Makes Me Happy, On Mental Health

On Being Creative When You Have Minimal Skills.

If I could only use one word to describe myself to a new person I would say: ARTIST. Not because I actually produce art in any significant way…but because I think the word “artist” allows for the understanding that I need to create things as a part of my existence as a human being. I need a creative practice to survive. I’m not sure you can get that across with any word concisely like you can with the word “artist.”

It was just in the last 5-10 years that this really hit me. When I realized that my need to create was almost compulsive…like…I had to do it. It didn’t mean I was “good” or that I was creating anything I could sell (which is the brainwashing from extraction capitalism) but it turns out that’s not really what makes an artist. It’s just the need to create. Most assume you’re creating art but that word is so subjective, who decides what is art and isn’t? I realized my bullet journaling was totally scratching that creative itch and once it was a regular part of my life I felt like something was falling into place in my brain better. I realized I needed that time to be creative in my low-skill way.

Although, have I ever actually called myself an artist out loud to anyone? No. I do sometimes call myself a “writer” because it does pack the same kind of I need to write to survive meaning which is true because more often than not…writing is my creative practice.

Writing has scratched that creative itch most days because I’ve been doing it 5 mornings a week for the last 17 years. But, I learned this year that there’s this weird zone of my anxiety that makes writing difficult. Previously it always felt like writing was a way out, it helped me organize my chaotic worries or thoughts and it helped me isolate my anxiety so it didn’t run wild.

But then there’s this new (maybe?) zone…a type experience in my anxiety where I can’t focus on writing at all. I wouldn’t say there’s a “better” or “worse” scale, it’s just different ways my anxiety manifests. Most days writing helps, other days I’ve begun to notice it’s impossible.

But I started feeling like something was missing on the mornings I wasn’t writing. So I started a new kind of creative practice. Well, new’ish. I’ve always used my bullet journal as a place to doodle or color with markers/pens and I often like to make gratitude cards in a similar vein. But recently I broke out my daughter’s Himi Gouache paint set. (WARNING: NON-ARTIST DESCRIBE ARTIST-Y THINGS. BE WARNED.) Gouache paint is like an opaque watercolor. Or at least it can be, it can also be really water-colory if you…you know…add more water. Hers had dried out quite a bit so I spent some time bringing them back to life (another reason I like them) so I could play.

Here’s the thing. I don’t have any actual skills as an artist. I like to doodle, so I find ideas on pinterst (here’s my board if you want to see) for easy doodles like leaves and flowers. And I like color so I just paint a lot of lines and arches and circles and then doodle on top of them. It’s basically the way I harness my minimal skill (and my use of pinterest) and force myself to make something every morning.

OH. And quotes/poetry. That’s also the key. Somehow a silly painting with just blocks of color becomes much more like art when you throw in some Mary Oliver.

Listen…I’m not going to be able to open my own studio or anything. I’m not going to retire off the millions I make in my etsy shop. But it’s a quick/easy way to have a morning creative practice which helps my brain in 1,000 different ways. It somehow allows me to still be creative (which is more of a need than a want) on the days I can’t seem to wrangle my thoughts into writing.

I also found these small watercolor notebooks which makes it so much less intimidating. You can’t over think a tiny piece of paper when you’re doing a new one every morning!

Basically while I’m making coffee I get out my supplies. I paint a bit while I drink my first cup. I let that layer dry while I do other things and then I come back to it with a sharpie for flowers/doodles/words later. I try not to overthink it, because perfection or quality is not really the metric when you have no skills or desire to make a product you can sell. When you’re just scratching that creative itch to start your day? It’s a very low-pressure challenge and it really is helping me on the mornings I can’t calm my brain enough to write.

4 thoughts on “On Being Creative When You Have Minimal Skills.”

  1. At a TEDxHuntsville a few years ago a speaker was talking about creativity, and that a person can express their creativity within a “walled garden.” Meaning, they don’t have to show what they’ve done to anyone, they can just make their art for no one else but themselves if that’s what they want to do.

  2. I think your art is great. It does take a little skill to know what colors go together and how to lay them out in a pleasing way. Sometimes the art of creating is just what our brains need.
    I never thought I could paint. My Grandfather, Mom & daughter could/can look at something and recreate it in the medium of their choice. I can draw stick figures lol. A few years ago I attended a paint & sip party and was hooked! I usually do need a stencil of the picture for the outline but I’m the one painting, adding shading and other details. I have a ton of paintings that I keep for myself because I enjoy it 🙂

  3. Your art is you. I like the designs that you bring to light. Food for thought from another”artist” I was comparing my work to friends. I finally understood that my art is me as my friends that my art fits me. Thing bold strokes more abstract. My art is used as an outlet for stress and life. So, remember you when you feel yours is not good enough. It is you. Sometimes it won’t see the light of day. Other times you will want to show everyone what you did.

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