This list is inspired by Chris Guillebeau’s 34 Things post. (Happy birthday, Chris!)
I’ve arrived at birthday #37 this year, but for me a bigger milestone is that it’s been 10 years since I became an artist—a perspective shift that has changed everything. And that’s something to celebrate!
Here’s what making art has taught me:
1. Everything happens in baby steps. You can only create a piece of art one mark at a time. One brushstroke, one pencil line, one splash of color.
2. If the “blank canvas” (or blank page) makes you freeze, start with a careless first layer. A scribble, a smear of paint—anything at all. Just begin.
3. Let your heart lead the way. Whatever feels joyful or compelling, follow it.
4. Forget the critics. There will always be someone who doesn’t get it. Make what you want to make, and let your work shine out in the world.
5. Your art matters. People are hungry for meaning, and you can’t know who will be deeply touched by your work…but someone will.
6. To get creatively unstuck, switch gears: try something totally different.
7. Art is everywhere. Look at the line of a tree, the texture of a weathered roof, the contrast of colors all around you.
8. Creativity is like the sky: we’re all standing in it, all the time, and it doesn’t belong to anyone.
9. You already have the power to imagine, to design, to make. Did I say power? I meant superpower. (P.S.: Use it for good!)
10. Drawing is a skill that anyone can learn. The hardest part is letting go of the belief that you’re no good at drawing.
11. You can be an artist without ever learning how to draw properly. But learning to draw is just learning to see, and seeing differently is the shift that changes everything.
12. There are as many ways to create a piece of art as there are individual people on this earth.
13. None of those ways are wrong.
14. You don’t have to sell your artwork or make a living from selling art to be a “real artist.”
15. Being featured in galleries or magazines is nice. But not necessary.
16. If you’re human, you’re creative. If you bake, sing, fix things, write, knit, move your body, journal, quilt, or play, you are a creative person. If you’ve always longed to learn how to paint, rollerblade, take photographs, grow flowers, or make a movie, you are creative.
17. Some pieces of art need a long time to incubate. Some of them will take a while to fully resolve. Sometimes a piece of art will arrive quickly and feel finished right away. All of that is okay.
18. Your art process will not be exactly like anyone else’s art process. There’s plenty you can learn from how other artists work. The greatest teacher, though, is your own intuition.
19. Comparing your artwork, or your creative process, to other people will make you crazy. Put that energy into the artwork instead.
20. “Good art” is anything that people really like, emotionally or intellectually. By people, I mean at least one person. (Even if that one person is you, the artist.)
21. “Good art” is anything that people really dislike. It succeeds because it evokes a strong response, and one function of art is to instigate reflection and conversation.
22. “Good art” is anything that holds meaning for its creator. The viewer may find a completely different meaning in the piece than the artist intended. Both are valid.
23. Numbers 20 through 22 are not as contradictory as they may seem.
24. Just be curious. That’s the real superpower. Wonder about things, and experiment, and observe.
25. Color is awesome. So is contrast.
26. If you think a piece of art (or writing) is finished, put it away for a while. When you come back to it, you’ll see what it still needs—or you’ll be pleasantly surprised by it.
27. Find someone you trust to look at your works-in-progress. This person doesn’t have to be an artist, but make sure it’s someone who understands how to give constructive feedback.
28. Don’t be too busy to make art. In my experience, art is like meditation—it’s hard to show up for sometimes, but it makes everything so much nicer when you do.
29. Making art deepens your relationship with yourself. And when you get friendlier with yourself, it’s easier to be in right relationship with others.
30. Art isn’t about self-improvement. Be perfectly imperfect in your artwork. And in your life.
31. Art does not have to be Serious. (Or, as we say at our house, “seewious.”) It’s okay to play, to have fun with it, and to let your sense of humor get involved. You’re a whole person, so let your art be whole art.
32. Sometimes the simplest approach is the most powerful. I like to play with Sharpies and watercolor as a break from my usual lengthy, layered art process. I will always love the layers, but there’s something to be said for a bold, simple image.
33. Having a favorite art medium is like having a favorite color. Give it a little favoritism, but play with the other stuff, too. It all holds incredible potential.
34. Mistakes are just uninvited guests—you didn’t know they were coming, but that’s no reason not to invite them for dinner. Take “mistake” out of your mental Bad Things category and file it under Interesting Things instead.
35. There’s a lot of magic in questions. Especially the ones that start with “What if…?”
36. Everything I’ve said here is true… for me. Your truth may vary. In fact, my own truth has varied quite a lot over the past 37 years.
37. Wait, did I say that I became an artist 10 years ago? Really, I was an artist all along. But at 27, I began to own it.
When will you own it?
Be an artist. Start today. Start anywhere.