Beginner’s mind

Heidi asked what my thoughts (and actions) were on conquering the fear of white canvasses. So I thought I’d give it a go and see if summing it up would help myself in the process too! And of course it’s a process, not a one-step fix. I probably won’t get it all in one blog post either…

Well, it’s a start, the canvasses are no longer white even though they’re filthy. (keep reading below)

I think the problem for most people is the illusion that they need to be perfect. At once. Always. Don’t get me wrong, I think art is something to be dead serious about, just imagine a world entirely without it! Well, No, right? Well, say hello to the World Champion of perfectionists. I know exactly, inside my head, what I want my stuff to look like. And if I can’t pull it off in first try (usually I can’t), I resign, tell myself I have no talent in this area and sulk about it. A lot. It’s even been a motto thoughout my life, “if I can’t do something really well, I won’t do it at all, and if I can’t have what I want, I don’t want anything”.

Lately I seem to have changed. I still want to be good and I have very high standards for it. But the concept of “practice” has suddenly dawned on me. Oh, I knew that old proverb, but really, it didn’t seriously apply to myself. Now I’m suddenly game to give it a try. Worst that can happen is – well, at least more will happen than before, when I didn’t do anything but wait for the perfect moment, running over the theory in my head (my version of practice). I might even have fun along the way.

Are you still hesitating? Break it into small steps. Arrange every step to be a succes in itself, be satisfied with your progress even before you get to the actual creating. Buy supplies, arrange a workspace so your supplies are there and ready, allow yourself to be fearful, push and rest, advance and retreat. Doodle a bit, go to an art exhibition, make really silly collages from magazines if that seems like a smaller step than brush on canvas. Tell yourself you’re just going to paint a nice background to get some colour happening. Don’t overly pressure yourself, nor let yourself get away with excuses forever.

Of course, some people like to just jump in, but they’re not reading this. It’s ok to sneak up on the action so to speak if that makes you more comfortable. What set me in motion and gave me a new urge to paint again, was learning to spin in 2011. I suddenly rediscovered the joy of working with my hands, not just my head, after years of photoshopping and Flash animating. My creativity suddenly woke up after being near dead for a couple of years (not good when you are a self employed graphic designer) and suddenly I had all these visions about colour and yarn designs and all sorts of things. Sometimes what you need to get the spark going is not even related to where you want to go!

So, what are some of the excuses the mind comes up with to postpone the moment of “failure”?

  1. Equipment costs a lot of money.
  2. I don’t have enough room in my house.
  3. The kids (husband, cats) won’t leave me alone.
  4. I’m exhausted today (again).
  5. I have no time.

And the classic:

6. I don’t have any ideas….


  1. Yes, it does. You can get cheap acrylics and low quality canvases at the supermarket from time to time, you can paint on almost any paper, doesn’t have to be 300g acid free watercolour paper straight off the mark. You don’t really need an easel, technically you can just cover a table in old newspapers. I always put nails in the wall and hung my frames on those. But even so, a decent starter collection of stuff does make a dent in your budget unless you have stuff from 20 years back stored in the garage like I did (and then I still spent some on this and that. And strangely enough, when you begin using it, it’ll be gone and you need more). But you have to make a decision. If you want to paint, you do need colours of some kind and a surface to put them on. Easier if you want to write, if you’re reading this I assume you have a computer, so you don’t even need pen and paper (although it actually does give another perspective on the process to handwrite from time to time)
  2. Paint smaller. Something that fits your chosen table, see note #1. Keep your paints in a handy box or suitcase that you can get out in a jiffy and get cracking.
  3. I don’t have human kids, but I imagine this can put quite a damper on your ambitions. I hate being interrupted when I finally get started and focused on something, impossible to stay in the mood! Or have someone stand behind me and just watch. I don’t have a lot of advice to offer I’m afraid, if you can’t train the kids to give you an hour in peace, or their other parent to deal with them, their grandparents to pick them up for the weekend, you might want to cover the whole room in newspaper and give them their own brush and paper. My solution to a small house and a chatty partner has been earplugs and mental blinders. Even if I feel eyes on my back, if I do not want to take a break I.DO.NOT.TURN.
  4. THIS. I suffer from headaches, back aches, chronic fatigue among other annoying things for years. BUT. Another reason you are feeling tired might be the lack of creativity in your life. Art gives you energy, excuses and avoidance drains it. For real. See if your head doesn’t clear and your confidence gets a boost simply from that one victory of starting your first painting. Then have tea, pat yourself on the back, take a nap and have another go.
  5. Do you ever watch tv? Do you have to? I mean, is there really, really ever anything on that is more important than painting? Your choice…
  6. So you have no ideas? So why do you even want to make art? Like me, you probably can’t answer the last question, you just do. No matter how you try to be sensible, it keeps sneaking up on you, the urge, the dreaming. I think the more we keep telling ideas that they don’t exist, the more they’ll oblige. Leave the door wide open and they begin to trickle back in, soon you’ll be flooded if you let them come. In fact, you may have too many ideas and postpone acting because you can’t pick the best one, because you fret about all the ones you didn’t pick. What I discovered is, you don’t have to finish all of them. Just acknowledging them by writing them down in a notebook with a few strokes of crayon, is enough to satisfy your creative mind. Most of those ideas never get any further, but by taking note, you keep the flow coming in, and you free your mind of clutter that prevents you from focusing on one project at a time (ok, 2 or 3 is ok, right?). You’ll find that some ideas survive, others are no longer as important, they’ve done their job. Still not working? Go on expeditions, see something new. Take the kids to the zoo, they’ll be exhausted and sleep early, so you get a few hours to paint your impressions of the day.
A friend of my grandfather’s made me this about 25 years ago, great for painting on a table.

Then after you’ve inched your way towards action, no more excuses, it’s all sitting there, ready for the taking, staring you in the face, be aware of the following facts.

Rule #1: There will be obstacles. Such as, to mention a few: You finally get your A into G, plastic on the wall so you don’t splatter, jars for water, paper towels within reach. And then you discover that A. your ultramarine is not in as good shape after 10 years in the garage as you thought it was, B. most of your brushes leak hairs and dust like mad, completely ruining your canvas at first stroke (this is where the paper towels come in) C. you really need a waste bin for those paper towels. And more water for all those dusty brushes. You probably should have changed your clothes too. Oh well, and that plastic sheet on the wall could be a large contributor to all that dust, find a roll that hasn’t been in the garage or under hubby’s bed (or wherever he kept the darn thing).

Rule #2: There are no rules. A colour you dislike can be painted over as many times as you like. The painting can be turned upside down halfway through the process (any time during the process, actually 😉 ) You can use both hands, one at a time or simultaneously. Give it a go, paint with your “other” hand, kick logic up its backside.

Rule #3: Creativity is not linear or schematic. You need to listen to and follow your impulses. Even if it means that after a week of setting up your painting workspace, you have a sudden urge to spin purple yarn or rearrange your kitchen cabinets. Follow the flow. Sometimes the first step in a new project is finishing an old one! Art is not a job, don’t restrict yourself to one form just because you’ve decided you should. Life and your subconscious will tell you where to go next, even if it seems erratic. Now, if something tells you that you need to finish ALL your house chores before you’re allowed to paint, that is not your subconscious speaking, it’s your mum, and she ought to go and mind her own business.

Rule #4: Don’t talk, just do it. And keep doing it, no matter what rule #1 throws at you.

Julia Cameron: Walking In This World (The Danish version is “The art of being creative”)

Flora S. Bowley: Brave Intuitive Painting

Want some quick and easy ways to start playing, making art with no ambition of succes whatsoever, just fun? While I was writing this and in the process of testing my oil paints I remembered all sorts of little tricks, in fact so many that I’ll save them for another post. Stay tuned!

> 1. Finally
> 2. Beginner’s mind
> 3. Creating creativity
> 4. New Tricks


At tænke som en begynder

(som sædvanlig en ikke særlig ordret oversættelse fra engelsk…)

Nogen gange tager vi kreativitet alt for seriøst og kommer ingen vegne fordi vi helst vil forudsige resultatet inden vi overhovedet er kommet i gang, og det skal naturligvis helst være “perfekt”.

Og så kommer vi aldrig i gang med fx. at male, vi snakker bare om det i årevis, køber måske lidt pensler og farve i ny og næ når vi fristes i butikken, men det perfekte øjeblik at gå i gang opstår på forunderlig vis aldrig af sig selv.

Mit bud pÃ¥ at bryde den kreative knude er dels at se det som en process i stedet for ét kæmpe stort skridt. Og nÃ¥r man sÃ¥ først ER kommet i gang, ja, sÃ¥ flyder det jo som regel af sig selv, det ved vi jo…. Og desuden at tillade sig at være begynder. Man bliver ikke dygtig uden at øve sig rigtig meget, et koncept jeg altid har haft svært ved at fatte fordi jeg har været forkælet med at have rigtig nemt ved mange ting. SÃ¥ alt jeg ikke kunne med det samme har jeg forkastet med den konklusion, at “det havde jeg sÃ¥ ikke talent for, og sÃ¥ er der ingen grund til at spilde tid pÃ¥ det”. Men det er vigtigt at turde gøre tumbede ting, at være glad for et produkt der ser “sjovt” ud, som en del af processen. Det fattede jeg endelig, da jeg begyndte at spinde garn, for jeg havde ingen som helst forventninger om at det var noget jeg burde kunne. Og pludselig genopdagede jeg glæden ved at fremstille noget med mine hænder, frem for hovedet, og at selv smÃ¥ forbedringer var fantastiske.

Og så fik jeg pludselig lyst til at male igen, efter mere end 10 års pause, nok snarere 15-16! Men kan jeg nu finde ud af det mere? Ja, det må tiden vise.

Små skridt, som ikke fremkalder præstationsangsten kunne være at, ja købe sine materialer, men sige til sig selv at det er OK at putte dem i en skuffe for nu, frem for at slå sig selv i hovedet med at nu har man spildt sine penge uden at give valuta tilbage. Dén tankegang er virkelig en inspirationsdræber!

Næste trin kunne være at arrangere sine materialer og tænkte arbejdsplads, så det er så tilgængeligt som muligt. Det skal være nemt at finde frem og gå i gang, hvis lysten lige skulle falde forbi; hvis det tager en time at rydde bordet af, finde tuber, glas, klude og vand frem, så får man det i hvert fald ikke gjort, for lige om lidt skal ungerne jo se Disneysjov og der skal forresten laves mad. Allerbedst er det, hvis man kan have det hele fremme og parat og en arbejdsplads der ikke bruges til andet. Så kan man komme og gå i løbet af dagen lige som indskydelserne kommer.

Det gælder om at hele tiden arrangere en lille succes og være tilfreds med det. Aftale en dag om ugen, hvor man har stilletid – men i øvrigt ikke føle sig forpligtet til at bruge den. Begynde med at tvære lidt farve pÃ¥ lærredet til en baggrund, og sÃ¥ gÃ¥ og kigge lidt pÃ¥ det for at se om det indbyder til næste lag. MÃ¥ske skal man en lille omvej forbi en udstilling, en tur i skoven, bladre i rejsebrochurer, læse en bog om kreativitet eller om maleteknik, hvert skridt gør det store en smule mindre. SÃ¥ længe du holder intentionen om bevægelse, skal du bare følge flowet.

Julia Cameron: Kunsten at være kreativ

Susanne Møberg: Mal dig glad

Flora S. Bowley: Brave Intuitive Painting

Din indre kritiker finder pÃ¥ oceaner af undskyldninger for at forhale processen, for at undgÃ¥ den “fiasko” som helt sikkert lurer forude.

  1. Materialer koster penge. Ja, det gør de, vil du male eller ej? Begynd med billige pensler og papir.
  2. Jeg har ikke plads. Find en plads, voksdug til bordet, mal mindre projekter.
  3. Børnene forstyrrer hele tiden. Jeg har ikke selv børn, men jeg håber de kan trænes til at klare sig selv et par timer?
  4. Jeg er træt. Det er jeg også, rigtig tit endda. Men en af grundene til at du er udmattet kunne være din modstand mod at være kreativ. Kunst giver energi, at tænke på at man ikke gør det, dræner den. Du kunne meget nemt gå hen og opdage, at maleriet får dig til at vågne op og giver selvtilliden et skub. Og så kan du tage en pause og en lur og så male lidt igen.
  5. Jeg har ikke tid. Er der nogensinde noget som er værd at se på i tv alligevel? Som er bedre end at male?

Og den klassiske:

6. Jeg har ingen ideer…. Uden inspiration kan man jo ikke lave kunst – eller kan man? For vi bliver jo alligevel ved med at drages til det og tænke pÃ¥ det, og jo mere man tænker, især at man ikke har nogen ideer, desto mere holder de sig væk. Jo mere man GØR, desto lettere flyder det, nogen gange bliver man ligefrem oversvømmet af ideer, sÃ¥ man igen bliver blokeret fordi man ikke kan vælge! Og man kan bare ikke gennemføre dem allesammen, men jeg har opdaget at blot det at skrive ideerne ned, eller skitse, sÃ¥ har jeg anerkendt dem og beholder “flowet”, ogsÃ¥ i travle tider hvor det hele gÃ¥r op i rengøring og havepasning osv. Og den kreative hjerne er tilfreds og beroliget og kan bedre fokusere pÃ¥ ét reelt projekt. Og man skal lære at følge den røde trÃ¥d, selvom dens vej er snirklet og slet ikke ser ud som om den fører til mÃ¥let. MÃ¥ske trænger man til at rydde op pÃ¥ skrivebordet, før man kan koncentrere sig, mÃ¥ske føler man pludselig trang til at sy nye gardiner. Fint. Bare gør det, penslerne ligger klar og venter.

Der er masser af små julelege til at få det kreative gen vækket, men dem gemmer jeg til en anden dag, hvis nogen er interesserede.

17 thoughts on “Beginner’s mind

  1. What a thought provoking and insightful post, I love the thoroughness of your analysis!

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your idea of encouraging a practise mindset and learning to spin is a great example. Like riding a bicycle, everyone is bad at spinning at first, and can we can accept and live with it as we know that the more you do it the better you get. At first we spin yarns that don’t even need to be used “for real” if they don’t work out, and that’s ok. I think the same idea can be extended to drawing/painting – rather than thinking you are now working on a “real artwork”, treating your painting as a warm up exercise might just trick your brain into lowering the expectations and not worry about things that aren’t perfect.

    How to encourage ideas is a whole big topic in itself of course, but at least I have found that ideas need mental space to develop and that space is not easy to achieve in a busy life that is so full of other things. Decluttering in all its forms, whether physical or psychological, may be necessary, but meanwhile, I don’t think there’s any harm in borrowing someone else’s ideas just as a warm up exercise – like trying to copy a picture or photo, or perhaps just the colours in it, or something similar. Just anything to get you going while waiting for your own ideas to emerge.

    And energy, or a lack of it, is another problem for anyone living a full busy life. For me personally this is a daily battle as I have chronic fatigue syndrome, and I have found that the only solution is to attempt a task that is small enough that your current energy levels will allow it or break a bigger task into smaller sections, like you talk about in your post. For me at the moment painting is too big a task, particularly as it involves some setting up and clearing up afterwards, but drawing, particularly with pastels is easier in very short bursts with no brushes to wash afterwards. And photography too, easy to do in small chunks. Anything that encourages you to do something small NOW rather than wait for the perfect future moment when you have the energy, ideas etc to attempt something big.

    And back to perfectionism, I think it is definitely over-rated – faults and imperfection are much more interesting (as the wise Japanese person who came up with the concept of “wabi sabi” realised).

    Anyway, looking forward to reading about how your artistic journey progresses.

    1. I agree about the CFS. Do pressure yourself a BIT, to see if maybe you get the energy from the doing, but just charging in ignoring your body will come at a too high price. Sounds like the pastels are good for you now. I read about something called inktense blocks, that are like crayons, react to water, but are then waterproof when dry, making it easy to do layers. Oh, and you may like this link:

  2. Excellent post!!! It took me a long time to learn my motto “the process is the point”. We live in a world where only the perfect gets the attention (media, fame, shows, gigs, book deals, whatever). Every area of art is now so highly competitive. It is easy to get caught up in all that and to start believing that if you can’t be the best at something or perfect in your art that there is no point in doing it. I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’ll never be a famous _________ so why bother.” It’s like the learning, the joy, the work, and the sheer good of being creative and having a beginner’s mind never comes into it. It is also an unfortunate truth that most people think that artistic talent is something that we are born with and that it cannot be learned. Yes, some people are naturally gifted, but that rarely means they don’t have to work to acquire skills just like everyone else. Just like we wouldn’t expect a musician to play Bach without first learning how to play scales (for years), why should a painter be expected to crank out masterpieces without first mastering basic skills?

    1. I guess because we want it so bad, we get impatient. Especially if you already know the joy of getting caught up in the flow of inspiration and pride in your work. It’s like a drug. What other people think comes second, but sometimes we get that order confused. You cannot create art to please, if you don’t please yourself first.

  3. Good to read all your tips and ‘rules’ Pia. I seem to have a few slow cycles during the year, possibly relating to acute illness or physical limitations. The mental side of picking back up again is definitely the main hurdle. Perfectionism is perhaps part of that; for me also the memory of painting being tough work.

    1. I think the first step is always the hardest, no matter how experienced you are. To begin running again after an injury, starting work after the holidays, painting after a bad spell in life has set you back. So I’m trying to think of ways to trick myself into doing it anyway (works on horses, so why not people? 😉 )

      1. I like that idea! We all need some gentle coaxing but if the return happens almost by surprise so much the better. We do create our own barriers, don’t we?

        1. I read this, only this morning on Facebook: “The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.”

  4. It has been an ambition of mine to paint for many years. The problems I have are many of the above you have kindly explained. I too, as seascapesaus has said, think the mental battle with ‘things’ are a big hurdle for me as I’m a sensitive person and Iworry about things a lot. The other main hurdle is, I don’t feel I have any artistic talent! Like you said though, one needs to just do it without any expectations that will give you pressure. I’m a perfectionist by nature and this is something else I need to overcome. Thank you for this post Pia. My gratitude and best wishes SN

    1. Sounds like you have some of the same hurdles as me. One is thinking too much in general, wanting to be in control of every aspect before deciding to act. The trouble is, we never will have. So we might as well just think “what if” and get moving. And what is artistic talent? Is your ambition to make an exhibition of your very first canvases or to have a quiet, fun time by yourself exploring the joy of colour? For the last bit, no talent whatsoever is required, in fact you don’t even need hands or feet, there are people out there making wonderful art with their mouths! If you’ve never painted before I recommend getting some of the traditional paint books on landscapes or whichever you fancy and learn your colour theory, get lists of equipment and perhaps copy some of the processes / images in the books. I seriously abuse interlibrary loans on all sorts of topics, otherwise I’d need an extra house just to hold my books…

      1. Hi Pia. Thank you for your wonderful reply, your right, I think too much about everything. I really need to ease up on myself on that score. I’m going to do exactly what you’ve said and get some beginners books from the library on landscapes, that’s what I would really like to paint. Your also absolutely right about some people painting and drawing with their mouth or feet, which must have been a monumental task for them to learn, yet as you say they produce some wonderful art work. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some seriously (physically) disabled people and was amazed at the innovative way they face and overcome some things. One man could type faster than me just using a pen in his mouth. Your kind and encouraging words have given me the gentle push and confidence I needed, thank you very much Pia, I appreciate it. I don’t have to become a Vangogh or Gainsborough! You write very well. Take care and best wishes SN

  5. I love this post, Pia! I am laughing so hard the ideas are dropping off the branches of my synapses! i have forwarded it to friends…who will, I hope, forward to others, too! Thank you for that Kick in the Perfect Ass


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