The first step is silencing your inner critic

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” –Vincent Van Gogh

Let me paint you a picture.

A young child spends long afternoons getting covered in chalk whilst decorating the front doorstep with rainbows. Swap chalk for hands gummed up with PVA glue or the proud hanging of an anatomically questionable family portrait, and this child immersed in messy making might have been you.

Now, in these anxious times, it might seem absurd to suggest picking up a paintbrush and painting your troubles away. Especially if the last time you picked up a paintbrush you were in a school uniform. But even though we may not remember what that child was making, but likely remember the texture of the chalk along the bumpy ground, the sight of the vivid colours streaming across the paper, and the smell of the glue residue left on your fingers. At some point that child was abandoned as you grew into a mature adult whose need for creating was buried beneath a pile of responsibilities.

I can see those eyes rolling. I am not suggesting anyone abandons those responsibilities and embarks on a penniless existence for the sake of the texture of chalk and the smell of paint. People would rightly become concerned. Let us instead focus on why we no longer value artistic making in our lives and how we can change that.

Unlike the child version of yourself immersed in the senses, our adult selves are left to deal with a barrier of inner voices and beliefs which focus on the final product. The voices often speak familiar lines and can trick us into believing them:

Comparison: ‘It won’t look as good as theirs.’

Fatigue: ‘I don’t have time to finish this today.’

Anxiety: ‘What if it doesn’t look like the real thing?’

Creative Scars: ‘I can’t draw.’ (see Brené Brown)

Despite being an educator and aspiring artist who should know better, I too have these voices, and worse of all, I believe them. These voices breed off one key concern: what will the end product be like? Consumed by this focus, we are left to feel insufficient and unable or unworthy to fill the blank canvas.

But what if we shifted our focus away from the product? There is an entire Artistic movement named “Process Art” which evolved from the performance elements of Dadaism*. Post-WWII, artists (poets/musicians/painters) were stuck in a valley of disbelief that humanity could both create such horrific traumas and unbelievable beauty from art; so the process of making art for its own sake started to evolve. As responsible adults we can find ways to emulate the mindset of such great artists without abandoning our current lives, knowing, just like our child selves, that the chalk will wash away in a few hours.

First, put away your smartphone, it’s a hive of stifling comparison that fuels anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Then, follow some of these tips for anyone to make art inspired by some of the great artists:

  1. Collages with colourful paper (Matisse)
  2. Paint a rock with shapes (Kandinsky)
  3. Draw stick people on your commute (Lowry)
  4. Splatter paint across a large bedsheet (Pollock)
  5. Rubbings and stenciling of leaves you find on a walk
  6. Find a child/some children and paint together (preferably your own or those of friends or family)
  7. Try finger painting (Seurat)
  8. Drink a glass of wine/beer/tequila (based on most artists from any time ever)
  9. Submerse items in jelly (Damien Hirst)
  10. Find an abandoned urinal and sign your pseudonym on the side (Duchamp)

Note: Number 10 might be considered a crime. Or at least questionable.

2020 is a year that is calling us to change our perceptions: of climate, politics, health, silence to injustice, and creativity. Shift your focus from the result of all these things and take the small steps to work on the process of making them happen. Focus on the inner voice of your young child and ignore the beast filling your mind with fear. Remember, if the result doesn’t match your expectation, there is a trash can nearby, or the rain will simply wash it away.


*If I start writing about Dadaism too much I might go into a full ranting debate regarding the potential/ so called purpose and significance of this movement!

Editor's Note: Helen is currrently accepting commissions. You can see her work on Instagram or contact her at hdaviesmacintyre[at]gmail.com