How To Get Creative At Home: An Artist Workshop

Link Copied


How To Get Creative At Home: An Artist Workshop

Words by Ms Suze Olbrich

29 April 2020

With the pandemic news cycle to contend with – not to mention the bafflement that now comes with navigating day-to-day life – the notion of creating anything beyond a snack might seem a stretch. Who has the energy? Or the attention span? Or the materials? Turns out, in theory, we all do. The creative process is a balm for a frantic mind and flat-lining soul. As for stuff to get creative with, there’s no need to be precious. Any old pen, brush, piece of cloth, string, keyboard or paper scraps will do. “When I run out of materials, I will be using my kids’ art supplies,” says interdisciplinary artist Ms Yto Barrada, who is isolating at home in New York. “If we run out of paper, we will still have the walls.”

In a quest to inspire even those who claim they don’t have a creative bone in their body, we spoke to Ms Barrada and three other extraordinarily creative people: illustrator and painter (and photographer and designer) Mr Jean Jullien, rising mixed-media artist Mx Joy Yamusangie and Mr Jon Burgerman, whose work encompasses drawings, books, murals, paintings, animations and video. Here, they explain how isolation is affecting their artistry and share some tips for home-bound creativity.

Mr Jean Jullien

“Look at objects around the house, draw on them, around them. Be playful as much as possible”

Locked out of his studio in Paris, Mr Jean Jullien is spending his hours at home “juggling between humorous illustrations reacting to things I hear, see or experience and painting. I’ve been painting a lot, looking at photos and reflecting on home life,” he says. “A lot of my paintings are about capturing intimate moments and scenes of places I’ve been and liked. It’s like a fabled memory.” Before the lockdown, Mr Jullien was creating paintings for a show at the Chandran Gallery, which will now appear in a virtual exhibition with all proceeds going to charities supporting the effort against the virus.

**How would you suggest people get creative at home? **

I’d say just keep it simple. Don’t try to have a perfect set-up before starting. Think about the song “Little Room” by The White Stripes.

Which household objects lend themselves to a basic home studio?

Tape, scissors, pencil, coffee, paper. That’s all you need. Maybe a marker pen if you’re going to draw on things.

What do you do to combat creative blocks at home?

Look at objects around the house, draw on them, around them. Be playful as much as possible. My finest works are all but flawed renderings of what I had hoped to create. One of the best things about creating is that it isn’t a practical activity. It doesn’t always have a goal or an aim beyond expression of an idea. And expression is a good thing in my book.

**Do you use creativity to process feelings? **

It used to be a good way to turn my frustration or negativity into something funny, or attempting to be. But since I’ve taken up painting, it’s helped me to decelerate. Commercial illustration left me feeling pretty stressed out and tired. It wasn’t until I had my first son that I realised I needed to change things. I didn’t stop illustrating, and I hope I never will. I just explored painting in addition to it. And painting has brought me a lot of peace.

**What do you wish you’d known about creativity, or creative processes, when you first began? **

That it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Mx Joy Yamusangie

“A lot of projects can arise from a self-portrait. Our faces change with our expressions, moods, thoughts and feelings”

Mx Joy Yamusangie’s artistic works are presented as illustrations, typography and/or poetry on canvases, prints, fabrics and objects. Unable, for now, to continue with large-scale paintings and sewn canvases, they have, “come to a bit of a standstill. I’m still adjusting and taking in what is happening, so I’ve been sketching by the window, writing and trying to organise myself without pressuring myself to respond to this crisis while it’s so raw.” Mx Yamusangie is drawn to “using colouring pencils, pens, felt tips, all these things I have around my desk” to create loose sketches and casual, observational drawings of “my room, myself, people I see out the window, the friends I chat to on FaceTime”.

**What would you say to someone thinks they’re not creative? **

Last year, I visited a Year 1 art lesson, and every kid was getting really involved, making all these bright, colourful paperworks. There were some really creative ideas. Sometimes, we need to go back to that childish mindset, to keep that energy and willingness to learn when trying a new craft.

**What tips do you have for anyone who lacks inspiration? **

I’ve always found that a lot of projects can arise from a self-portrait. Our faces change with our expressions, moods, thoughts and feelings. I try to write down everything that passes through my mind and pick the thing I’m most interested in exploring further. At that point, it becomes about gathering resources – texts, films, artworks, conversations – that surround this thing, then drawing in response to everything I’m taking in. I see creative projects as research projects.

Which household objects lend themselves to a basic home studio?

You can make interesting things with what’s around you. My desk is a bit of wood, which used to be the side of a wardrobe, balanced on two mini bookshelves. And I’ve found things such as electrical tape, highlighters and Biros, which have already been useful. You can literally use anything that makes a print, a mark or a line in some way.

What would you say to someone who feels too stressed or anxious to create?

That is a really relatable feeling. There shouldn’t be a rush to create and there doesn’t need to be a point to it either. I start drawing with the process in mind, rather than the outcome. A lot of these drawings will never see the light of day, but the distraction has helped take my mind off things. 

Mr Jon Burgerman

“Lose yourself in making, even if it’s doodling on an old newspaper, drawing moustaches on everyone”

Mr Jon Burgerman is a firm believer in the life (and society) changing potential of creativity. In recent weeks, the prolific New York-based Brit has filmed, edited and released It’s Great To Create, an online arts club. It’s ostensibly aimed at children (and surely a godsend for parents everywhere), but the videos also serve as respite for adults. Unable to return to his studio in Brooklyn and continue making props for creativity workshops and his vast spray paintings, he’s focusing on activities that suit his surroundings. “I’ve been making little watercolour paintings and that kind of material seems meditative and relaxing,” he says. “It’s a wind-down in the evening. I also have a little synthesiser, so I’ve had to dabble, playing with music in the same way that I might play with shape or colour.”

What would your advice be to someone who hasn’t done anything creative since school?

Being an amateur, starting from a blank page, is a privileged spot, because you can make these little mistakes that you’re unaware of, and that’s fantastic. It actually gets worse as you learn all the dos and do nots. You feel much more boxed in. Also, things don’t have to be anything. Just the act of making is where the pleasure lies. You can put them in the recycling bin. If you focus more on the process than the result, you’re going to have a better time.

**Do you ever get halfway through a piece and feel it’s gone awry? **

There’s always doubt. You’re constantly reassessing at every stage. It’s fine. It can be good to make stuff that doesn't feel too precious – small drawings, sketches, paintings. Use cheap materials or whatever you can find. Keep the stakes low and build up. It’s much more forgiving. 

What would you say to someone who feels too stressed or anxious to create?

It can be tough to begin, but when you find the thing you enjoy, you can lose yourself in making, even if it’s colouring in or doodling on an old newspaper, drawing moustaches on everyone. Just do something where you’re a bit occupied. It’s a sort of meditation. You allow your mind to drift, but if you lose focus, bring it back to your colouring. When you come out of it, you feel calmer and more centred. Like any kind of meditation, it can take a while to train that muscle.

Ms Yto Barrada

“Take a pile of magazines, scissors and glue and make collages with cut-out figures and shapes”

Before the lockdown, Moroccan native Ms Yto Barrada was working on pieces for forthcoming solo and group shows at Palais de Tokyo, the Hayward Gallery and MoMA at her New York studio. Now, she finds most of her energy eaten up by homeschooling and basic survival. When she secures a precious spare hour, she’s drawn to “quilting and collaging with images. I’m lucky enough to have a backyard, so I started a vegetable garden. That’s my antidote to melancholy. It’s indigo harvest time in my dye garden in Tangier and I am missing it. I think not being home is the hardest.”

**What tips do you have for anyone who lacks inspiration? **

I would take a pile of magazines, scissors and glue and make collages with cut-out figures and shapes. That’s always pretty satisfying.

**How would you suggest novices get started? **

Find five silly things, stick to them and practise a lot. There are so many fantastic free classes out there. I get choice anxiety: dance with the New York City Ballet, ukulele classes, dyeing with food scraps.  Or just watch something and something might come of it. My favourite quarantine activities are the Carson Ellis Quarantine Art Club drawing assignments and Massimo Bottura’s Instagram cooking demos. It’s only the first month, though. Things might change.

How do you select the most suitable medium for a new idea?

These days, it starts with an urgent need to get rid of something to make space – fabric, cardboard and papier mâché when the old newspaper pile gets too high.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t feel creative?

Build a fort in your living room.

Ms Yto Barrada is part of Pace Gallery’s online group show All Creatures Great And Small, which is available to view here until 5 May

Make yourself at home