So much of what we consume is art. A television series, a film, video games, books, puzzles, trips to the museum. We, as human beings, constantly surround ourselves with art that other people have produced, and that’s really beautiful. We look to these sources of creativity, and we absorb it into our own lives to make them more fulfilled, and that’s the most amazing concept.
But it’s as equally as important as to consume other people’s creativity as it is to produce your own. There are so very many different forms of artistic expression, and there are lots of people who are naturally inclined to the arts as well as others who don’t believe there is an artistic bone in their body. I would, however, disagree with that sentiment because I wholeheartedly believe there is an artist living in all of us.
There are various levels to this; I would argue watching a film and then being critical of it in whatever form you choose is a way of expelling some creativity; I would also argue playing a video game, whether it’s a very linear story or something more open world, is a form of being creative as you play as another character, often making your own choices in the form of an avatar; I would argue, too, that reading someone else’s content, a novel, web-series, comic, anything of the sort, is a form of creation, particularly if you picture the worlds and characters in your head or eagerly flip the pages as you theorise about what will come next. This might not be such an active form of creation, but you are investing yourself in art, so it is still an outlet in some form.
I do, however, believe that it’s crucial for mental health and self-expression to also have some active forms of creation in our lives. Writing, drawing, sewing, crafting, painting, woodworking, dancing, acting, journaling, anything at all that allows you to be creative can afford you so very much. It doesn’t have to be Mozart or Van Gogh, it doesn’t have to be Emily Brontë or Maya Angelou, Viola Davis or Humphrey Bogart, it doesn’t need to be revered and life-altering or life-affirming, it just needs to exist.
So, how do you find something you want to create? For some people, I’m sure they’ve never felt the urge to be creative, and knowing where to start can be tricky, I don’t deny that. Given there are so many different forms of creativity, how do you know which one is for you?
Well, firstly, you don’t have to have just one. I write, and that’s my base, but I also do puzzles, I play video games both of a linear and open-world nature, I read, I adore films and television and push it further by studying them and theorising about them, very occasionally, I draw or I journal or I felt, and I have multiple scrapbooks that document all my tickets and travel and experiences over the years. Arguably, I am a creative person, so I enjoy various different forms of creation, and limiting yourself by saying I will only do this one thing means you don’t allow yourself the possibility of how other art forms can help you.
If you’re starting from scratch and you haven’t been involved in many active forms of creation, perhaps you go to a hobby shop and want to pass out because of all the different things you can do. Where do you start then? My absolute best advice is: try everything.
The best way to figure out what you like is to try as much as possible until something really sticks, until it strikes you as something you could see yourself doing on Sunday afternoons or as ways to wind down after a tough day at work. I would also advise that you give things a proper try, not that you just try it once, get bored, claim there’s no way it can help you, and then try something else or don’t ever try anything ever again. It’s very easy to be discouraged when you don’t immediately grasp something, but perseverance and trial and error are a major reason why being creative is so valuable.
So, buy a sketchbook and a cheap pack of pencils, grab a notepad and write out a scene, put on your favourite song and see if you can choreograph a dance, print off a script and see if you can act out multiple roles, buy some needles and start embroidering, get a blanket and some iron-on patches and try to organise them by colour, buy some origami paper and go crazy. There must be hundreds upon hundreds of ways to express creativity, and if you haven’t found one yet, then keep looking.
Better yet, whilst there are a thousand pitfalls to this digital age we’re living in, there’s also so much to be said that is wonderful about it, and one of the most beautiful things to come out of technology and social media is YouTube. Whilst it is another form of consumable creativity, the fact you can search and find tutorials on pretty much anything means you can find something for you that someone else has already done who can then offer you tips. This whole creativity thing isn’t about improvement and refining skills, though that is often a part of why creativity is so amazing because you get to see yourself improve and you get to offer commitment and dedication, which are valuable traits.
But we’re not here to make sure, when we start drawing, we become the next Bob Ross; Bob Ross would have told you that himself! What we’re here for, why I’m expressing how valuable it is to actively create, it’s all because self-expression is so healthy. There is an unspeakable value to talking, obviously, and I think we are working towards being more open in society about talking about our mental health, but there is also value in what expressing ourselves through creativity can do for our health too.
You don’t have to do it well and you don’t even have to show anyone; you need to do it for yourself so that, not only are you expressing your feelings, emotions, desires, inner thoughts, all of that and more, but you are also giving yourself time and freedom to just be. To sit in your room, at a desk, in the garden, and to let a paintbrush flow across a page, move a pen across paper, sew a needle and thread through fabric, you’re giving yourself the space you need to exist as who you are. It’s a check-in moment with how you’re feeling, it’s an opportunity to not think if that’s what you need, it’s a safe space of exploration and expression. Whilst there is an art to taking pictures to upload on certain social medias so you can show the world you’re living your best life, I think there is something really beautiful about creating for yourself and letting yourself be the only person who sees what you’ve allowed yourself to make.
Now, don’t get me wrong, art is also there to be shared. Think of all the different ways to interpret a book, and how one film can offer dozens of characters that different people will love whilst others will hate, and how a piece of art can be meaningless to some but mean the world to another, how a ballet or opera might bring someone to tears because it’s a piece of art that was shared with another who connected with it. This is because art can be provocative and influential, and we tell each other stories and want to tell each other stories because that idea of connection and interpretation is a lot of what being alive is all about.
However, I believe, in terms of just expressing yourself creatively, doing so only for yourself, not sharing it with the world or perhaps only sharing it with a choice few, that’s what creative outlets are really all about. Like I said, it doesn’t matter if it’s something that should be framed in the Louvre or something you’d rather hide away, it’s about giving yourself that freedom to put what you’re feeling and thinking into something creative. It can give us perspective on our problems, it can also just be something you do because you enjoy it and it gives you a moment to not think about the world and the problems it offers. Whatever reason you have for creating something doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re doing it.
Crucially, hobbies can and sometimes should remain as hobbies. I’ve mentioned this before but it is worth reiterating: you don’t have to make a career out of something creative. Sure, that’s certainly what I’m aiming for, but first and foremost, I write for myself, as I think all art should be made for the self first. If you love something, you do not have to make money out of it. The world we live in likes to demand that you be productive at all hours of the day, that if you are good at something, you should make money from it, and I could not disagree more.
Sometimes, when you are good something and you decide to make an Etsy or a Patreon or offer commissions of some kind, funneling it more into a sort of business scheme, this can take away a lot of the joy and a lot of the good in what creativity offers. At the transition between doing it for free and for yourself, and then doing it for money and for others, sometimes the spark dies as it can add a pressure that removes all the levity and value that creativity is trying to give you. That’s certainly not me telling you that you shouldn’t be paid for your work; if you are someone who is a creative as a career, that’s incredible and inspiring. But when we’re talking about the base concept of the importance in having creative outlets, just know that you don’t need to make money from it for it to be worthwhile. It should be for yourself first, the world second. And when you create for yourself and yourself alone, offering exploration and self-expression, a moment of peace with your mind and your capability, you are doing something so important, and keeping it as a hobby is so much more valid than the world tells people.
And I just want to remind you; you don’t have to be good. Being a beginner at things can sometimes be daunting and off-putting, particularly when you see someone else with skill and proficiency and perhaps even a natural talent do what you’re doing and doing it in a way you perceive as better. When I read novels with the most incredible, distinctive style, it can totally make me feel inadequate! But then, not only do I remind myself that, just because my piece of art is different that doesn’t make it lesser, and not only do I remind myself that my art is unique and something no one else could do (even if it is inspired by someone/something else, though conversations about plagiarism and theft of digital art can come another day), but I also remind myself that I’m still learning and that, ultimately, I write for myself. One day, I would like to be published, which means my art will also be for others, but as long as I can say that I created for myself first, then that means the art is doing its job.
When you have found a hobby or an artistic outlet that you think can make you happy for at least a little while, don’t aim to be perfect. In fact, never aim to be perfect. Whether you’re on day one of your new hobby or year thirty into it, perfection is a concept that no one should aim for. There is, however, certainly a value in wanting to improve. I think being creative pushes you, and a desire to get better is no negative thing. Offering that commitment and seeing progress are other valuable assets to creating because, in seeing what the work you put in can achieve, it can affirm other aspects of your life as well as make you feel good, proud. There are so many different values to being creative. You certainly don’t have to aim to improve, what you should aim for is enjoyment and expression, and if more comes, then so be it. Ultimately, having a creative outlet should be for your use, for you to get out of it whatever you want to get out of it.
Just to break it all down, here are my top ten tips for finding and maintaining creative outlets:
- Try everything until you find something that brings you more joy than stress
- Persevere and don’t quit when it isn’t immediately easy
- But if that perseverance is causing you more stress than happiness, take a break and come back to it. You know your own limits best, and you know when you need to stop
- Ask yourself what it is that’s stopping you from doing something creative; more often than not, your reasons will be excuses and things you can easily work on, and there are so many different places to search for advice if you are struggling
- Create for yourself first, other people second. You do not have to show anyone what you’ve created unless you want to, and their judgement doesn’t matter as long as it has brought you joy. And if you do choose to share what you’ve created, never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough. If you’re simply trying to create because you want to bring yourself some peace and contentment, nobody’s opinion matters but yours
- Never, ever aim for perfection. You can certainly aim to improve, there’s real value in that, but don’t aim to be perfect
- Equally, don’t immediately aim to be as good as someone else who might have years more practice than you. When you look at certain social medias and you see people posting finished pieces of art or you read finished novels or you hear a finished song, you do not always know what steps have come before that finished piece, what messier creations had to be made for that finalised product to be shared. Always keep in mind that what we’re seeing is often a refined product that may have had multiple people involved in the process
- Watch tutorials on YouTube. Not only can this give you ideas about things you might enjoy, and not only can these videos be awfully relaxing content to consume, but they can also help you improve by offering tips, should improvement be one of your aims, of course
- You absolutely never have to aim to make money off the things you create, and if you want to keep it as a hobby, a pleasant pastime you engage with every few days, then absolutely keep it that way and do not let anybody tell you otherwise
- Finally, enjoy it. With every creative outlet, there are stresses and frustrations, and there are days where you want to pack it all in, try something else or never allow yourself to be vulnerable as you express yourself ever again; art is not a straight path but one with winds and dips and branching options. As long as you acknowledge that it may just be a bad day or that what you’re working on needs to be (temporarily) abandoned, then you can come back to it and find joy in it once again
So, if you don’t have an active, creative outlet yet, why not start playing around with paint or thread or a keyboard tomorrow? It’ll do you a world of good.