You are the sum of your actions



This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!


Turn up, it’s time to do some work!

My last blog post on Creativity Counts focussed on the importance of having a ‘Growth Mindset’. Well that’s a great place to start, but now you have to turn up! Those drawings, paintings, novels, scripts and all artistic creations are not going to make themselves! The existentialists believe that you are the sum of your actions, and I agree with them. It’s what you actually do that matters, and it’s the only thing others remember. What you wished you had done, wanted to do, or planned to do is irrelevant at the end of the day. How many ‘gunnas’ have we met along the way? They were ‘gunna do great things’ if only life didn’t get in the way?

I choose to hang out with the ‘doers’. Those guys that have a go, dig in and do it anyway. I have learnt that the art life is not an easy one. You have to fight for it. Be willing to put in the effort, even when life gets in the way… especially when life gets in the way. We admire so many people that persevered and put in the work, the effort, and the practice over the years in pursuit of creativity. We commend them for their efforts, only after they have made it. I have been questioned far too often myself over why I bother to do so much, and put in so much effort? I am baffled by this? Having ideas, trying them out, trying them again and again and again, progressing on what you learnt, expanding on what you know is the stuff life is all about. I have never been willing to settle for OK, ever. I admit, the creative quest is often exhausting, unforgiving and unrewarding (and those who surround you will be quick to agree). But it is those little spurts of enlightenment, achievement and completion that can just make your day. As an artist, it’s these things that make you feel alive.

I have many creative friends who choose not to let life pass them by, and not to settle for OK too, and I love them to pieces. These are the people who start painting after the kids go to bed, work a full time job so they can build an independent theatre company and work extra jobs so that they can pay for studio space.

From the outside looking in, others often wonder why they bother, at the same time commenting that these ‘happening’ folks seem to be always doing something, while complaining that their own life is dull?

The trick here, is that for any sense of achievement to be fulfilled you have to put the work in first. To do that you have to start.

In Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Do the Work’ he claims you should

“Start before you’re ready.”

He explains that … 

“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.”

Ok so he’s a little direct, but this little book is a great kick up that butt for all of us who put off starting things because the timing is not right. Newsflash … the timing will never be right. The important thing is to start, start small, start something, start today. Just ‘swiss cheese it’.  Bite by bite you will get to have that creative life, but if you wait until you have six months off to let your creative juices flow you’ll never start!

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, quotes,

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’

To make any ‘shots’ you have to do the work, turn up and produce. Roll your sleeves up and start. We’ve all heard of the 10 000 hours work theory required to be a genius. Well if you’ve got any chance, start now! And even if genius is not your goal, how much better will you be if you spend 10 000 hours practising anything?

One of the things I often mention in my art classes is that in order to do good drawings you have to do some bad ones first. So you might as well get stuck into getting the bad ones out of the way, that way you can spend more time on the good ones! There is no short cut.  There are many accounts for describing the amount of effort required before progress may be recognised:

Thomas Edison made thousands of unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb, but when a young reporter asked him how if felt to have failed all those times, Edison’s now famous reply was, “I didn’t fail 5,000 times.  I discovered 5,000 ways that didn’t work.”

Paul Cézanne copied over 400 works from the Louvre in order to learn from the masters. Picasso produced up to 50,000 works in his lifetime. In his early days he could not even afford rent, but it never stopped him. Dr Seuss was rejected 27 times by publishers before he was published.


All these stories tell us that you have to be ‘making, creating and doing’ if you want get better at a particular skill. You just can’t learn it and park it on the shelf. You must work the muscle. Use it or lose it.

Walt Disney warned us all to stop procrastinating…

‘The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.’


Capturing creativity

In the creative fields it also helps to be ready for that elusive idea or inspiration. Leonardo da Vinci was well know for carrying a little sketch pad on his belt where he could jot down ideas when they came to him. Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the complications of capturing those moments in her TED talk on Genius and how being prepared helps.

Get started

Austin Kleon tells us ‘not to wait until you know who you are to get started.’  Sounds like a great place to begin. Only through the ‘doing’ will you gain any understanding of what you want to do more of.

Start small … if you want to do a great drawing, start doodling. If you want to write a symphony, take a music class, if you want to be a movie director, re-watch your favourite movies.

What ever you do, do it more often. Turn up and put the time in. The work is not going to make itself.

Many of my students have spent months on one project. When we go to a showing of their work they get lovely comments about how gifted and talented they are. People are always trying to be positive but those two words are slightly misguiding…why? Because if you really are an artist you know that creating has nothing to do with talent or magic gifts. No one is that lucky. My students understand that others won’t really comprehend how much work they put in, the late nights, the redos, and the endless self doubt, unless they are ‘doers’ like themselves. The reward is that you made it to the other side. You tried something that you thought you wouldn’t be able to do and you finished it. The final piece is just a small portion of the creation.

It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you do something in the direction of your goal. You’ll be amazed at how rewarding that small step will feel. I am always saddened when I hear others depriving themselves of the little joys to be had along the way to building a creative life. They take the approach that if they can’t have it all then they don’t deserve any!  That’s just not the way it works. The reality is that a creative life often feels like we are Sisyphus from Greek mythology, continuously pushing that rock up a hill. We must be strong and pursue our dreams and projects, despite the obstacles and reminders that we are wasting our time. Stay focused, grab that rock and start pushing. The challenge is to enjoy the view along the way!


PS. Here’s a great way to get you motivated on your sketching. The Sketchbook Project began in 2006 in Atlanta The Sketchbook Project. It’s a crowd-sourced library that now features 36,302 artists’ books contributed by creative people from 135+ countries. You can be one of them. Just buy the Sketchbook and start drawing.

Go to The Sketchbook Project


Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist and teacher for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on 
© Kristine Ballard 2018.