The problem with high standards and the benefits of micro goals

“High Standards” (Credit: PxHere)

In a YouTube video from 2015, British author Howard Jacobson (born 1942), who won the 2010 Man Booker prize for The Finkler Question, is seen making an impassioned admission related to the creative life that will resonate with many serious writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, singers, actors and dancers. He says that he always wanted to be a novelist but could only finish his first novel after the age of 40 (and out of sheer desperation!) because something had slowed him down over the years—the experience of his Literature BA at the University of Cambridge.

This might sound confusing. Isn’t a good education, formal or informal, supposed to activate us? When you read the biographies of acclaimed artists, whatever their medium, you are bound to find descriptions of powerful, almost epiphanic, encounters with great works of art already produced. And it is precisely such encounters that turn them into conduits for more (great) art. Take the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray—he launched his career soon after discovering Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948) along with 99 other movies of his time. Picasso developed his style after being exposed to figures like El Greco and Edvard Munch. J. K. Rowling has a solid canon of mythology and fantasy that includes everybody from Aeschylus to Kenneth Grahame behind her Harry Potter series. The truth is straightforward—a proper act of creativity demands a deep immersion in prior examples of creativity. The more aware you are of what has been tried and accomplished before, the greater the chance that you will produce something reasonable and respectable yourself.

But there is another side to the story, and Jacobson understands and articulates it accurately. Too much knowledge of the arts can also become a veritable impediment to the artistic task. What made the author postpone his childhood dream? The very high standards of writing that he had encountered at 20 in the classroom. Jacobson read, and therefore, wanted to write books like The Golden Bowl by Henry James and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky but the problem was they had all been written. “I wanted to write at that level and it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t writing novels and submitting them and failing,” he adds. “I just wasn’t getting beyond the page, and then I became an academic, and the years go by and the book’s not appearing.”

This problem is all too common. Very often, well-informed and highly-talented people in the arts can find it hard to execute their ideas, while totally mediocre ones can go on finishing project after project with utmost confidence. Why does this happen? It turns out that many who have had a taste of the heights of human creativity (read the best books, watched the best films, seen the best paintings, listened to the best music) experience a paralysing horror before the blank page or canvas. So conscious are they of all that is possible by members of their own species that whatever they may attempt can seem lazy, incompetent or plain foolish. They want to pursue perfection and so they keep deferring real work and sink quickly into a pit of doubt and despair.

“Many who have had a taste of the heights of human creativity experience a paralysing horror before the blank page or canvas. So conscious are they of all that is possible by members of their own species that whatever they may attempt can seem lazy, incompetent or plain foolish”. Top L to R: Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio (public domain), a portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft (public domain), a still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (fair use), a portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov (public domain). Bottom L to R: A still from The 400 Blows by François Truffaut (fair use), Ophelia (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) by John Everett Millais (public domain), the Beatles celebrating a Grammy win in 1965 (public domain), The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí (fair use).


Is there a practical way to get past the resistance? One effective tool is provided by the American entrepreneur Tim Ferriss (born 1977), angel investor in tech brands and the author of bestselling books on personal development and entrepreneurship like Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. His proposal is that creative people who procrastinate in the face of big ambitions break their plans into extremely tiny tasks. His own mantra has been to somehow end up with “two crappy pages a day”, not ten spectacular ones or even five average ones. Stephen King prefers to pump out 2000 words per day but that can be too unrealistic a target for most people. “Two crappy pages”, on the other hand, will compel you to show up before your notebook or screen without pressure or fear, do something—anything—and move forward to the next dawn. Your seemingly insignificant achievements will, over time, add up to a big and important outcome.

Ferriss’ suggestion could be applied to media other than writing. If you are an emerging painter with the lofty visuals of Caravaggio and Dalí in your head and a blank canvas on your easel, try micro goals like the following:

  • Spend just 10 minutes daydreaming daily. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to. Record three things that you see. Perhaps you will find a pattern a month later and that will lead to inspiration.

    ”Spend just ten minutes daydreaming daily.” (Credit: Pixabay)
  • Choose a subject–psychology, technology, botany, politics–Google it and read a few sentences on it. Make a note of any one new piece of information that you discover. Create an image out of it in your mind.
  • Select two colours and meditate on what they mean to you for fifteen minutes. Experiment with them on paper over the next half an hour and notice the relationships that emerge.
  • Take out a minute to think of a shape and go where it leads you. Say, if you settle upon a triangle, it might change into a pyramid, which might make you think about hierarchies, which might cause you to consider the difference between the rich and the poor, which might then open a whole host of ideas.
  • Open a dictionary and pick up a single word. Keep sleeping on it for six months. At the end of the period, draw something related to it.

You will not be able to make easy excuses before starting points that are so simple and standards that are so low.

Written by Tulika Bahadur

Capsicums are not just for cooking

Our teens’ Studio Art class produced some incredible drawings and paintings in the – of the humble capsicum.

Zoe, acrylic on canvas, 2018

Michelle Zuccolo presents the class with different materials each week, including still life and examples of famous artwork and gives students the opportunity to try drawing and painting in the same style. The last few week’s classes featured capsicums and the students used charcoal and pencils, creating beautiful tonal drawings. Once exploring the structure of the capsicums, students recreated them with acrylic on canvas. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


New perspectives on learning

If I was to name the one thing that has had the most effect on how I understand learning and creativity, it would be the shift in how we understand the brain.

The persistent myth that pervaded my school years was that students were naturally inclined towards a given ability. For example, I was good at art, and so I drew and was encouraged to draw. It did not take many affirmations about my ability for me to persist at practicing those skills, enjoying more affirmation as I went. Likewise, by the time I was in secondary school, maths seemed to become more difficult, and as I enjoyed it less, I did less and became relatively worse at it. Despite my best efforts in year 12, I failed maths by 1%.

I have always wondered how much more effort it would have taken to increase my math result by a few percent to have passed. The answer does not lie in the efforts of that last year, rather in how I perceived myself and maths throughout my secondary school years. For, early in my life, I had come to believe that I was not good at maths, but I was good at art, and I behaved accordingly. That behaviour had a direct impact on the amount of time and focus I dedicated each skill. The pervading myth that one’s abilities are set in concrete from the beginning of our lives, dominated my self-image and therefore my learning. In many ways it dominated my education, which isn’t to say that there were not many hard-working teachers in my life, rather that the idea of being able to transform one’s abilities, one’s brain, was not available to us, nor had it been discovered yet.

Brain research of recent years has demonstrated that the brain is malleable and adaptable. I may have been inherently good at art, but I was not inherently bad at maths. I perhaps had not had the right exposure to maths early on, but I then came to believe I was bad at maths. This then influenced my behaviour which restricted the amount of focus and concentration that could have impacted the rewiring of my brain to be better at maths. I do remember trying, but I don’t remember often crossing the border between tedium and the exhilaration of learning maths. Interestingly, many years later, I found myself enjoying teaching maths in secondary schools, especially breaking it down for those that struggled with it. You may think it strange that I have also recently found enjoyment in doing some of my own accounting, when as an art student I used to make accountants the butt of my jokes.

Brain circuitry is made of connections between neurons called synapses. Having experiences, learning a new task or skill, all create new connections between neurons. Specific neuronal activity patterns will drive long-lasting increases or decreases in the strength of these connections. That means that it is exposure to a skill or task that cements one’s ability to do it and become good at it. So, the brain has a plasticity which it retains through our entire lives. The good news is, we can learn a new skill at any point in our lives! It is literally possible to rewire your brain. Which means that provided with the right amount of focus on the right task, you can learn anything.

In light brown, in the center of the image, a new adult-born neuron. The neurons in blue are synaptic partner neurons, which connect to the new neurons. The neurons in dark brown are pre-existing neurons. Credit: © Institut Pasteur/PM Lledo.

I’m currently putting this principle of brain malleability to the test in my learning Karate. I have limitations in flexibility and balance, which I have found discouraging. I had started to believe the lie that I had started Karate too late in life and perhaps I would never make it to blackbelt. Being busy and distracted by other responsibilities for a number of years, I would turn up to a class or two a week and would have forgotten a lot of my syllabus. Upon forgetting, I would then mentally shut down during training, which meant I then literally came to a complete stop as my mind would go into a mild state of panic. It seemed I was going to take a very long time to learn these skills and overcome my inclination to suddenly freeze. With the knowledge that the brain is malleable and that therefore it must be possible for me to improve in Karate I recently I decided to focus, and I have now dedicated about 10 to 15 minutes a day to practicing my syllabus. Although I can currently still only attend one training session a week, the result of this new focus is that in three weeks I have begun to retain and recall almost all of my syllabus and I am now ready to move on to new material. I am quite literally rewiring my brain and rebuilding my body which has also improved its stretch and balance in just three weeks. Whereas, I once thought black belt was unattainable for me, I now maintain a clear image and gaol of my attaining it.

Having watched many people start or return to creative practice, I know that the idea that you either can draw or you can’t is just a myth. Yes, occasionally I meet someone who seems to have a surplus of natural ability, but for the other 99% of us, it really is a matter of focus and working away at it. I should add that good training can reduce the take-up time of these new skills, but we can talk about that at the studio sometime.

Written by Marco Corsini

The magical effect of spring on artists

Although the weather is lagging a little, spring is definitely all around us. Beautiful pink and white buds are appearing and then blooming so quickly, leaving a beautiful blanket of colour on garden beds. The trees are transforming with abundant new growth and the birds are becoming louder each morning. This is such a fleeting time of this season, so we thought we would showcase some works that depict spring and rebirth in different ways. We hope this time of the year is also inspiring you, too!

Claude Monet, Springtime, oil on canvas, 1875

Claude Monet was one of the most prolific French Impressionist painters. Through Monet’s works, some of which were the same scene painted at different times of the day and year to reflect the changing light and seasons, you can clearly see the approach of capturing one’s perceptions before nature. In this painting, Springtime, you can also imagine Monet setting up with his easel in the fragrant, warm countryside capturing the early blossom of spring.

Sandro Botticelli, La Primavera, oil on canvas, c.1482

La Primavera literally translates to the season of spring. This masterpiece was commissioned by Lorenzo Pierfrancesco de’Medici and now hangs in the Uffizi in Florence. Venus stands in the centre of the canvas in a lush orange grove on a beautiful carpet of wildflowers. It is a celebration of the return of spring and the ripeness and fertility that the season brings as it awakens the world out of its cold, wintery slumber.

There are a number of interpretations of this work. Some believe that the woman in the foreground of the painting represents Primavera, the embodiment of spring. Others believe the figures on the right to be Zephyrus grasping at the nymph Chloris. According to myth, he married her and she was transformed to Goddess of Spring. And some see the figure with roses as representing the metamorphosis of Chloris to Flora.

Mary Cassatt, Spring Margot Standing in a Garden (Fillette dans un jardin), oil on canvas, 1900

Mary Cassatt produced many studies of young girls during the early 1900s. The child featured in this work is Margot Lux, from the village near Cassatt’s country home who modelled for Cassatt in more than fifty of her works. This image captures a fleeting instant of play suggested by the movement of Margot’s clothes slipping from her shoulder and bundling her dress in both hands – perhaps before or after running. The striking, pink flower in her bonnet and the warm background portray this beautiful moment on a spring day with soft application of paint and sensitive detail.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Spring, oil on canvas, 1622-35

This work celebrates the preparation of the land as spring nears. It shows the community working together to prepare the soil, sow seeds and plant crops as the world itself wakes up from a cold, Flemish winter. Brueghel would take his father’s sketches and drawings (Brueghel the Elder), and would execute them in paint, and many of these works detailed the lives of Flemish peasants. This particular piece is a re-working of his father’s drawing of 1565.

Katsushika Hokusai, Fuji from Gotenyama near Shinagawa on the Tokaido, colour woodcut, 1830-1835

Hokusai was a ukiyo-e painter and printer of the Edo period in Japan. He was inspired by Mt. Fuji and produced a series of thirty-six woodcuts depicting different viewpoints of the impressive volcano, entitled Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji. This work is part of that series and celebrates not only Japan’s national icon but its most revered season. Springtime is so heavily celebrated throughout the country that they have blossom reports on television during the weather report, complete with maps of Japan, which slowly turn pink as the whole country blooms. In Hokusai’s work, you can see the couple on the hill on a picnic blanket underneath the cherry tree; this is still a popular activity around the country and is the traditional way to enjoy the blossom in Japan. The other figures are dancing and celebrating the arrival of this vibrant and important season for Japanese people; not only is it meaningful for the farmers, the joy of spring is culturally ingrained

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Spring Bouquet, oil on canvas, 1866

Renoir’s work is absolutely bursting with colour, vitality, and spring. This is one of Renoir’s earlier works, as you can see the precise rendering of reality (although there is an apparent looseness), painted before his great Impressionist works of the 1870s. This wild work lends itself to a country garden in spring. The brightness of it, glowing with light and colour indicates that Impressionism is just around the corner.

Alfred Sisley, The Small Meadows in Spring, 1880-1

Sisley was there at the beginning of Impressionism with Pissarro and Monet, and a pioneer of the plein-air method and the movement’s aesthetic. Sisley’s work took on a new vitality when, due to financial reasons, he was forced to leave Paris and move to the countryside in 1880. He loyally worked en plein-air, which can be felt in his work, The Small Meadows in Spring. You will notice that there are no hints of spring blossom or wild flowers in this piece. It is his daughter painted in the foreground who represents the image of spring and new life.

Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, oil on canvas 1890

The almond tree is one of the first to bloom in the southern regions of France and is a symbol of spring which can arrive as early as February. This beautiful, Japanese-inspired work was a gift for Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, whose wife had just given birth to their first child. The painting was meant to hang above their bed and represent new life.

Claude Monet, Springtime, oil on canvas, 1872

We had to include a second painting of Monet’s in this list, because this piece captures such a beautiful moment of solitude, in nature, and also reminds us how important it is to disconnect and be outside. Featured in this painting is Monet’s first wife, Camille Doncieux, who, before they were married, was his model in the 1860s and 70s. It has been claimed that she also modelled for Renoir and Manet.

This serene setting, with the dappled sunlight dancing on her dress through the canopy of trees, the wildflowers in the foreground and patches of warmth in the background magically captures a special moment in spring.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Primavera, oil on canvas, 1894

Dutch-born Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was infatuated with Rome and the ancient world. A classicist painter, in this work he portrays the annual Victorian custom of sending children into the countryside on May 1, however, the scene is placed in Rome.

In this impressive work, he used his extensive research of the ancient world to depict the dress, sculpture, architecture, and musical instruments. The procession of figures adorned with spring flowers, playing musical instruments, and surrounded by townspeople above celebrating spring renders a spectacular and captivating scene.

Margaret Olley, Ranunculus and pears, oil on canvas, 2004

Margaret Olley is a widely-recognised figure of Australian art and is one of the most significant still-life and interior painters. Ranunculus and pears is one of many Still Lifes she painted in her home, from which she drew inspiration. Many of her Still Lifes evoke the warmth and colour of spring. She also found beauty in the everyday objects she gathered around her, and most of her works feature pottery, art and exotica of her travels. She acquired many, many objects over her lifetime and her bulging studio almost became as famous as the artist herself! To outsiders, her house appeared chaotic, but Olley had actually arranged it like a Still Life.

Written by Lauren Ottaway.



Creativity and hope

Where we were born, how we were raised, and the experiences of our early lives all inform the narrative we maintain and develop about ourselves. Hopefully, the narrative of our lives is loaded with experiences of love and associated positive experiences. Love that is experienced not only as an emotion, but as positive and constructive actions. Love in action, such as the unbroken legacy passed down through the family of the successful raising of children. Or on a wider scale, experiences of solutions to problems of disease or governance. Perhaps we could have also experienced love’s cousin, beauty, as seen in the natural world. The wonder of the universe, the complexity of our ecological systems. For me, that particular grassy dryness and illogical forms on the Australian river flats where I grew up, or when afternoons would drift by with little to distract me from seeing the light change or noting the breeze on my skin.

Manny’s hand

Undoubtedly, we also experience limits in our lives. These are unique to each of us. Each of us struggles at some level with something that seems to cast a shadow over how we live life now. I won’t pretend that we can instantly wipe away these experiences; in many cases it requires much care which at its base has love, for healing to occur.

Because we require a stable, predictable image of the world with which to engage, we tend to project our little bucket of experiences out on to every scenario that we encounter. If we have had a negative experience in a particular relationship with a parent, we are often wired to expect that some of those elements are present in our adult relationships until ‘loved’ otherwise. Often the expectation of the negative will cause us to act in particular ways that are in themselves defensive and negative. Then the cycle continues, contaminating our relationships. This form of negative expectation is very different from the optimism which I would want to see in our children. So, what is the difference between a negative expectation and optimism?

A negative expectation assumes that everything will stay the same as has been experienced. A negative expectation can infect our entire outlook because not only is it destroying the real image of the world we encounter, it also destroys possibility. Have you ever noticed that a truly positive and engaging person is open to change, but a deeply damaged person often can only see things the way they are seeing them? It is as if possibility and therefore hope have been shut down. If we don’t have possibility, then what can we hope for?

Hope emerges from a world view that embraces the possible. Hope is usually closely aligned with experiences of love (the good), because possibility alone can go either way; positive or negative. Hope that embraces love, aspires to that which is better. I see creativity as closely aligned with this idea of hope. Admittedly, creativity like possibility is not always for the good as demonstrated by some aspects of our military history, but when bound with a love based hope, creativity seeks and acts for the good.

When we encounter, or recall negative experiences, I think the greatest challenge we face is not to let that experience become the template with which see the rest of the world. By maintaining a sense of possibility, a sense of hope, we enable ourselves to act, to seek a solution in an act of creativity. This is not a false hope or positive thinking. The real falsity lay in the belief that things cannot change based on a handful of negative experiences. By contrast, possibility, which is real, calls us on to creativity. This is the quality I want to see in our children; a resilience that drives them to constantly seek creative solutions no matter how great the challenge they face.

Written by Marco Corsini

Creativity and Ageing – a Reflection

Written by Jude Sullivan – guest blogger

Jude, a current MAC student, recently completed a short course with UTAS called Creativity and Ageing. It introduced existing research on the benefits of engagement with the arts during the process of ageing, and included the role of creativity in reducing risk factors for dementia.

 Throughout the course, Jude was able to explore, develop and reflect on her own creativity and has generously shared her experience with us.

According to Geoffrey Petty, the creative process consists of six working phases, inspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation. He suggests that the term “creative” is used broadly, to include the creative arts as well as invention, design, problem solving, writing, and entrepreneurial initiatives to name a few. I approached the Creativity and Ageing projects loosely following this model.

My inspiration for my projects was based on the familiar leading to the unfamiliar. Initially I took inspiration for my first piece from a poem written for me on the day of a friend’s funeral.

 “Pure clean water of Life

pours over the stones of our past years”

 Excerpt from Water of Life Roger Lovesey, (2016)

This idea generated as I reflected on the poem and was inspired by the idea of running water for the setting. Through writing and drawing in my journal, I was able to experiment, take risks, use spontaneity and intuition to developing my creative thoughts.

During this stage I was inspired to include bird-like images which are connected to feelings and memories of my mother who I lost to dementia the previous year. This idea set me off to research doves and peacocks. The symbolism of vision, royalty, spirituality, awakening, guidance, protectiveness and watchfulness connected to the peacock, and in Roman mythology, where the tail has the “eyes” of the stars excited my feelings and the idea of a background of peacock feathers evolved. I was developing unconscious, emerging images, in the way Francis Bacon displayed in his art work. The area of intention was related to my instincts, or as Francis Bacon referred to as “a cloud of sensation“.

During the process, following the inspiration phase, I clarified my goals where I constantly referred to the purpose to enable me to achieve the outcome. At the same time, I was critical of some of the ideas and processes that I had thought about. It was becoming complicated and these critical thoughts changed my approach and helped me to complete the piece. It was time to leave it for a few days or so.

Following the final painting stage, I added some more elements of mixed media. I loved the process of creating the painting and was committed to it. This stage is most satisfying to me when it all comes together.

“The outcomes of creative activities can provide a sense of artistic accomplishment, and growing self confidence due to finding solutions to a challenge and the self-control practised in the process of creation”. (Cohen)

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

I selected collage for the next piece to challenge me, as it involved using skills and processes which are unfamiliar to me. It was a different experience in that there was no structure to the brief, apart from linking the theme to a feeling, emotion, or sensation. Joyfulness, colour, and spirituality were my guide and the suggested artists such as Henry Matisse and Fred Tomaselli inspired me.

The experimental stage was just that; playing with the medium, being messy, switching between wanting to clarify and continue to experiment. The best ideas were chosen for further development, and finally the light bulb moment happened. From that point on I felt in tune with the paper crafting and my connection to the work; it was therapeutic and I was happy with the final piece.

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

For the photomontage, I had a vision of a woman flying on the back of a mythical bird. I was inspired by the artist Wangechi Mutu in the way she splices things together and creates in different ways. The creative process flowed from being inspired, to clarifying where the idea could take me, building on it as I went and thoroughly enjoying the process. Leaving the art work alone for a few days or so, reflecting on the image followed by adding more to complete it, worked for me.

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

Finally, the Herbarium was my choice as a different way of creating. Again there was a link to many aspects of my life; I am connected to nature, photography and art, but I have never approached the pressing of plants, the recording or research involved as in this project.

Jude Sullivan, pressed plant

The choice and collection of many samples, finding the best plant to select for the study and developing a creative response was the brief. The process of pressing the plants and classifying them was quite scientific and easy to follow and was necessary to achieve the best result and the process suited my organised approach to documenting the plant. I experimented with different types of indigenous flowering bushland plants and discovered that some pressed easier than others.  Choosing one which had a connection to the idea of food providing plants for native birds and insects became my inspiration.

Once pressed, mounted, classified and labelled, I planned the creative response. I decided to use a photocopy of the pressed plant, cut it out and mount it onto the paper including a painting or oil pastel of the native bird, though this was not as simple as I had imagined. I ignored the experimental process, and started assembling the cut-out piece.

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

I was rushing ahead without much clarification or evaluation of the process. The journal paper was not an effective basis for the pastel work which is a new medium for me, and I neglected to block in the background first. This made the process less satisfying but I persevered, learning from my hurried, non-strategic approach.

During this course and the creation of these works, I have discovered some insights into my way of creating which has given me a better idea of how my mind operates and creates.  All aspects of the study have opened my mind to how we can become more experimental, and try new things as we age.

“Late-life creativity reflects aspects of late-life thinking; synthesis, reflection and wisdom” (Adams- Price).


Geoffrey PettyHow to be Better at Creativity“, (1996)

 Cohen, G. et al. “The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults” The Gerontologist 46 (2006): 726-73

Adams-Price, Caroline E. ed. Creativity and Successful Aging. New York: Springer, 1998.

The Life of Francis Bacon Documentary – YouTube

▶ 52:38



Inside our Drawing and Mixed Media Workshop

Hilmi ran our first workshop for the year – a Drawing Workshop using Ink and Shellac. It was a marathon workshop, where students created a still life, beginning with charcoal, then two layers of shellac and finished with black ink and white paint!

Hilmi began the workshop teaching students some of the fundamentals of drawing. Students were to choose a number of items of still life that Hilmi had meticulously arranged, with black sheets behind them, which Hilmi explained was important because it creates the shapes of the still life. You see the shape of something by looking at what is behind it, and a dark surface makes this easier.

After students finished the drawing in pencil, they then used charcoal to enhance the dark and light tones within the image.

Once students felt they had a finished sketch, Hilmi put down a big plastic sheet, and made sure everyone wore gloves for, what students felt, was a daunting, yet fascinating process. They laid their works on the plastic sheet and poured shellac all over the page, moving around and smoothing out the shellac with small spatulas. Students were hesitant to pour the runny mixture on the thin paper, however the shellac sealed the charcoal drawing beneath and eventually created a hard surface; changing the images instantly! Students added two layers and then left them to dry for half an hour. If you are familiar with Hilmi’s mixed media works using shellac, he normally uses at least eight layers of shellac!

Hilmi pouring the shellac over the charcoal drawing
Hilmi pouring the shellac over the charcoal drawing
KC smoothing shellac over her drawing
KC smoothing shellac over her drawing

Once the images were dry, the next step was to add ink in the darkest areas, and diluted ink for the mid-tones. Painting over the shellac was unlike anything they had experienced; the new texture of the paper was unpredictable; there were bubbles, rough and smooth areas, which made it very interesting, yet challenging to apply the ink! The final part of the workshop saw students adding white to the lightest areas, which was what Hilmi called creating ‘magic’. It really did lift the still life images off the page!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’d like to join one of our next workshops, you can view them here.


Take time to be creative

We often find ourselves making excuses as to why we cannot spend time pursuing something we love, like setting aside 15 minutes to sketch every day, or attending a weekly art class. Do we deprive ourselves of things that would ultimately bring us joy because being creative does not have a tangible end goal in our lives?

Making excuses why I cannot be creative is a habit that I would like to break this year, and invite others to join me! No more excuses.

Why do we put off being creative?

Creativity is at the bottom of the to-do list for many of us (or doesn’t even register).

Here are some of the common ones:

  • ‘When I have time’ (never)
  • ‘I’m not good enough, there’s no point’ (see our previous blog)
  • Feeling guilty for spending time on ourselves and being selfish (especially as a parent)
  • I’m too old to learn
  • One day

However, when we do allow ourselves time to be creative, it leaks into other areas of our lives and can have a very positive impact.


We often focus on a single outcome – for example, you want to learn how to draw realistically. This is a huge goal! The work behind it can put you off before you even pick up a pencil! Or the pressure you place on yourself to create realistic drawings from the get-go can severely inhibit your creative process. The goal-setting theory in The Happiness Trap (Harris) has really helped people with taking the first difficult step by suggesting that they look at the underlying values behind the goal. So you could ask, why do I want to draw realistically? Perhaps it is because you value representing the world on paper in that way. Perhaps because being creative is important to you and you value expressing your view of the world. Or simply because you value relaxing, taking time, and looking after yourself, and being creative is how you achieve this. Looking at these underlying goals may help you be more gentle on yourself and realise that there are many steps to reaching your goal, and that the journey is more important than the result.

By looking at the values behind the goal, sometimes this can help you to overcome the reasons why you are not motivated to create. For example, ‘I don’t have time to sit down and draw for 15 minutes’. What are your underlying values behind your goal of drawing for 15 minutes? You may value me-time, or value the act of being creative, or self-improvement. Surely these three values alone trump the excuse of not having enough time in your day. We just need to realise the importance of the underlying values of our goals, which will hopefully become a source of motivation.

There are many steps to reaching your goal, and the journey is more important than the result.

Let your intrinsic motivation take over this year

If you are lucky enough to have your passion as your work, you will most likely know that the act of creating a commissioned piece (extrinsic motivation) is different when creating for its own sake, which often has no monetary goal or reward (intrinsic motivation). When creating something with an end goal or reward in sight, you may feel under pressure to perform, anxious about deadlines or other feelings that can stifle creativity. This can happen during the smallest of creative activities; a child trying to draw better than her peers around her, or creating something just to get more likes on Instagram. When driven primarily by this form of extrinsic motivation, we risk missing out on the journey that is ‘creating’ because we are so focused on external factors, and the end goal.

“People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures.” (Amabile, ‘How to Kill Creativity’)

Creating something for the sake of it is where the magic really happens. Time stops, or ceases to exist; you get lost in your work and can enter into a flow state. You feel an immense amount of satisfaction – even if you didn’t produce the work you set out to. The flow state is what most artists aim for, because it is when we feel most connected with their work, and often what they create seems to just come into existence, with minimal effort (or sometimes no memory of it even happening). This occurs because they are allowing themselves to do what they love and are not thinking about any external factors.

A creative new you

This year I challenge you to set more time for yourself to be creative. Even if, in the beginning you sit there with a blank canvas for a week. Take a new class. Just start creating for you.

I created one of my favourite pieces in Marco’s Studio Art Class when I had no intentions, expectations and most importantly, no fear. I went to class on Tuesdays just for me, and those two-and-a-half-hour sessions every week felt like an eternity and the blink of an eye all at once. And one Tuesday I walked out of class with my favourite painting, below. It is an example of work I produced when I was intrinsically motivated, and my underlying value was to be creative every week. And it doesn’t bother me at all if nobody likes it!

Here’s to an inspiring and productive 2017!

Lauren Ottaway, Red Kitchen, acrylic on canvas, 2015.
Lauren Ottaway, Red Kitchen, acrylic on canvas, 2015.

Written by Lauren Ottaway

Children and art

The assimilation of new techniques into children’s art work.

I have returned to teaching a children’s class after two years focused upon developing the adults’ classes.

I came into this new children’s class with the intention of introducing some elements of ‘atelier’ or ‘academic’ style training for the children. This is the methodology that many of the adults who have attended our classes would be familiar with, that enables us to rigorously teach technique.

Whilst I intended to introduce the same elements as in our adult’s classes, those of you that know me, will know that I am heavily influenced by Steiner and Montessori educational philosophies. These philosophies emphasise intrinsic self motivation (self motivation), creativity and the natural rhythm of child’s development. Whilst these philosophies are not completely incompatible with the style of training I wanted to introduce, it certainly gives me a lot to consider as a teacher.

We have had our first two classes for the term and the results, in fact, the way in which the first week’s instruction was absorbed then reappeared, fully integrated into the second week’s work has left me speechless. Perhaps these children are just incredibly talented, but somehow, they have taken in the new techniques and used them to produce work which incorporates those techniques into their own powerfully iconographic style. The three examples below by Taku, Chloe and Tyla display a far more individual approach than I would commonly see in adults, yet all have used the techniques of constructing a sphere and use of tone that I had shown them the week before.  They do this while still maintaining an aesthetic integrity; the work holds together as personal statement. The new techniques have been subsumed to the personal visual logic each child individually consistently maintains.

Taku, charcoal on paper, 2016
Taku, charcoal on paper, 2016
Chloe, charcoal on paper. 2016
Chloe, charcoal on paper. 2016
Tyra, charcoal on paper, 2016
Tyra, charcoal on paper, 2016

On the basis of these works, it seems that it is possible to teach technique to children without restricting their creative or personal expression. Taku, for example, maintains a powerful expressive line and an arresting visual impact over the foundation of the structural approach he had been shown. Chloe has a whimsical play with the line of the structural drawing. With the interplay of line and the rubbing of the charcoal, the groups of objects all merge into one whole, showing an interplay of relationships between objects. Tyra also uses value, or tone in a powerful way, inventing value for visual impact (the shadow wasn’t present in the arrangement she was drawing from).

I realise that while teaching what is essentially a limiting process to the children, I shouldn’t limit the children’s other visual processes and iconographies. The purpose of restricting would be to show the assimilation of the technique I am teaching more clearly. The problem being that by restricting other information children use in the image, I may be sending the message that other forms of expression aside from that being taught are are wrong. The eventual casualty of such an approach being the death of creativity, exploration and intrinsic learning.

For the age group in my class, (9 – 12 year olds), it seems I can teach technique and that the child experiences an adaption of the new technique into an existing canon of technique, creativity and visual language rather than a weeding out of those pre-existing elements. In so doing, they maintain their ability for powerful personal expression.

I’m very much looking forward to the work that is to come.

Written by: Marco Corsini

Teacher of our 8 to 14 year old’s Children’s Art Class

Talking yourself in and out of creating art

When we were kids, creating was a full-time job. Through creativity we learnt, laughed and lived. And although it is cliché, it doesn’t make it any less of a truth – as we get older, we become less creative. However, this innate desire to create never leaves us. We’ve just forgotten about it, or we have changed the way we think about it.

Art and creative expression is something that everyone is capable of.

One of the biggest creative blocks is the self. The phrase I hear so often and that irks me the most is, ‘I wish I could (draw)’. You can! Everyone can! The only thing stopping us are our thoughts that are telling us we can’t. We need to be mindful of how we are talking to ourselves and try not to get carried away with our inner bully. Unfortunately, our inner bully does not get along with creativity, and it is important – in all aspects of life – to learn how to dim the negative chatter.

If you have not created in a long time, actively creative people can be intimidating, which is a sure-fire way to talk yourself out of creating. It is easy to scroll through Instagram and think, ‘I couldn’t draw that. I will never learn how to paint like that. I can never be that good.’ Unfortunately, someone else’s creativity can sometimes trigger envy or frustration within us for various reasons, not joy for the person’s achievement or motivation for our own work. Instead of running with these negative feelings, we should put that energy into… you guessed it – creating.

Don’t judge your creativity

Don’t stop after one unsatisfactory attempt, because giving up is the only sure way to fail. It is so easy to stop doing something if you feel it is too difficult, or if you’re not good at it straight away. You wouldn’t tell a child that their drawing is terrible, and that there is no point in continuing. Be kind to yourself! When you stop judging your work you will begin to enjoy the process – and isn’t that what it’s all about?

There is also a lot to be said about being silly. Have fun with your creativity – just because we’re a little older doesn’t mean we can’t be silly! Drip the paint on in globs. Get it all over your fingers. Do that silly sketch of the cat in the laundry basket. Scribble. Laugh. Throw paper-mâché. And most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself.

Buy some materials, or give some attention to your old tools – then use them

Crisp, shiny, new materials can inspire you to get creative. And if you cannot afford new materials, then clean, sharpen, rearrange and colour-coordinate your current supplies. You will need to fight the many excuses that will come up – why you cannot spare ten minutes using these new materials to do a drawing of the guy you saw sleeping on the train today. Or that your desk is too messy to even begin a drawing. Or that you don’t have the right materials for the work. Fight all your resistance to create, and just do it. It will feel great.pastels

Disconnect from your devices

It’s great to use apps for inspiration – but it is also very easy to become lost. A few minutes of scrolling can turn into an evening. When we claim we do not have enough time to create – take a look at how much time is eaten up by mindless scrolling. Try to disconnect just one day per week and spend some time being creative.

Take a class

Creativity is what we nurture here at Melbourne Art Class. We have a lot of beginners’ courses in the hope to inspire people to revisit and explore their creativity. If you are in a bit of a creative funk, classes can really help pull you out of it. They create an opportunity for you to create in a group environment, which is difficult to do on your own when you are lacking motivation. Attending a regular class with like-minded creative people changes the way you think for an extended period of time, which is significant because most of us have our home brain and our work brain. Schedule two and a half hours in a creative environment into your work week, and I can guarantee it will lift you.

Allow yourself to be creative

You may have noticed that I have said we need to “allow” ourselves to be creative. This may sound strange, because we didn’t have to do that when we were kids. We just did it. As an adult however, there are so many things blocking us from being creative. It is important to remember that we can still be – and need to be creative.

Have you noticed, that when you allow yourself to be creative:

Your thoughts become quieter.
Time stops,
or extends,
or doesn’t even matter.
You are in flow.

And being in flow is undoubtedly one of the best feelings in the world.

If we allow ourselves to create, without judgement, it will bring something new and create a lightness in our lives. We need to allow ourselves to spend time on things that may not have a monetary outcome – or a defined outcome at all. That can be a little scary in the adult world. Though there really is nothing to lose – after all, we were born to do what we love.

Come and create with us at Melbourne Art Class! Check out our courses here – they are open to all skill levels and creative types! We look forward to creating with you soon!

Written by Lauren Ottaway