So you think you can't craft? Rubbish!
Last updated: 7.50pm, Wednesday 20th July 2016
Do you wish you could be more creative? Would you like to make your own Christmas decorations – or even presents? Here are five ways to unleash your inner artist.
Start with something simple. Making clothes does not qualify.
When it comes to being creative, there are two types of people: those who look at a box of craft stuff and tingle with excitement, and those who look away feeling nothing but dread. "I'm not one of those people," the latter group claim. "I'm not the creative type."
Nonsense. Even if you shudder at the thought of replacing a button or making a paper chain, the only real difference between you and so-called creative types is that they know how to approach tasks properly. They know what to do and, crucially, when not to panic. Here are a few tips to help you channel your inner creative.
1. Think quick
Ask a seasoned creative why they draw, knit, stitch or make and the answer usually comes down to, "It makes me feel good." And it's true. There's little more satisfying than putting the finishing touches to something you've slaved over for days, weeks, even years.
Alas, that sentiment is incomprehensible to someone who struggles with making even the most simple of things. How can making a patchwork quilt be enjoyable when it's hard to even thread a needle?
The trick here is to think small, quick and simple. Try projects that can be done in minutes with the minimum of skill. Rather than attempting to learn silversmithing on a 10-week evening course, try threading pretty beads on to a piece of ribbon to make a bracelet, for example. This way, you actually get to experience how good it feels to finish something. And this makes it easier to stick at projects when you get stuck.
Not convinced? There's more on exactly how this feelgood thing works in Matthew Crawford's excellent book The Case for Working with Your Hands.
2. Start with paper
Set aside grand plans of taking up knitting or making your own clothes for just a moment. While both can definitely be mastered with enough help from crafty friends or thorough YouTubing, they're certainly not the best activities to start with. And it's not just because they're notoriously fiddly.
Instead, start with anything related to paper: think paper-cutting, card-making, scrapbooking and decoupage. The big advantage here is that the materials you need are dirt cheap – at most, pens, glue and photocopier paper (or even old newspaper). The result is that there's less pressure to get it "right". A wonky snip to a piece of paper is far less costly than if you're working with £18-a-metre Liberty fabric.
When you're less precious about what you're making, there's freedom to be bolder, to take more risks. You'll attempt a more challenging paper-cut design, for example, or a more ambitious collage. If it all goes awry, you can simply chuck it in the recycling bin and start again.
3. Forget what "right" is
If being less precious about what you're doing is the first step in getting into the right mindset, forgetting what "right" means is the next. This bit's a little harder. When you wish you could draw grand portraits of wise old men, and all that comes from your pen is a guy who looks suspiciously like a stick, it's difficult to understand that your attempt could actually be A Good Thing.
To overcome this, try using the "wrong" materials for the job. Say you're attempting to draw your grandad. Rather than a pencil and paper, try a cheap eyeliner and watercolour paper. You've probably not seen many eyeliner portraits before, so you'll have no way to gauge whether yours is "right" or "good". (The same works for, say, wrapping presents: if you've never been great with wrapping paper and sticky tape, try using a tea towel and ribbon.)
Scissors cutting paper
When you work with paper, you can afford to make mistakes. Photograph: Getty Images
4. Set yourself limits
Even the most creative person can act like a rabbit in headlights when faced with a blank piece of paper. What to do? Where to start? What on earth will I end up with?
Limits bring out the best in creative people: advertising execs work to a brief set by their clients, for example. And when there are no limits, creatives impose them on themselves. Take fashion designers: they give themselves a "story" to be inspired by at the beginning of every season, then interpret this into different styles. For spring/summer '15, milliner Piers Atkinson's "story" was a woman who has made it and now can live a life of mellowed luxury; this manifested itself in a collection based around gardens and flowers, as that's where his woman can now spend her time.
How does this work for you? Whatever task you attempt, set yourself strict perimeters – and stick to them. Let's say you want to make a collage to put in a frame and hang on a wall in your house. There are a million things you could do, so how about adding the following criteria: it must be themed around the lyrics of your favourite song, you must use the same colours as the cushions on your sofa, you can only use paper found in your local craft shop and it must be no bigger than A4? (If the thought of inventing restrictions leaves you in a cold sweat, ask your partner/child/friend/neighbour.) This works whatever the size of project, from making a small piece of jewellery to decorating your front room.
5. Realise it's OK to copy
Finally, if all this sounds hellish, there is another way: copying. Not sure what colours to use for your paper chain? Borrow the colour scheme from your crockery. Trying to doodle a pattern but stuck for ideas? Look up from your desk and mimic the shapes you spy on the book or magazine covers around you. If decorating a Christmas tree is too much of a headache, find a picture you like and replicate it. It's an especially good idea if you want to take on something more challenging, like coming up with an embroidery pattern. Although replicating like for like is definitely not the route to go if you're charging for your work, it's fine if you're just trying to get a little more creative at home.
Whatever you try, remember that it doesn't matter if things don't go exactly as planned. It's only craft, after all.