What if every artists’ tools are made available to you?

I might be exaggerating a little, but for a lot of people that works digitally, that’s exactly what happened when Kyle Webster’s brushes were made available for free for Adobe Creative Cloud users (the membership itself isn’t free though!) His brushes are loved the world over by artists and illustrators around the world like Christoph Niemann, Sophie Diao, Mark Conlan and Samantha Kallis.

What if the tools that these artists use were now in your hands? What would you do with them? What would you hope you could create with it?

Would you try your hardest to emulate the artists who’ve chosen certain brushes as their favourite? Or would you think of using their works as inspiration for your own practice, studying their strokes to see if you could recreate them? Or would you set out to just have fun with them to see where it takes you?

It’s all good, really.

While having special brushes in Photoshop does a lot to help elevate one’s digital work (or at least make things easier), I realised that traditionally, we’ve been using the tools that have been in existence for a long time as well. Tools that were used by Picasso, Monet, Mondrian: the humble pencil or charcoal. A paintbrush, and a variety of mediums that are in existence until today – oil paints, gouache, watercolour, pastel. Artists who play with sculptures, collages and paper, among the many, many different ways of expression, whether it’s in 2D or 3D.

It might be helpful to remember that the tool(s) that you have in your hand, whether it’s traditional, or digital; is merely an extension yourself. A complex culmination of things that no one else has: your history, personality, hopes, fears, ideas and concepts; along with your emotions, thoughts and passions.

And while we may be wielding the same tool, we’re all very different, and that is what makes art-making so beautiful.

Image: Menina IV: Paintbrush Portraits by Rebecca Szeto – based on Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) (source)

How to overcome the fear of trying something new

Credit: Dive by Madame Lolina

Trying something new can be scary, and sometimes, there’s nothing that anyone can say or do to make those feelings go away.

I have no magic answer that will make all those fears and insecurities go away, but only one piece of advice that has worked incredibly well for me: just jump right in.

Imagine taking your first dive into a cold, icy pool when you’re shivering from the chill morning air. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be in my warm bed, snuggled up in my blanket, instead of having to face that container of water that keeps lapping at my toes as I wince with dread. Though I love swimming, I absolutely hate that first contact between my body and the water. Every time. So I do what I normally do: tell myself that it’s going to be okay, close my eyes, dive right in, and keep on swimming until I’ve covered a whole lap without stopping. And when I emerge, it’s as though my fears had never existed in the first place, and I was in the flow of things – quite literally. If I had let my feelings about taking that first leap overpower my love for swimming, then I’d forever be on dry land.

Don’t just go back to bed.
Diving right in is also the best way to learn if this new thing is something you’ll like (even if you’re rubbish at it at first). When an idea is just in our heads, we glorify it a little. We imagine how great something is, only to be disappointed when what we churn out is not that great (which almost always happens when you’re a beginner – we all suck in the beginning, there’s no getting around it). The sooner you get over this thought of wanting to be the best at what you do right off the bat, and ignore damaging ones that tell you that if you’re not good at it then you must not be talented in it, the better. That’s just your brain craving to crawl back to bed, where it’s warm, familiar and safe.

The beautiful thing about doing, is that you also learn something new about yourself along the way. You’ll also get better at what you’re doing. But only, and only if, you like it enough to plod through the hard, difficult stuff, and wade through the feelings of inadequacy that inevitably follows an apprentice. The utter anguish of having to re-do something because if you don’t – even though no one would notice it but you – you can’t live with the thought that you could have done better.

So you do.

You unpick those stitches, and do it all over again.
You start with a new sheet of paper.
You rework that lump of clay.

You do it because your love of the unknown is stronger than the shackles that keep you in place, right where you are.

Add in a bit of time, patience, and some good old fashioned elbow grease, and you’ll soon realise that whatever you’re doing is no longer new.

It’s now a part of you.

The water may be icy cold wherever you are, but there’s no better time to dive right in.

How to create anything (even if you don’t know where to begin)

The struggle to constantly create new things, is very real.

Do you ever find that you’re so much more inspired when you get out of your normal daily routine? I do. When I went to that conference in Berlin last year, my neurons were firing around in my brain like it was the fourth of July. I was inspired. I want to do more. I want to be better.

It’s all very subjective of course, how listening, talking and interacting with other people can have an impact on us. For me personally, it’s validating to talk to and discuss about an artist’s personal projects, and to see how it all comes together in their work. That’s what drives me. Learning about instructional design and how I can make learning better for my students – both online and offline – compels me to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Stepping out

When people struggle to write or draw, but never do, it’s because they don’t have enough input. They might not have read or seen anything new that day. Or they may not talked to anyone or seen the way others do things. They didn’t encounter people or situations that would help them form and connect ideas into something new. They might not have someone to discuss their ideas with, or to play around with.

So what happens then? Your brain and mind remains in a constant dormant state. There’s no doubt that it’s alive and well, doing all the things a brain is supposed to do; but it’s just going through the motions – until you can inject something new in it a little (whether by accident or on purpose). So how do you spur it into action? Or at the very least, make it tingle with excitement – even if just a little?

Sparking… things.

We don’t live in a vacuum.

We respond to things, to stimuli. Whether it’s touch, news, emotions, etc – all of it is stimuli. When you’re used to the things that you encounter daily, it becomes a part of your life, and your brain accepts it as a normal state of being. Imagine if every stimuli that you encounter daily is a novelty instead – you’d be exhausted from being in a state of peak awareness! And so our brain adapts to the everyday, and becomes comfortable. It expects routine, because routine is good.

There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable, of course. But in order for us to break out of our shell, to think out of the box, or, in my case – to finally get off my arse and get over my internal fears – one has to spark a reaction. Because I would be willing to wager with you, is that you’re not reacting to anything right now. If you’ve been stuck in some kind of creative limbo/rut, where you can’t think of anything or are frustrated with whatever you’re doing, and yet you’re not sure why; it’s because you’ve become a little too comfortable. At least your brain is.

So how do you spark something? Anything?

Get out of your usual routine. Read things that has nothing to do with what you’re used to, but something that you’d like to try. Go to a conference. Go for a class. Dance (especially if you’ve never done it before). Talk to a friend, a mentor, or just a stranger. Disagree with things, or agree with something. There’s no right way or wrong way of doing it. All you need to do is to shake things up a little.

It explains why we often come away from a conference with hope and a renewed fervour for tackling that assignment that you’ve spent weeks procrastinating. You’ll find that you’re also a lot more focused after attending a short class; where you learn new skills and new ways of seeing. Your brain is abuzz with ideas and excitement, because you’ve just given it a jolt of new spark.

What’s the one thing you can do today? Doing things like what I mentioned above, can be a bit difficult. Meeting people, talking to them and engaging with them can be even harder – especially if you’re not used to it. The easiest and fastest route, is to bury yourself in other people’s words. Read a book, flip through the newspaper, or even find articles online. Find one topic that you’re interested in. What if you’re not sure that it interests you? Here’s how to tell: you’ll have a strong reaction to it – whether you agree or disagree with what’s being presented. You’ll find that you’re spurred on by what you love and hate. And if you don’t feel anything (if it it’s more of a meh than a yay!), move on and find another topic. Come back and let me know – did you find one? What is it?

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If you’re also ready to challenge yourself, then you might want to consider joining the Portfolio with Personality online workshop that I’ll be teaching from 30th March 2020 for 5 weeks. Registration opens on March 2nd, and is limited to a maximum of 16 students, so that I can dedicate my time and attention to each individual student. You’ll benefit from a structured curriculum that will challenge and stretch you creatively from the inside out! I’ll be there to guide you at every step of the way, to find and express what you want to say, as well as how you can say it through your personal project, so that you can stay true to yourself as an artist.

You can read more about the class by clicking this link (where you can sign up to be notified when registration begins), and I hope to see you there!

[Illustration by Rebecca Green, source]
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