The Power of Creating Art by Hand

July 24, 2018
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The longer I have worked as a designer, the more I’ve noticed that I have stopped doing art by hand. When I get home from working in front of a screen all day, I just want to stare at the wall for a while and not think about anything related to art and design until the next day. I have wanted to do more painting and drawing, but I find myself thinking “I’m too tired today,” or being afraid to start again in case I’ve lost my skills.

I recently became involved with Creative Mornings, a breakfast lecture series for creatives. The theme for June was “Craft,” and Becca Clason was speaking in Salt Lake City, where I lived at the time. I have long admired her beautiful hand lettering and stop motion videos, so I was thrilled to be able to hear her speak.

Becca talked about how she worked for years as a graphic designer and letterer, then one day happened to arrange some fresh vegetables from her garden into the word “fresh,” and from that her new career was born. She has made stop-motion lettering videos for many large companies and loves what she does. One of the things that struck me most in Becca’s talk was when she explained how time consuming and sometimes very difficult making her lettering and videos can be, but how incredibly satisfied and proud she feels in the finished product.

This made me curious about the psychology of crafting and art, and what they can do for our well-being. I found an article by Carrie Baron M.D. on Psychology Today called “Creativity, Happiness, and Your Own Two Hands,” and it was interesting to me that both Becca in her presentation and Dr. Baron in her article mentioned how technology-saturated the world has become. This is part of the importance of continuing to make art and other things by hand. As it gets increasingly easier to create art and design digitally, we are deprived of “processes that provide pleasure, meaning, and pride.” (Dr. Baron) It also “decreas[es] stress, reliev[es] anxiety, and modify[s] depression.” Even the simple act of writing rather than typing has huge benefits for our brains.

I thought back to when I was in college doing art classes and how I loved the feeling of finally getting the hang of painting, the problem-solving of printmaking, and the calmness of charcoal drawing. Designing at a computer is very static, whereas manually creating art engages your body. Not only does the finished product provide satisfaction, but the process does as well; physical projects come from your brain and hands in a way that digital things can’t.

To get more insight about this, I spoke with Dian Holton, a designer who has made a habit of creating things by hand on a regular basis. She likes to create art using unconventional methods and with found objects. In 2015, she challenged herself to create daily with her Daily Digits project, in which she made chronological numbers each day from random objects found in whatever space she was in. The project provided her with the opportunity to help with a commercial for HP and see her work reproduced on a large scale.

I was amazed that she found time daily to devote to her craft. She said she’d work on things at “random times during the day or evening. A lot of times the number would surface on its own in the wild. I’d just tweak it a bit and snap a pic.”

Working on things by hand has made Dian feel more confident and creative. She said, “I’m happier for the most part and I feel like I can tackle more hands-on projects.” I asked her what advice she’d give to designers like me who wanted to start the habit of creating more art by hand. I love her response: “Don’t be hard on yourself. Go in with an open mind and expect it not to come out perfect. When working with tangible objects, there is a higher risk that the outcome will be different than intended. Embrace it. Better yet, remember it; write down the steps so that you can keep it from happening again or so that you can replicate it. Lastly, don’t do it for social media likes. Do it for yourself.”

After all I have learned, I believe that crafting by hand not only benefits our minds, but our design skills as well. I have a new goal to sketch out ideas before taking them to the computer, and I believe that will better engage my creativity and excitement and enhance my designs. I also want to try and make more art, and not worry about if it’s “good” or not, but rather focus on how it benefits my mind and life.

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