5 Tactics to Free up your Art

For many years I participated in writing groups online. I had a fantastic time. I wrote long fic, short fic, funny fic, totally out of this world fic and mostly fanfic. (Fan fiction is works based on someone else’s creative work – think Star Trek, Stargate and other scifi TV goodies). There are some great communities out there and after dabbling in all kinds of writing and making a fantastic group of friends, I had tuned my writing skill to the point of being able to write decent work really quickly and spontaneously. This, of course, led to writing my own fiction and it heavily influenced my blog writing as well (and it even helped me advance my career). But where was my art during all this?

At the time I was arting rarely, very rarely, and when I did art, I attempted very large pieces of work…in pencil.


Lotus, watercolour pencil on illustration board, 2004?

::head desk::

I am, by nature a perfectionist and quite pedantic. At the time I didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to use paint correctly, so to get the detail my brain craved I used watercolour pencil. To get any vivid colour, I had to layer on layer on layer. The above piece took ten months to complete, not because it would take that long to physically make, but because I ended up in a procrastinating war with myself. I did not enjoy creating this art. It hurt. It disappointed the recipient because it was delayed too long. And I hated it by the time it was finished….actually, well before that, but then the fact it got finished was a miracle in itself.

So I didn’t do much art, even though I still saw myself as an artist (I’ve been one since I was seven).

Then I had a couple of babies (babies do tend to disrupt the norm and move things around). No longer was writing an option simply because to write well I had to find ‘the zone’, get into the universe, sometimes for hours on end. Babies don’t like that, and toddlers even less.

So while on maternity leave for my youngest, I made a decision to get into my art, change my practice, learn what I needed to learn, and become the artist I always wanted to be.

But to do that I wanted to free up my art. I wanted to be able to art like I could write – fast, well and inspired.


Tactic One: Have a baby Time Limits

Babies come with built in time limits. Amongst feeding schedules, sleep and baby’s patience, I could sometimes slap together maybe an hour to paint? I distinctly remember at one point having a little girl staring up at me while I haphazardly attempted to create a painting. Daddy was busy amusing the two year old running around elsewhere in the house.

My little painting companion

My little painting companion

If you give yourself a time limit, say half an hour, an hour, hey, be daring and shorten it to fifteen minutes, you will find yourself being much less ‘precious’ about each brushstroke. You will be forced to move fast, glance at the errors and move on. It forces you to simplify, to go for the finished piece and disregard the minutiae.

Here be one of the first actual paintings I managed in one of those hours:

Flying Spark

It is very simple and only 30x30cm, but it was completed very fast, it explored a colour concept, it got me into my paints and it gave me a modicum of experience – I had to start somewhere.

If you do this enough, it starts to merge with your style, become part of your modus operandi. You will only have time to paint small, so it is cheaper. There is less financial input into the piece, so if you stuff it up (and you will from time to time, but who cares, does it really matter? Chalk it up to experience, there is always another artwork around the corner) less money is lost. And just think of it, instead of ten months to completion, in an hour you could have a finished work!


Tactic Two: Take the Challenge

This tackles any lack of inspiration hurdles that you might encounter. There are literally hundreds of art groups on the internet. You pick a type of art and chances you can find a group of people playing the challenge game. They vary in type. The first one I encountered in 2010 was a colour challenge. We were given a single colour that we were required to create art from. The first one was yellow.


Of course, me being pedantic stuck to the one colour, other than black or white, and came up with the above sun blasted creek – the sun may be nearing supernova. It was random, I’m likely to never put it up on a wall, but it did do the following:

  • made me create art for art’s sake
  • gave me experience working with the soft pastels I wanted to learn
  • the challenge forced me to come up with something – and I dislike going for the obvious, so I will often bend a challenge as far as I can without breaking it
  • and I wanted to see if I could create the concept I came up with – did I have the skill to do it? I don’t think I did too bad, technically, working from my head mostly (I might have dug up a picture of a stream at some point to work out flow lines for the water), it served its purpose.

It also had a time limit of one week and Bubs was priority number one, so again it forced me into ‘You want this? This is what you need to do.’

Go out there and explore, find some new friends and create art! One I can recommend wholeheartedly is Paint Party Friday. If you paint, on Friday you can share your accomplishments.


Tactic Three: Care Less

Oooh, I have to get this just right. OMG, this paint cost me $50 and I have to make sure every drop of it creates art that is worth it. If I use this canvas, I don’t have another one!

Sound familiar? Often having the right materials to do the job well, stops us from doing the job at all. Okay, professional art supplies cost a pile of money. I know this. But it is no good having them in the first place and not using them! You have to convince yourself that there will always be another canvas, other paint tube, another opportunity to create art and just do it (like Nike, I’m sure track shoes makes great art prints). Care less.

Use a bigger brush, be more haphazard, close your eyes and don’t look if you have too (sometimes the artwork can be very interesting when you do that 😀 ). Create something, anything, and don’t worry about the result. What happens, happens, there is always another artwork to create, and it will be a better one because you learnt more creating the one before it.


Tactic Four: Experiment

This is the fun bit. Do you remember art class in primary school? Do you remember PLAYING with art? Exploring, experimenting, what happens if I do this? Some of my best works have happened from just playing around. Playing with colour, technique, materials, throwing out what-ifs just to see what will happen. I’ve mixed paint with bubble bath, folded paintings in half, cut stencils in milk cartons, poured paint onto the canvas, cut up paintings and tried just about every material I can get my grotty little hands on.

Experiments teach how materials work together and opens you to inspiration that you otherwise would not have encountered.

My paper mosaics were one such lucky find.

river of shards

I have now done a whole series of these with more planned in the future. Experiments and explorations create opportunities.


Tactic Five: Do lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and, well, you get the picture 😀

It is the same with everything. The more you do, the better, the faster you get. You want to loosen up your art? Do art. Lots of it. It is the same thing I did with my writing. I used to write every day. I posted a word count every day. Now I attempt some form of art every day, it has become a habit – in fact, if I’m denied my art, I get cranky and not fun to be around (I know, I can’t escape myself, I’m a lot I have to put up with).

The Daily Painters movement is a classic example of this. These guys attempt to paint a painting every day. I’m not up to that, I have to be realistic, it is simply not possible, but I am up to do what I can. And it doesn’t have to be the same kind of art every day. I bounce around between painting and jewellery all the time. I get sick of one, I bounce to the other, but in both cases I’m creating something, I’m doing art. and each time I complete something, it makes completing the next one, that little bit easier.


So there are some tactics and tools to get you started on the path to loosening up, speeding up and managing the details a little less pedantically. As for me, well, it is an ongoing challenge. If I don’t watch myself, this happens:


But there are more occurrences of this as I practise more.


Hand number one: The artist's hand in pastel

100 Hands project, pastel on paper


Gotta love painting for the sake of painting.

Blue Shiver

Blue Shiver, acrylic on canvas, 510x760mm. SOLD

Oh, and by the way, that artist I always wanted to be? I am that artist – still with lots to learn, but I am that artist. If I can do it, so can you.

Good luck and remember, everything takes time. Be kind to yourself.

Best wishes,
(still off the edge, but learning to fly)