How do I even begin my drawing? The secret to jumpstart our creativity is fun.
But how does that work?
We need to play
Whenever I pass a public basketball court I am always struck by how the people who are literally stuck inside a cage are having more fun than those outside. The reason of course is obvious: They are having fun. They are immersed in a game.
What makes a good game? A goal and rules.
A good match is a structured dance, where players aim to score while they are following well-defined rules. This freedom within a structure is what makes it fun.
Drawing exercises are games
Similarly, drawing exercises aren’t just random doodles. They are structured, artistic games.
What a strange paradox: Creative limitations set our creativity free!
Here is an example for a drawing game:
Drawing Exercise: Oneliners
Draw an object in only one line!
Goal: Draw five objects in your household.
Rules: Complete each drawing in one continuous line without lifting your pen from the paper.
This is a great creative game: First of all it helps us focus because it limits our decisions. We don’t have to spend much time wondering what to draw. The guy on the internet said just pick 5 things. And during the drawing process itself our choices are always constrained by the current position of our pen.
In theory we could spend hours on one single line. But at some point in the near future we will have to stop. And this will be the moment when we know that we are done. This time limit saves us from our perfectionist impulse to obsess over details. Instead of sticking with one drawing we can create many variations.
That is also the moment when we can assess whether we have reached our goal or not. And maybe try again. We don’t get lost because we know what we want: one object in one line. We have a fixed format. Why 5? So that we know when it’s over! I could have written “3” or “7”. It doesn’t really matter. The point is to define an end.
Yet, an even higher end is to get better. Since we only focus on contours and edges we inevitably get better at drawing them. The skills we want to learn keep us on the track towards the ultimate goal of mastering the craft.
And those skills are also fun to watch. We love to follow our heroes as they overcome obstacles and make the impossible possible.
Even the rules themselves are beautiful. Immanuel Kant suggested that when we sense order in a piece of art, our mind starts to dance with our senses.
And this is not just true for drawings. There are plenty of great traditions, which at their core have simple rules:
Origami: Fold a piece of paper (15 x 15 cm) without cutting or gluing it.
Japanese wood joints: Connect pieces of wood without the use of nails, screws or glue.
These rule-bound structures are a feast for our senses.
How to build a creative playground
Here are 4 tips on how to lock yourself into a cage and have fun:
1. Make variations: Stick with something that you can iterate and vary. Think of basketball: There is only one goal, yet there are countless ways to achieve it.
2. Limit your time: This lets you know when you are done.
3. Pick a format: You won’t get lost in too many options, as for instance: too many pens.
4. Focus on a skill: Nothing protects us better from doubt than personal progress.
This is the magic formula for creative fun: Less decisions — more room for play.
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