How do you start an art project?

I have an individual art project with the theme ‘change’, any ideas where to start, I’m new at this?”

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Starting an art project can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be overwhelming, especially when you’re new to it. It’s easy to feel like you don’t know where to begin, and the fear of failure or not being good enough can be paralyzing. The good news is that you don’t have to have it all figured out from the beginning.

The key is to take it slow, take small steps, and be compassionate with yourself along the way. In this article, we will guide you through the process of starting an individual art project with a focus on compassion, self-compassion, and taking baby steps.

Whether you’re a seasoned artist or a beginner, this article will help you break down the process into simple, manageable steps.

Step 1: Getting the Mess Out! Don’t Overthink It, Let Your Ideas Flow on Paper.

To start your creative project, the first step is to capture all of your ideas. When I start an art project, I find that it can be helpful to just make a mess of ideas.

Try this: Take out a blank sheet of paper and scribble down anything and everything that comes to mind.

Quickly scribble words, doodles, and notes. Get everything that you could want to do with your art project and write it down. Once we write things down, it feels real.

And you’ll no longer be worried about where to start. Because you will have started! Write down the words and any related ideas that come to mind. Focus on getting the mess in your head onto paper.

Capture all of your goals-related ideas for your art project and keep an ongoing list. Use an app or paper and pencil, whichever works best for you. As you capture your thoughts, remember that the goal is to keep them out of your mind and free up mental space for new ideas and inspiration.

You may find it helpful to use a trigger list to spark new ideas to capture. A trigger list is simply a list of prompts or questions that can help you think outside the box and approach your art project from different angles. For example, you might write down prompts like “What if I used a new color palette?” or “How can I incorporate texture into this piece?”

In addition to a trigger list, it’s also useful to create an “areas of focus” list to keep track of the different aspects of your art project that require your attention. This list could include categories such as composition, subject, color scheme, and materials.

By regularly reviewing this list, you can ensure that you’re devoting enough time and energy to each area of your art project. These are more examples of ideas that you might capture or create prompts around:

  • Composition: experiment with different layouts or arrangements of your subject
  • Subject: explore different themes or concepts that interest you
  • Color scheme: play with different color combinations and palettes
  • Materials: try out new art supplies or techniques to create unique textures and effects

For a more detailed guide on how to work through a project, I have a longer guide – How to Plan Then Execute Goals – that offers a helpful framework for engaging in natural planning.

Step 2: Organize.

At this stage of your art project, it’s helpful to identify the exact “Next Action” for your goal. This means breaking down your project into manageable steps, such as gathering materials or sketching out your ideas. Being specific and detailed is key to making progress.

To keep track of your progress, you can keep an ongoing checklist to schedule your tasks. This will help you stay organized and focused on what needs to be done next. If you need to take a break, your list will be there to help you jump right back in.

“Next actions” help with that feeling of being overwhelmed. Rather than feeling like you have to complete the entire project at once, you can take small steps to make your vision start to develop.

In creative projects, it’s easy to get distracted by incomplete tasks. By writing out all of your reminders of what you might do, you can focus on the task at hand without being distracted.

As you work on your art project, you may come across ideas that you’re not sure if you’ll have time for. These tasks could include things like experimenting with different colors or techniques, or trying out a new art supply. If you feel like these tasks aren’t necessary for your project’s completion, you can add them to a “Someday/Maybe” list.

This “Someday/Maybe” list is a place where you can keep track of low-priority tasks that you’d like to revisit later. Perhaps you’re okay with the current progress of your project for now and want to focus on more pressing tasks. However, you don’t want to forget about these ideas either. By adding them to the Someday/Maybe list, you can review them later and determine if they are still relevant to your project.

Step 3: Keep lists and/or collections of reference material.

Starting an art project is just the beginning of the fun. One important part of the process is to keep track of all the ideas and inspiration that come to mind. Keeping lists and collections of reference material can help you stay organized and focused as you work on your project. These can be valuable resources when you need a creative boost or want to explore different ideas.

For example, you can create a doodles list to keep track of any spontaneous sketches or drawings that you want to create. You can also create an inspiration list to collect images or ideas that inspire you. Additionally, you can create an articles list to keep track of any articles or blog posts that provide helpful tips or techniques.

Start Small, Dream Big

Remember, these are just a few ideas to get you started. You can tailor your lists and collections to fit your unique creative process. By keeping track of your reference material, you can enhance your creativity and stay motivated throughout your art project.

Don’t let stress hold you back from enjoying new experiences! Instead, set yourself up for success by taking the necessary steps to prepare. With a bit of planning, you can dive into new activities and adventures with confidence and ease. Embrace the excitement of trying something new and focus on the fun, not the stress. You never know what amazing experiences await you on the other side!

What next? How do you keep your project going?

Next, you’ll want to manage your ongoing projects, define what makes the project complete, and move toward that goal:


Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

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