When I quit working and decided to focus my time on art, I naturally turned to the internet for help and advice. In the first two years, I spent hours every day watching artists on YouTube and Patreon, trying out tutorials and playing around with the recommended supplies.
Eventually, this became a problem. I became a tutorial junkie. After a year or so, a nagging feeling began to grow. All of this “art” I was making wasn’t mine. Even though I enjoyed spending my days making stuff, it was all copied from somebody else.
This was reinforced by others who saw my work. “That’s nice, but it’s not ART” they said.
I felt like I wasn’t growing and I had no longer had the imagination to come up with my own ideas. I began accumulating lots of different art supplies because I thought I just hadn’t stumbled on that perfect tutorial yet, the one that was going to make me into an artist.
But it didn’t happen. I just ended up with drawers full of tutorial results and loads of art supplies.
It took a lot of introspection to realize that my tutorial habit was a roadblock to my artistic happiness. Learning is important, don’t get me wrong. It had been years since I’d used my fine art skills and I needed to catch up with modern techniques and materials. But I didn’t know how to transition from copying to coming up with my own ideas.
Then I ran out of money. (The drawback of relying on a fixed income.) And I discovered that the lack of money is a quick way to learn another, more important skill in art making.
I quickly found out that resourcefulness is a critical skill to have if you want to be creative.
What is resourcefulness?
Resourcefulness is the ability to find ways and means to solve problems.
A person who’s successful at being resourceful will, more often than not, succeed when they are challenged. It doesn’t matter if they lack materials, time, help, or money. They are able to make do with what they have. If they’re really successful, the results will be better than what they would have been before they were challenged because they’re more inclined to be innovative.
With practice, resourcefulness builds a mindset that’s open to new possibilities. This is the brain that takes cues from it’s surroundings and puts ideas or uses for objects together, even when most people would never create an association.
This is called inspiration.
Artists, writers, musicians…they all want this kind of brain. Brains that visualize alternative possibilities well or put together ideas that normally seem unrelated are called imaginative or creative.
Aren’t we naturally resourceful?
The answer to this question is…it depends.
In my case, I grew up in an economically-disadvantaged family (we were poor). Anytime I got a dollar, I’d buy crayons, markers, glue or construction paper. Sometimes I’d get two dollars and could buy a paint by number kit.
But I never let the lack of money stop me from creating. During the times when I didn’t have “art supplies”, I’d make Barbie some clothes out of old socks, or use junk mail paper for drawing and making homemade paper dolls (and all their clothes). One time I scoured the neighborhood for metal pull tabs off of soda cans and sewed them onto a pillowcase so I could have chainmail armour.
Unfortunately, as I grew older my responsibilities grew. I got a job and my time focused on caring for my family. The lure of buying what I needed instead of taking the time to find an alternative kept me from using resourcefulness. I had scrapbook fever for awhile, along with cross-stitching and crochet hobbies. And I learned knitting (which has become a lifelong love affair).
But none of these crafts required much imagination from me, even though they fed my creative habit, because I could easily follow patterns made by others. It saved time, but my imagination slowly got pushed into the deep dark brain closet.
After nearly 20 years of practicing buying instead of making do, I couldn’t seem to come up with inspiration for making my own art. Which made it easy to get hooked on tutorials when I quit working.
I think we all are born with the skills needed to be resourceful. But if we don’t practice those skills, we lose them.
How do we practice resourcefulness?
I’m listing three ways here that I think help develop resourcefulness. But if you really, really want to practice it yourself, you’ll think of your own ways to add resourcefulness to your life!
- Use what you have more often than not. If you want to create a picture that looks like something you saw on Instagram, use what you have to make something similar first. Then, if you’re absolutely unhappy with the results, you can always go buy that supply. But I’m willing to bet that you’ll get more satisfaction with making it your own using what you have.
- Go back to the basics and experiment. By this, I mean spend the time to do things simply with as few supplies as possible. Play. Imagine you’re on a desert island with no more than 3 art supplies. What could you make with them? Honestly, this can be so much fun you might find it addictive.
This month, the focus of Living an Artist’s Life is on different ways to use graphite because it’s the simplest art supply I can think of. I’ve got an entire video about experimenting and playing with graphite just to see what we can do with it. You’d be surprised at how great art can be using no more than a pencil.
- Doodle. Remember when you were in school and you drew pictures in the margins of your notes? 9 times out of 10, my doodles involved whatever was at the top of my mind at that moment – which was never what the teacher was teaching. Hearts come to mind, sometimes involving the latest crush, then images from Star Wars or Star Trek (I have always been a sci fi fan), and in high school I’d even doodle my friends faces.
Current research shows that doodling improves creativity. Doodling helps get stuff out of the deep dark brain closet and into the light of day. And you don’t need anything special to do it. Just a pencil and some paper.
Check out this short yet entertaining TED talk by Sunni Brown (don’t you just love her name) to hear about the benefits of doodling.
Practicing resourcefulness builds your creativity
If there’s only one takeaway I want you to have after reading this entire post, it’s that practicing resourcefulness through finding alternatives and visualizing outcomes will help you become a more inspired, more imaginative creative.
So be an adventurer! Make life your art!