Bad Art Now, Relaxed Mind Later

Our Wanderful Guide: Sam Spahr

Ever began something you just couldn’t finish? Suddenly weeks or months have gone by, and you’re struggling to muster the creative oomph to remember why you even started a project in the first place? I’m waving my hands high above my head right now. Hi. It’s me too. As an artist or a creative person, it’s easy to get caught up in the design and the details of something. The wanting to do it right the first time. The make it good right now, and you won’t have to fix it later. But, how real is that? Rather, how healthy is that kind of thinking?

Drawing Desk

I thought about this when I saw a listing for an event at my local library, in all caps, like a Helvetican beacon, “MAKE BAD ART.”

I turned my head like a confused dog and quickly realized that, hell yes, this is g - e - n- i - u - s. They dedicated a whole night to irresponsible creativity, to throwing things around (figuratively) and not caring about what stuck. What do you end up with at the end? Well, certainly nothing you would hang in your house, but you gain just a little taste of creation free from a desired outcome.

Sit with that for a second. In everything that we do, we work toward a specific desired outcome: we cook to get a good meal, prepare to have an impactful presentation at work, write to get the best combination of words down to effectively convey an idea, design for a well received ad campaign, the list goes on and on whatever your craft may be.

Imagine now, putting energy into something, intentionally, that has no perceived useful outcome.

Does that make you feel nervous? Conflicted? Annoyed even, at the thought of time better spent? Great.

There’s something behind all of these knee jerk reactions that we have been conditioned to feel towards ideas of low productivity. The fear of uselessness and waste. It’s why we feel such trepidation when working towards something new, because “what if it was all for nothing?” But I learned a long time ago not to subscribe to that kind of thinking, and at the risk of sounding like your mother here, there is something worthwhile to be found in all that we do. Yes, even when it may seem as though we’ve wasted our time.

acrylic paints

C’mon, let’s make some lousy art

Picking Materials and Medium

I strongly encourage you to choose a medium (paint, pencils, collage, food, words, yarn, etc . . .) that you do not consider yourself very adept. For instance, I’m a formally educated photographer. I can promise you I would be pulling my hair out, overthinking and deprogramming, just to try to make a terrible photo or composite on purpose. That would not achieve any therapeutic benefits of creation free from outcome - for me.

We want to try to turn off our brains a little bit, unplug some of those electrical currents and not focus on how we “should” be doing it, and just DO.


Once you set out your paints or other medium of choice, you will instantly feel a compulsion to make something “nice.” You’ll feel the synapses of your brain picking color combinations and subconsciously plotting the composition. Please, fight that power!

Invite meditative practice into that moment. Take some deep and rhythmic breaths. Clear you’re head of what’s in front of you. Separate your mind from what your body is doing. Try instead to focus on an intention for your creative session and allow your body to move on autopilot.


Okay, you’re in the groove. Maybe you’ve got some music going. Maybe you’re enjoying a breeze on the patio. Maybe you’ve only had time to gather up materials. You do you. And do it for as long as you can, or for as long feels right to you. I understand that even 5 or 10 minutes of free time is a luxury and a privilege that can be hard to come by for some, if not most. Don’t be afraid to leave this “project” unfinished. You can come back to it later or never again, because the most important thing is your mental release- not a final product. So if all you managed on the first try is scavenging for a pencil and paper somewhere in your house, THAT’S OKAY. Plan that same time and day next week to make some marks on the paper.

paint palette, acrylic paint


Having trouble finding the time? Carry a small note book and some crayons/pencils/colored pens with you. Doodle while you wait for your lunch order. For 3 minutes before you get out of the car at work. Doodle during a meeting! Yeah - I said it. It’s been proven to aid concentration and retention of information.

Looking for routine? We all go to bed at some point. Put your chosen media together in a box you can easily slide under the bed or keep in your nightstand. Making creative therapy a part of your night time routine could help you wind down and catch some quality Z’s.

Don’t know what to try? Start with what you have! No need to make painting your therapy practice if you don’t have an arsenal of paints already. Old magazines lying around? Use a few sessions to clip out images and words. Try collaging them, or just keep clipping. Paper and writing utensils are always a great place to start as well. Try basic mark making, squiggling, and such. It certainly doesn’t matter if you don’t fancy yourself a master artist.

Now, get out there (or into your house!) and find your way to some creative vibes and mental chill. Oh and please have some fun, okay? Okay!