How to Balance Spontaneity & Discipline In Your Art Practice

Recently, a subscriber wrote to me to ask me for advice. For the sake of privacy, I will refer to her as Anna. She wanted to know how to get more discipline in her art practice and explained how she does not like doing drawing exercises but wanted to incorporate them into her routine. Anna said that drawing exercises bore her and that she enjoys being spontaneous in her art practice.

So here is what I advised her...

I think that spontaneity and discipline are two legs of a creative practice. We need a good balance between the two.

Spontaneity in our art lets us explore and be playful.

Discipline and structure improve our art fundamentals and skills.

Too little discipline in your art practice makes your growth messy and chaotic. It might cause you to stagnate as you lack the focus to build your skills. As a result, the lack of growth might cause you to lose faith in your abilities.

Too much discipline and structure in your art practice might cause your creativity to wither. You could ruin the spark and joy of creating leading to burnout.

For me, I had the opposite problem to Anna as a beginner. I wanted to perfect my skills before I made any final pieces. I was inclined to believe that only discipline is the key to success. I thought people who were rigid about effort and hard work accomplished mastery.

This mindset of always striving took me away from the joys of being creative and always searching for the day I would arrive and feel confident in my abilities. As a result, it made my drawings stiff as they lacked playfulness and creativity. The excessive emphasis on discipline, planning and practice paralysed my imagination and destroyed the joys of being an artist.

Focusing solely on one approach can limit the potential benefits of the other. Aiming for balance between the two can lead to greater creativity and refinement of your art.

If you are a student, picking up skills intentionally is crucial. We don't need to be experts in something before moving on to another skill, but we should feel confident enough to see how our new skills relate to other areas before we jump into learning unfamiliar things.

As we move into professional work, it's important to be playful, curious and chaotic in the early stages of an artwork. Being spontaneous is necessary to come up with a variety of ideas. It expands your abilities to ideate and brainstorm. But if you continue to be indecisive, you could risk feeling overwhelmed. At some point, you will have to make decisions to finish a piece and manage deadlines.

Routine and intentionality are just as important as flexibility, creativity and innovation.

Each of us has a preferred method to improve our artwork, but I highly recommend finding balance.

I believe that finding where your weaknesses lie requires effort and self-awareness. We all live on the spectrum between discipline and spontaneity. Understanding oneself is the first step towards figuring out what your individual artistic needs are.

Spontaneity keeps our spirits alive and connects us to the child-like parts of ourselves that drew because they loved how it felt.

Discipline is necessary to see sustained growth and to keep us going on days when we don't 'feel' like drawing. It should not be a strict set of rules that control you. Therefore, we need not be afraid of it.

For Anna, I recommended adding two hours of disciplined work spread across a week. And she could scale it up or down depending on how she responded to the structure.

There is no one-size-fits-all in this situation. Balancing spontaneity and discipline differs for everyone depending on your strengths and weaknesses.

What do you struggle with, spontaneity or discipline?

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Cover image by pikisuperstar - Freepik

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