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Dear Little Bobby,
I’m a multi-media artist, which usually gives me several ways to express myself, but lately I’m having trouble getting started. On my weekends, away from my job, I would like to start a new painting or write a new song, but I get distracted by so many other things in life, like my partner, my kids, politics, exercising and more. I just need help getting started on a new project. But with so many little and big things going on, I have a hard time choosing a topic and diving in. Any advice?
Dear Procrastinating Artist,
I have sometimes found myself in a similar situation. As a child, I always loved exploring music, but these days there are times when I put it off because I lack direction, time, artistic energy or any number of other reasons/excuses. At times I have been so busy that I did not even have a chance to just sit down and play the piano. Then when the chance presented itself, I was unable to start a new project like an album, or even just a song.
Sometimes we just have to put brush to canvas, without being attached to the result.
Being an artist of any kind is a luxury. We should recognize that. We should acknowledge that most people on this planet do not have the time to just play with a paint brush or a guitar or to just build something for fun. This is all an “extra” part of life, only possible after we have met our basic needs of providing food, clean water and shelter (at a minimum).
Yet humans all over the planet want to create when given the opportunity. I suggest creating as many opportunities for ourselves as we can. We do not have to create every chance we have, but by making more opportunities we are more likely to use them.
As a musician, I have lots of musical ideas throughout my day, but later at the piano, those ideas do not always come back to me. I have addressed this by taking my phone out and recording snippets of melodies that come to me as I walk my dogs, exit the shower or whatever I am doing when a melody hits me. Later, when I am “deciding” to create, I can go back to these little snippets and more fully develop them, or I can bring them out at band practice when we are looking for something new.
This can also be applied to painting. If you have an idea as you wake from a dream or as you ride along on a road trip (or wherever it is that ideas for paintings enter the head of a painter) and you have a sketch book handy, sketch the idea. Make a quick drawing. Or, if you just have a phone, take a photo or record an audio description using your phone, describe what your idea is so that it is available the next time you can paint and need a subject.
Another idea for harnessing creativity is to force it. This does not have to be negative, like when we think of “forcing” something against our will. But if our will on our weekends is to sit around watching football and eating BBQ (no thanks), then not much art will get created during those times. We have to actually DO it. That means taking care of your kids and spending time with your partner (good distractions), and it also means turning off the tube and putting our damn phones down (bad distractions).
I am inspired by artists who say “I’m going to write or paint this weekend” without regard to “what” they are going to write or paint. Sometimes we just have to put brush to canvas, without being attached to the result. Just paint and see what happens. If you do not like the finished product, you have still learned something as a painter: You have learned what you do not like. It is all part of the same process. da Vinci did not start with the Mona Lisa.
Set an intention to paint or play THIS weekend, on THIS day, at THIS time, and then do it. Yes, plans change and things come up, but sometimes plans also fall through and we have an extra hour, a perfect time to brainstorm—but we cannot do that when we are glued to our phones trying to kill the boredom between our thumbs and our eyeballs. When I have trained for marathons, often the hardest part was putting the damn shoes on and getting out of the door. After that I felt free, sometimes running for hours when just a little while earlier I was thinking “I do not think I can do this today.” You can do it, but you have to decide to jump, pick up that brush or guitar and go, without worrying about where you are going.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“Distractions, like butterflies are buzzing ’round my head when I’m alone I think of you | And the things we’d do if we could only be through with these distractions.” —Paul McCartney, “Distractions” 1989