, original any kind of art.
You ARE an artist.
posted by Zumbador at 9:45 PM on August 1, 2021 [12 favorites]


Art is a practice. There is value to making art even if no one but you ever sees it—creative endeavors can have therapeutic effect. If you’re worried about the gap between your skills and taste, start with art kits or paint by numbers, or pencil sketch + watercolor. Start small and simple and give yourself structured time with less structured goals, like “I’m going to paint for an hour” rather than “I’m going to paint my masterpiece”.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:47 PM on August 1, 2021 [8 favorites]


Yeah what are your expectations? Almost nobody will be a famous or successful painter, even a lot of the painters we recognise as famous died before their fame. But that doesn't mean ordinary people don't buy huge amounts of paint to use, as popular recreation. Doing art isn't just about making an end-product, it's the doing when you learn.

I take pictures. When I started, I was bad; years later, after effort and practice, money and experimentation, honestly—I still suck. On the other hand I've got a far, far greater appreciation of what goes into taking pictures.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:50 PM on August 1, 2021 [5 favorites]


Do you know about zines? They're indie art in booklet format (drawing or collage or poetry or whatever they want). And while lots of them are objectively beautiful, lots of them are not, yet they're ALL creative and I definitely consider them art.

All that to say, I love making zines for myself because they invite imperfection, but they're a satisfyingly complete entity and really stir creative my juices. If you spend some time googling some zines, you may feel that urge to make one yourself - no expectations, no perfection, just fun creativity. (Bonus: make some copies and distribute them, either anonymously or in person!)
posted by unlapsing at 10:21 PM on August 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


I think it could help to focus on the act of painting (or creating other art) and not the result of the painting itself. To do this, try painting for a set amount of time, either all at once or broken up. Enough time to get into it, but not enough to “finish” the painting, and tell yourself that after that, you’ll be done with that painting. Not done where it’s finished, but done where you put it away and stop thinking of it and start thinking of your next painting.

So maybe that’s two hours (I’m just guessing here), either all at once or in half hour increments over a few days. You start your sunset, play with colors, after two hours it’s not done, but you are not trying to make a finished painting! You are just trying to do the act. So put it away, and try the same thing again with your next landscape.

Do this a few times until you can really enjoy the process without the result. You can go back and work on those paintings again later if you want, but promise yourself it will be much later - like months - after you have learned to enjoy the process again, decoupled from any expectations of the final product.
posted by sillysally at 10:22 PM on August 1, 2021 [4 favorites]


Check out the film In the Realms of the Unreal about Henry Darger.
posted by mani at 1:02 AM on August 2, 2021


Best answer: One of the saddest features of contemporary culture, to me, is the way it turns every fucking thing into a competition.

Art is not about being better than anybody else. Art is about making things that try to express something important to you. As stated above, it's primarily a practice; its value to the artist is in the doing far more than in the results.

If I wanted to paint, the first thing I'd do is get some paint and start. And if anybody gave me static about it and wanted to know what on earth I thought I was doing, I'd smile sweetly at them and tell them "I'm playing with my paints. What are you doing right now?"
posted by flabdablet at 3:44 AM on August 2, 2021 [42 favorites]


Maybe try a small and modest blog/social media thing? That's what I'm doing with my writing urges; it feels low-stakes and no-pressure, because it's putting it in front of the world for free so people can take it or leave it. In the entire 3 years I've been at it, it's gotten like only one negative comment, and that was about the content of the post itself as opposed to the quality of my writing.

Maybe sign up for an Instagram account where you just post pictures of your finished works and that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:47 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


In the contemporary art world, success and skill are so decoupled that the former is not much related to the latter.

I am an artist (& I think I am good at what I do), but I also know that attention and opportunity have a lot to do with what's Cool! Now! and what can get funding. I see which of my peers are rewarded and the positions they take and the indignities they suffer to get there. It's not what I want, so I have chosen to enjoy having a day job and making the stuff I want to make outside the marketing & adjuncting game. I make opportunities and friendships where I can and remember that I will die sooner rather than later.

I recommend this approach if you can take it. Do you work, focus on what you care about, make community, and know that someday you won't exist, but while you do, you'll do what you want.
posted by dame at 3:54 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


One time I wrote some bad poetry on purpose. It was so much fun to be completely free at a time when I had an excruciating hatred for my inner voice.

Maybe you could paint a few purposefully "bad" paintings (whatever that means to you). It might embolden you to keep going.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 3:57 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


If you have a way of getting it where you are, I heartily recommend doing whatever you can to watch the series Grayson's Art Club.

There are two seasons of it, both filmed during lockdown, with artist Grayson Perry and his wife Philippa and their cat Kevin pottering around in their home studio as the backdrop. But the main thrust of it is celebrating ordinary people making art, and finding the meaning and joy in that pursuit. They had a theme each week, people submitted their work, he selected several each week to show on TV, and chatted with the makers over Zoom. In all instances they were 'ordinary' people, not celebrated artists, and he took their work seriously, found its merits and talked about what moved him. The reasons he had for choosing the work he did were always a shifting mixture, usually the story of the artist and their relationship with the work to the forefront, with the technical or visual merit of the piece coming along behind.

It had a strong undercurrent of talking about art as something that's important for us all as a way to process the world and deal with what it throws at us, good and bad (particularly because it was filmed during lockdown, and the first series during a particularly strict one, when we were only allowed to leave home once a day to exercise, or to buy food, and everyone obeyed it and there was a real sense of house arrest).

It really did a great job of dissolving the idea that real art is something that's only done by a select few, the people who hang their work in famous galleries and earn fortunes and are celebrated. I honestly had no idea that just making art at home for the pleasure of it was something that so many people did, but it opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Also, it's just absolutely joyful television and worth a watch for anyone.
posted by penguin pie at 4:29 AM on August 2, 2021 [6 favorites]


And shall the public never see
The purposeful bad poetry
That rescued i_mean_come_on_now?
O rend my garments! Clutch my brow!

Verily, 'tis a passing melodious roundelay, but I doubt me an it be commercial
posted by flabdablet at 5:06 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


It's not possible to be more or less creative than anyone else because you can't measure creativity. Go forth and create, you beautiful human!
posted by grog at 5:18 AM on August 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


If you have a kid handy, especially one between 2 and 5 years old, or can borrow one, making cooperative art with that kid can be really fun and can help reset your expectations. I like doing watercolor paintings with kids, both of you have brushes and you just kind of mush around different colors and make different brushstrokes and patterns on the page. Fingerpainting or clay sculpture also works well. Hard to be precious about art when a preschooler can suddenly decide the whole page needs to be black at any point!
posted by EmilyFlew at 5:52 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


Best answer: One of my personal heroes is someone who was very busy with job and family, but made up her mind to paint every single Saturday, just because she missed it so much. In her case, it had the incredible result of a show after one year. But long before that, it had the almost instantaneous result of making her happy in the day to day, with the one creative session per week to look forward to. I think that approach is what, paradoxically, brought her success, but it's also the life it gives you in the present.

I've been doing the same thing with fiction writing during the pandemic-- but every day, because pandemic-- and the change it has made in my well-being is fantastic. The way I got back into fiction was with Jami Attenberg's #1000wordsofsummer program-- it's a Twitter hashtag if you want to look it up, and she has a newsletter-- which was just a commitment to writing a thousand words every day. No advice, no feedback. Some of the members that summer were actually published writers but they talked about some of the same issues and blocks to creativity. That community and public commitment has been helpful to me.

So my advice is: find a group! Better yet, find a mentor who will keep reminding you to continue the practice, because you deserve to. It doesn't have to be someone you meet in person or who even knows you exist-- the suggestion of Bob Ross above is really pretty good imo.
posted by BibiRose at 5:56 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


janell's answer reminded me of the quality vs. quantity parable in the book Art & Fear. Here's a link to the story. Make some art, at your current level of ability, whenever you can, experimentally, with curiosity.
posted by dywypi at 6:04 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Update: When Covid struck last year, I stopped painting totally for various reasons. I just dug up my old paint tubes up and egads, they are all sad, bloated or dried up after neglect for so long. I need to order new paint tubes and wait for them to come :S
posted by whitelotus at 6:04 AM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


I paint as a hobby and follow several online teachers that do 'intuitive painting', which is basically just painting without a plan. It's fantastic. I recommend checking out Flora Bowley for more info. She is very much focused on process not product.
posted by aclevername at 6:09 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I need to order new paint tubes and wait for them to come :S

So do it! Within a few days you can be painting again. Don’t moon around projecting sadness onto your kit and deciding its dried-up-ness is an immensely meaningful metaphor for your creative life. Just sling it in the bin and order new.

Hooray! New paints on the way!
posted by penguin pie at 6:16 AM on August 2, 2021 [9 favorites]


Best answer: As someone who does creative work for a living and has had some small level of "success" and "recognition" - and also someone who sees one of my parents struggling with the exact same issues you are and being too paralysed by the fear of not being good enough/not being recognised to do anything at all - my advice would be to paint because you enjoy the process, not because you want an outcome. The doing is the thing. Not the reading about it or taking courses in it and certainly not the outcome. The doing is the thing. Even I sometimes make artwork that I am sure will be "successful" that ends up not resonating with people much at all. How people respond to your work is very arbitrary and entirely out of your control. You can control what you put into it and how much you enjoy it (and if you're not actually enjoying it, why do it)?

Also please listen to this brief video about "The Creative Gap" by Ira Glass which is the single best piece of creative advice I've ever heard. Here is a pic of the quote. I use it as my screensaver.

Also, while I definitely do not think the only reason to make art should be because of attachment to an outcome or even a salary, from my own experience I can say that I started off by making one small (shitty) piece that I paid for myself, when I was clinically depressed and out of work. It gave me a bit of confidence to do the next thing (slightly less shitty), and the next thing, one thing led to another and some years later I now get paid to do it. This may or may not happen to you (if it's even something you want) but the point is you don't know yet what will be. All I can tell you is the people who are still making art now are the ones who never stopped.
posted by cultureclash82 at 6:18 AM on August 2, 2021 [8 favorites]


Oh! One other recommendation - look up the podcast Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a whole series of her talking to people who are artistically stuck for one reason or another, in many different fields (painters, musicians, writers etc), exploring what makes them stuck and helping them come through and out the other side. They’re all regular folk with artistic hobbies they take seriously, rather than professionals. It’s an enjoyable, easy listen and even if you don’t take up any of the suggestions, is good at making you feel that you’re not alone, this is part and parcel of a creative life and you can move through it.

She has a book called Big Magic too, which I’ve not read but is along similar lines.
posted by penguin pie at 6:26 AM on August 2, 2021 [5 favorites]


I've been substituting my evening Twitter habit with evening art making and it's pretty huge for mental health. Maybe try to see benefits other than "win"?
posted by warriorqueen at 6:32 AM on August 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


Maybe if the goal isn't actually to 'produce art'? My dad was told to take up a non-scientific 'hobby' to reduce his stress levels, so he got a few oil paints (mostly white, which takes forever to dry) and a few other colors, and would use a big 3x3 square of Masonite board as a canvas, and just spent hours carefully filling and blending shades of colors into white, gradually making whatever shapes he felt like along the way; the results are simple but beautiful and I treasure the few paintings we still have of his; even though they're not 'great art' they remind me of him and there is a quiet purity in them.
posted by The otter lady at 7:05 AM on August 2, 2021 [8 favorites]


I find a lot of inspiration by experiencing the art of folks who are/were outside of the art establishment. For instance, Nek Chand Saini's Rock Garden, also known as the Rock Garden of Chandigarh is an all time favorite of mine. Walking his landscapes was transformative for me. Also the artist James Hampton. Meditating on their stories and thinking about their personal motivations and goals for creating art helps me to let go of societal shoulds and make art to suit and satisfy me and my senses, first and foremost. Maybe contemplating other visionary and outsider artists could help you let go of expectations, too.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:13 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


Honestly, if you can find a therapist to bounce some ideas off of, you might find that helpful. There’s a workbook frequently recommended here called Get out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. I’ll admit, I’ve only flipped around in the book but the parts of it I’ve read have been interesting and illuminating. I’m making both of these suggestions because you mention “identity” a few times and this is a very hard thing to let go of. I have struggled with this off and on. I have loved lots of different creative outlets but fear of being unsuccessful has held me back on pursuing some of them. The need to wrap our identity in an expression is somewhat ingrained I think but ultimately very unnecessary and often very detrimental to our well-being and satisfaction. But it’s not easy to let go. I once pursued a creative outlet and wouldn’t tell anyone about it for fear that someone would want to see it and/or suggest I monetize it. Both of those suggestions would have triggered an identity association and then I would have “had” to drop it or make it better. Yuck! One thing you could try is painting on literal trash. The ripped up side of a delivery box, a scrap of butcher paper your baguette came wrapped in, the middle of a piece of junk mail. Stick it on the wall. Fill your wall with trash art. Take a few photos and throw it away. Start over.

Good luck! You are not alone or weird in your terror. The only way out is to start moving forward.
posted by amanda at 8:33 AM on August 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


At the start of the pandemic last year I created a private Instagram account called Bad Art Every Day. Every single day after work I would do a quick sketch or pastel drawing or watercolour. My rules were: 1) don’t think about it too much; 2) don’t try to be good; 3) don’t try to improve. These rules would probably be too extreme for most people, but I needed them to circumvent my destructive self criticism and perfectionism. Not striving for improvement was really important to me, but of course I did nonetheless improve with daily practice. Whenever I’m finding it hard to restart my creativity the answer is always: lower the stakes.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2021 [12 favorites]


So I have a real "blank notebook" issue that my art is not worthy to "waste" materials, even the stack of very cheap watercolor supplies I bought in early pandemic for enrichment activities. (I still haven't been able to write again, which is my primary art, but I like a little art-art too.)

A few months ago I kinda pan-snapped and got my husband and I each a new iPad Air, and he surprised me by using it to learn to draw and got me intrigued with Procreate. All my supplies besides the Pencil are inside the tablet, two-finger-tap to undo, disk space is basically infinite at this point so that can't be "wasted", there are lots of very enjoyable tutorials on youtube or skillshare that will familiarize you with the application for free or cheap (many of them are selling brush sets, but it's nice to have a ton of quality brushes and it's not hugely expensive). All my art training happened in the era of the Commodore 64 and Apple ][e, so this is an entirely different world than my training and it has zero baggage.

In your case, if you develop no real love for digital art or illustration, it might still be a way to draft that is low-baggage and easier to bridge back to physical media once your juices get flowing again.

If you don't want to go the tablet route, you can have pretty much the same experience with Illustrator and an inexpensive (but do go for pressure-sensitive, not complete bargain basement, but we're still talking $35-80 depending on size) drawing tablet/pen.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:36 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


I am primarily here to empathize. As a child, I wanted to be an artist, but not only was that a ridiculous idea in the time, place and family culture I grew up in, but I also wasn't allowed to take art classes from about fifth grade on, so my hands-on art experiences were really confined to pain by numbers and clandestine drawing in my bedroom. Ah, life. After a few intervals of dabbling, I started painting right before the pandemic. A great lockdown hobby. I found that while I'm not particularly satisfied with a lot of the results, I am delighted by the process itself. I found a specific thing I'm really loving - acrylic abstracts using a particular kind of makeup sponge rather than brushes - and it just FEELS GOOD. Do it to feel good. You never have to show anyone or even look at it again! That doesn't have to be what it's about.
posted by Occula at 9:41 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


I have this problem with writing, and I’ve largely overcome it thanks to finding community - with a formal writing group, with fandom writers, and with a few friends who are just excited to get and give feedback as a friend thing. It’s been AMAZING, and my greatest period of improvement came when I put “serious” writing aside and just wrote and shared fan fiction, because it took all the pressure off. Because I was finally more interested in TELLING A STORY than PROVING I WAS A GOOD WRITER. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of that mental shift, and how rapidly I improved once I actually started sharing my work with other creators. Turns out most people are actually thrilled to talk to other people in their creative hobby, even to people who are currently at a lower skill level. And the more you share, the more confident you will get.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:46 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


I'm also here to empathise. One of the things that discouraged me was having a good friend who was (and is) an amazing artist. We would be in meetings together and she would doodle incredible little scenes on her notepad. She would feel terrible if she ever knew how much it put me off drawing. I stopped for years, pretty much totally. I do work in a creative industry but just stopped sketching. Anyway a few years back I went away for six weeks on a long walking trip, bought a little exercise book and some good pencils and promised myself that I would draw every day no matter what. A little bit of diary writing and a drawing. The first ones were awful and I nearly gave up, but just went back to doing very simple easy things for a while. Just a pattern, or a leaf. I found that book just the other day and the improvement over the time was colossal. By the end they were really lovely to look at. And I enjoyed it SO MUCH. It really did bring home to me what I knew but hadn't totally absorbed..that it really is what the process means to you that matters.
I will never be able to draw like my friend but that's totally fine!
posted by tardigrade at 9:56 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


I want to add something to my previous comment. My dad was a writer too - some essays, some doggerel poetry, and plenty of internet comments in his later years. He also had at least one unfinished novel - and last year, a few months before he died, he told me why he never finished it. It was because he told his mom (a former English teacher with whom he had a complicated relationship) about it, and she put a lot of pressure on him to tell her about it and finish it and show it to her, and the pressure was just too much for him and he gave it up. He was very much like me in that way, both perfectionists with too much of our identity wrapped up in (lack of) success. Frankly he put some of the same pressure on me -“you’re so good at writing, you should pursue it” - but he also understood the struggle and encouraged me to believe I could do it. I treasure this one email I have from him after I got a good critique and said I was starting to think I could actually do it. He said something like: “fuck anxiety. Fuck self doubt.” I need to find the email and print it out because I think about it all the time now. Dad wasn’t able to overcome these feelings, and he regretted it, and he wanted me to get past that struggle and just create. I won’t say I’m doing it for him, but I hope I can honor him by doing it for myself.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:00 AM on August 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


I’ve found the Metafilter Card Club to be a nice and bite-sized way to do something creative each month - for awhile I was making card-sized collages inspired by the month and it was fun to make them and then just stamp and send them away. Somehow the project carries mystery (who will receive this and what will it say to them?) and impermanence and both helped me access the parts I needed.

Even if you’re not up for the Metafilter Card Club in particular, I guess my suggestion stands in the idea of starting with small in size and short in duration projects with the idea of giving them away. (For example, making bookmarks and dropping them at your local library, or making and sending cards to people who may enjoy the mail.) Just as a way to get “unstuck,” I suppose.

Glad to hear that the paints are on their way. Wishing you luck with this.
posted by dreamphone at 10:34 AM on August 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


Wow, I feel this too. It is both sad and comforting to see how many of us there are out there.

One thing that has worked for me is art journaling. A few months ago, in a fit of pandemic-induced boredom, I signed up for a subscription box through Let’s Make Art. Every month, I get a package with a small journal, prompt cards, and materials to do four projects along a theme. The boxes are a little expensive for what you get, but having something “curated” really got me over the anxiety hump at the beginning. You can access their free tutorials on YouTube and purchase the materials elsewhere if you don’t want to subscribe.

They have a watercolour subscription box, too. There is a very supportive and encouraging Facebook group where you can share your work, but for me, part of the joy of doing this is that it is purely personal and not aimed at an audience at all.
posted by rpfields at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


To force yourself to focus on process rather than product, work on just one canvas, painting new paintings over and over your old ones. Or two canvases, and each time, pick which you like better and paint over the other one. Or a few, if the latest one wouldn't be dry when you were ready to paint over it. But not so many that each painting becomes a permanent object to judge.
posted by daisyace at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2021


Joining in with those who suggested a group. I belong to a mail art swap organized through a Facebook group, and not only does it give me a lot of choices of projects to participate in so I can find something that inspires me, it also gives me a deadline (! super important for me !) and feedback/recognition when my swap partner posts my work in the group. This group doesn't have a singular focus, media-wise, but there are a ton of them on FB and I'm sure you could find one that suits you.
posted by feistycakes at 11:56 AM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


Scrolled through the answers pretty quickly, looks like no one has brought up The Artist’s Way. It’s designed specifically to work through challenges like this.
posted by Sublimity at 12:17 PM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


Seconding The Artist's Way for pulling the surprising trick that prescribed structure gives space for creativity to blossom; that motivation follows action; and that discipline grows from habit rather than being forced by willpower.
posted by k3ninho at 1:33 PM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


"comparison is the thief of joy"
posted by burr1545 at 2:28 PM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


...though if it's approached in the right spirit, it doesn't absolutely need to be.
posted by flabdablet at 4:33 PM on August 2, 2021


My qualifications: I work as a scenic painter for theatre and sometimes TV. It's more craft than art, but it is a lot of painting. Today I spent a lot of time at a pottery studio where I have this kind of grown-up workstudy. I recycle a lot of clay and keep the place tidy and then have time to throw some really dubious pots. I threw some dubious bowls. I art all the time and don't keep most of it. This doesn't bug me, 'cause working in theatre teaches you immediately about impermanence.

In general: a thing it took me a long time to realize was that if some brain trick that worked for a lot of people didn't work for me, it didn't mean there was something wrong with me. It means my brain works differently. It's okay to abandon whatever workarounds you're trying if they're making it harder. If joining a club makes it harder, it's okay to try something else. If doing something every day without breaking a chain stresses you out, it's not for you. All that is okay. For me, for instance, The Artist's Way did not work remotely at all at all. This is not the fault of Julia Cameron or me. It just wasn't my thing. There is a way for you to find your way back and there are a number of paths that just won't cut it, but that's not because you're worthless or less-than or undeserving; those paths just don't work for you. But you do have to try some of them before you figure that out. The persistence required is not about beating your head against a rock; it's about stubbing your toe a few times and finding your path through all the rocks.

As far as any real tip goes, I say get a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and work your way through it. It seems like you would already be pretty all right at a lot of it, and it's satisfying to see things work. Probably satisfying enough that you'll wanna get your brand-new paints out and get outta grayscale.

This is for you, the painting. You can start slow and remember what you like. Make some trash art. It'll focus your seeing so fast, and if nothing else? If you create nothing of any monetary or social value? You'll be seeing the world in a literally different way that you used to be good at, and that would be enough. You're opening up your brain and spirit, I guess, to seeing lights and shadows and tints and hues and whatnot. That is seriously good enough.

(Also, I've been in your shoes and might I commend pottery. You can create lumpy weird useful things that friends will like and use just because they're functional and your friends love you. This takes at least a couple months of bad work, in my experience.)
posted by lauranesson at 6:43 PM on August 2, 2021 [5 favorites]


I have been there and I can perfectly understand how you feel.I’m from Asian family background and I know how everyone feels about art as a profession.I loved art from childhood but growing up in asia ,gave up art and pursued my engineering degree, then work, then marriage and kid with special kid………..life has always been an uphill battle but my passion for art helped me heal and deal with struggles.I’ve tried many things to keep me going …..

From my experience,I can tell you it’s never too late to start something.Begin with something small and easy.This is for your happiness and satisfaction.Always remember that!!you don’t have to show it to anyone!!

You have got amazing suggestions.
Let me add some that I have tried in addition to all the other suggestions……..paint by numbers,pencil drawing,quilling,mandalas,zentangle,paper cutting,spring art,origami and procreate app.

If you have an iPad or can afford one,it’s worth investing in this procreate app which costs about $10(one time cost) and it’s worth it.you can try anything without feeling guilty wasting money on paints or art material.It’s a god sent for me as I could take it with me everywhere.I would draw when my son was in therapy or classes/any place and it has helped me from getting distracting/haunting thoughts while waiting……….

Whatever you choose,start right away and start small.Good luck and hope you will post your creations here.🙂
posted by SunPower at 7:57 AM on August 3, 2021 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Lyn Never: I actually have Photoshop/Illustrator/Krita as well as a Wacom tablet. Not the top of the line one with the fancy screen but good enough.

I had bought it planning to get into digital painting but I found it kinda frustrating trying to translate the traditional medium look into digital painting but perhaps I should be more patient and give it another shot again.
posted by whitelotus at 1:45 AM on August 4, 2021


Best answer: I just want to say: I went to art school and got my MFA - I am a credentialed artist. I don't work as an artist, and often have trouble finding the time to make art in my life. The main thing that the MFA provided was time and space to make art. I grew into a better artist during the program because I was making art during that time, not because I was doing it in an educational context, and not because I got a degree. All it takes to be an artist is to make some art!
posted by taltalim at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: I suggest Scott McCloud and Gurney Journey, and yes Bob Ross. A lot of people suggest the artist's way, but I never understood why an artist would be interested in something so .. directed? You inherently know the way.

You can start anywhere, painters are notorious for picking up and dropping off. If you choose to start very small, you may be able to achieve great detail. Maybe you have a ton of dormant energy and can go straight for something big. A lot of people suggest looking at Rothko and being inspired. You can also say, "fuck that, I know how to create great detail and need to" and make Walton Ford miniatures.

Btw, paint tubes can sometimes be reanimated, standalone with water or additives(I don't know how old your paint is, if it's absurdly old than perhaps not).

Much of the above is insightful. If you feel very rusty or rigid, maybe start with tiny work in habits like brushing your teeth. You may eventually relax and start to express more definitely creative or composed decision making.


I had a few super rigid relatives, some who didn't believe women could work in design or talk about it. I know that feeling of "inherently wrong" versus "unavoidably naturally compelling." Listen to your inner voice, it's likely right.

It's difficult to suspend old classist or sexist views, but it helps to remember people in other cultures or social circles have been doing this since nearly anything else. There is a lot of gravity tapped in those concepts.

Also, try starting with traditional, then play with procreate or whathaveyou. A lot of those programs are fairly intuitive and based on painterly processes. You might find after working traditionally, the programs make more sense. (And sometimes not, Photoshop is slightly a different game)
posted by firstdaffodils at 4:40 PM on August 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Oh, duh, edit: Highly suggest Patreon patrolling, many skilled artists have tutorials in exchange for support. These are basically snacks, super nice, variable resource.
posted by firstdaffodils at 4:52 PM on August 4, 2021


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