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4 reasons for creatives to make time to play and experiment

British Indian artist, Malti B Lee's studies and sketches in water colour and acrylic. 4 reasons to make time to play and experiment as an artist by Malti B Lee

In just under 3 months, my first solo exhibition opens. With another 15 new paintings needed for this show, I’m busy in the studio, spending every spare moment on creating.

With the hard deadline fast approaching, the pressure to produce gallery-ready pieces at a fast pace is piling on. As the exhibition gets closer, staying creative and conceiving new paintings gets harder and takes more time – time I can’t afford!

Being intentional with play and experimentation is my answer to these creative pressures. At the start of any painting session, I now dedicate time to play. I see this practice as me ‘warming up’ before starting the main game (working on pieces for the exhibition). Feeding my creative energy, I find myself testing out new colour combinations, experimenting with new techniques of applying paint, or simply playing to loosen up.

With this in mind, in this post, I speak to the reasons for play & experimentation and share my tips for doing just this.

Reasons to play and experiment for creatives

There are 4 broad reasons or intentions for play and experimentation in my mind. With each I’m looking to answer distinct questions, questions I might ponder as I play or explore as I journal.

1. Explore and refine new/ different/ extended concepts in my art practice

The smell and colour of the flora and fauna, and the sounds of music drifting through the city. As I continue to explore and evolve my Lost in Colour collection, combining line-drawn architectural details and expressive flowers, I’m looking to start introducing music. I’m thinking about those pianos available for the public to play, or buskers on the streets. What else can I start introducing and layering in? I continue to explore.

Introducing music into my paintings with this study. 8×10″, acrylic on paper
Questions to answer/ journaling prompts
  • What themes/ concepts excite me? How do they relate to my current practice?
  • In which area(s) can I evolve my artwork to continue pushing it forward?
  • Do I see myself spending a significant amount of time building a body of work in this area/ on this theme?

2. Explore colours, compositions and deepen understand of art theory

Before starting a new painting, I spend time planning – considering the colours and composition. In this vein, studying and exploring the fundamentals of art theory is an important part of my practice as an emerging artist without the classical training of art school.

Watercolour on paper sketches exploring colour and composition
Questions to answer/ journaling prompts:
  • What do I (dis)like about the way I choose colour, design, compose my artworks? Why?
  • Which areas of colour, design & composition etc. do I want to develop and understand better?
  • What do I love about the colour, design, composition in artworks I admire?

3. Develop technique and understanding of existing materials and tools

Working on loosening up the way I paint flowers in my ‘Lost in Colour’ collection, I’ve been experimenting: with different types of brushes; the amount of paint I load onto my brushes; the thickness of paint I use; and so much more.

Experimenting with bigger and looser brushstrokes in the study of roses, 8×10″, acrylic on paper
Questions to answer/ journaling prompts
  • What different effects can I create with my current materials/ tools? How do I need to use my materials/ tools to achieve this?
  • How can I use my current materials/ tools differently? What effects will this achieve?
  • How has another artist used the same materials/ tools? Is this similar or different to how I use them? How can I achieve a similar effect?
  • Which are my (least) favourite materials/ tools? What characteristic(s) of these materials/ tools make them my (least) favourite?
  • Where do I want to develop my technique and capability with my materials/ tools? How do I change the way I work to do this?

4. Learn to use and incorporate new materials and tools

I recently bought myself a set of acrylic inks. I’ve never used these types of inks before and am hoping to combine them with my acrylic paints and into my work. I’ve starting watching YouTube videos that walk through the materials… I’ll keep you posted on how this goes!

Study created with acrylic inks, paints and ink markers on paper, 8×10
Questions to answer/ journaling prompts
  • How can I manipulate or work with this new material/ tool?
  • How does it combine or layer with the materials/ tools I already work with?
  • What effects can I achieve with this material/ tool?
  • How is this material/ tool similar or different to other materials/tools, and/or the effects I can achieve with other materials?

Tips to embed play and experiment in a creative practice

  • Know your intensions & reasons before starting. For me, going in with a clear idea of why allows me to dedicate time to this practice without the guilt of ‘not being productive’
  • Timebox the acts of play and experiment. In a crunch time where productivity is important, I like to dedicate specific time to this process and set myself an alarm. This allows me enough time to ‘be productive’ too!
  • Set-up your space and ‘ritual’ for play and experiment. I’ve made decisions on not using a formal sketchbook (yet!), giving myself an hour before I start painting , and journaling as part of this.
  • Remind yourself that what you produce is for your eyes only. I am always telling myself that when I play and experiment, I’m not trying to make ‘good art’!
  • Use books, videos, websites to study, learn and be inspired. As an artist without without a formal art degree, I turn to accessible resources to learn from, including books at the library and videos on YouTube!
  • Sign up to a class or workshop. When I’m feeling stuck or unsure, I let go of the reigns and attend a class. I choose to be guided through a creative practice with a teacher or group, that often is not directly related to my painting. It frees up my mind.

Parting thoughts

Play and experimentation are critical to feed the creative soul and continue growing. There’s something so fundamental about it!

As I work towards my first solo show in May, I’m painting intensely in the studio. As I work towards gallery-ready pieces in this collection, I continue to carve out time to play. Prioritising this allows me to let go, lift my energy & excitement in the studio and continue moving forward in my paintings!

I would love to hear from you – do you resonate with these reasons behind play and experimentation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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