Art Anxiety: Learning to Love Learning.
Being creative doesn't come naturally all of the time, especially when it's used as a method of relaxation. Here's some tips for first time urban sketchers and watercolourists on overcoming the urge to give up.
I'm Liv, owner and creator for Livpaintsbuildings. I'm a watercolour house portrait artist celebrating the everyday joy in our built environment.
Quite often I receive messages on instagram asking for advice, tips, and general information to help people get started with architectural illustration and urban sketching. Usually it’s about specific art supplies or generic ‘how-to’ queries, but recently I received a message that really resonated with me. It read:
‘I find myself looking at houses and it really brings me like a weird sense of peace. I struggle with anxiety and have also been looking for a creative way to express myself and become more calm/mindful! I’d love to start doing what you’re doing, and just paint things when I feel like I’m particularly struggling. Do you have any tips on how to start? I’m not that good at art but I’m definitely willing to learn!’
Art is often used as a way to relax and practice mindfulness, with colouring books and easy-to-do crafts growing all the more popular over the last decade. Even though art and illustration is part of my career, I still like to use it as a way to relax. It can be a great opportunity to try something new and find a new hobby. However, it takes time to develop the skills and be good at something which makes it difficult for me to enjoy the process. In a world of instant gratification, how can we learn to love learning again? How can we appreciate the relaxation of being creative without being overwhelmed by the feeling that what we’re making isn’t good enough and ultimately give up?
So I’ll share with you my response to that Instagram message. I think it’s too good of an insight not to share with you, and I hope you take inspiration from it too.
Actually getting started is the hardest part of trying a new art or illustration technique. You have to go into it knowing that the things you create are going to look rubbish for a while, and getting past that isn’t easy even if you tell yourself you’re not going to take it that seriously. I give up on new skills so quickly and it can be really disheartening, so I would recommend a few different things to take the pressure off.
Copying an artist’s style is a really great way to learn. It takes away the initial hurdle of knowing what to make. Using your energy to come up with an original idea can drain your already low battery and set you up for relaxation failure. Try not to copy a specific piece of theirs, but maybe find a reference photo of a house or landscape that you love and try painting it in their style.
I would start out by replicating a style that’s deliberately fast, free and loose. This way you can produce a lot of pieces relatively quickly. One piece will never take too long so if you start to hate it you don’t have to keep working on it for ages. It also means you’ll see a lot of progress really quickly and have a lot of work to show for it. Plus, ‘lashing out’ with lots of different colours and textures is really fun, and that’s what we’re here for!
Supplies and Materials
For paper I would start small, something A5 or even postcard size. Big spaces are daunting to fill, I still hate painting big! This circles back to the fast and free point, think how many different pieces you could make if the paper was just the size of your palm.
This is my biggest piece of advice, and contradicts a lot of things you might hear as a beginner. Steer clear of sketchbooks and go for a pad of watercolour paper instead. Having a sketchbook can be daunting to paint in! If you create a page that you don’t like it can feel like you’ve ‘ruined’ the sketchbook and you won’t want to keep going. I can’t tell you how many sketchbooks I own that just have a few paintings in them because I decide I didn’t like the style I went for and just wanted to start fresh.
Also, without spending a fortune on a sketchbook you’re likely to get a thinner or less suitable paper. With loose sheets or a gummed pad made specifically for watercolour the paper will be nicer quality and physically easier to paint on.
Start with a small toolkit of relatively good quality paints and pens. My favourite fineliners are the Water-Resistant Fine Point Pen Set from Winsor and Newton. They come in a pack of varying sizes and despite being one of the cheaper brands I still use them every single day. It’s the same with paints and paper, I would aim to get a good starter set like this set of 10 Watercolour Tubes from Winsor & Newton, and a 10-20 page paper pad like this A5 Watercolour Paper Pad from Winsor & Newton. That’s all you need to start!
Getting Out There
For sources of inspiration, it’s always great to get out and look up at your own town/neighbourhood! I don’t need to go on about the benefits of fresh air and taking even just short walks. I always find it more rewarding painting places I know, and if you start to get sick of what you’re painting, you can always just get up and walk away!
If the weather is rubbish or you’re determined to stay at your desk, there are plenty of fabulous Instagram accounts you can use for artistic architectural inspiration. My favourites are @cheapoldhouses @shopfrontspoetry @doors_of_sydney @storefronts.dublin and @what_helen_likes
If you’re looking for artists to spark inspiration, I would recommend getting to know @mwittart and her tiny house series, @lesliestroz for her tiny landscapes, @inkypaperhouse @carlakamphuis @heythere.chickadee and @mattyburnham_art
Now you're ready to get started! Scribble on that first blank page and don't be afraid to make your things look used. The goal isn't exhausting perfection, so use these tips to create a relaxing recharging experience for yourself. Most importantly, don't give up!
All the supplies mentioned in this blog post are linked below. Some are affiliate links.
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolour Paints - Amazon Affiliate Link
Winsor & Newton Water-Resistant Fineliners - Amazon Affiliate Link
Winsor & Newton Watercolour Paper Pad - Amazon Affiliate Link