What to do: Make do

Mal | Art Journal,Art Process and Creativity | Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Green Blue Purple

 Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

Things got better when I finally got over myself and stopped complaining about having imperfect conditions — about not having enough time or space or energy to create — and just made do.

Recently, one of my employees has run into the problem of not doing things because he can’t do them “perfectly.” Here’s an example that he doesn’t mind me sharing.

The other day, as lunchtime was ending, I asked him, “What are you going to do in your teen workshop today?” He answered, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been wanting to do a comic book project, but we don’t have any more 11×17 paper.”

Comic strips in the journal

I had to tell him about what has happened in my art journal recently — about how comic strips have spontaneously begun to crop up, and are made with crude pens during jostling, cramped subway rides. I told him about the ugly paper I was using and the limitations of my drawing abilities. I told him to stand up, take whatever paper we had available, and just make do.

The truth is, very few of us will ever have enough time or space or energy. We will, for the most part, not build a perfect studio space (though some of us will),  or have a perfectly encouraging family, or be able to quit our day jobs in pursuit of art-making.

The trick is to make do with what you have. The painter, Paul Klee, actually felt that working with limited options increased your creativity.

 … to adapt oneself to the contents of the paintbox is more important…

Paul Klee

Maybe the perfect shade of green would turn your painting into a masterpiece — but it’s 2 weeks to payday and all you’ve got are yellow and blue. Make do. You’ve been wanting to start a journal, and spend hours online researching leather-bound notebooks, expensive pens, and carrying cases. Stop it. Make do. Maybe it’s time to help out the planet by making cloth bags to take to the market, but you are worried that the fabric in your stash is not sturdy enough, it doesn’t match, or you need 4″ more. By the way, there’s enough fabric in your stash to make two hundred market bags. Make do.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about having enough and making do. Here are a few more examples, if you’d like some further reading:


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