For many of us, creating art is how we work through things.

It’s how we celebrate our victories, and process our challenges. We may see a short story forming in something we observed on the street one day, or watched on the news that evening. We may conceptualize a painting or a print from a conversation we had with a loved one.

When reality is happening all around us, all of the time, art can be our best tool for understanding our worlds, and exploring new ones. And yet, at the same time, it can be hard to find the time to do just that.

In the spirit of “the best way over is through,” establishing a creative ritual can help overcome those everyday barriers that get in the way of our own creative fulfillment. There’s no one that embodies that idea better than Nikkolas Smith, an artist, illustrator, and artivist, who uses his work to illustrate what he wants out of the world. 

Creating at the intersection of art and activism, Nikkolas has gained international acclaim for how he advocates for social justice through his pieces. And that all started with one very simple, but effective, creative ritual:

Make art every Sunday.

Nikkolas didn’t start as an artist. He went to school for architecture, but found joy in creating political cartoons for the newspaper at Hampton University. He started thinking more critically about the world around him and the political climate, and identified ways to turn those thoughts into dynamic and engaging art.

After graduating school, in the midst of personal and professional upheaval, he returned to the practice of making art to pull himself out of what he was going through. In that moment, he started a Sunday sketch series, with just one goal: to create something and to post it.

“I started to use art as therapy. It doesn’t matter what level of expertise you feel you are as an artist, just create art.”

Nikkolas sees this as a truly foundational desire for us as humans. From making sandcastles as kids, we fundamentally find pleasure in making something out of nothing. To ritualize that, and to make it a priority as an adult is “a magical process,” to use Nikkolas’ words.

Art by Nikkolas Smith
Art by Nikkolas Smith

It all starts with something as plain as habit forming. While you may not feel overwhelmed with creativity every Sunday (or whichever day you choose), and ready to pour your heart out onto the paper, or computer, or tablet, the practice of doing beats the art of doing it perfectly every time. A habit becomes a ritual, and in that ritual you can unlock the very best of your internal artist, or internal activist, or in the case of Nikkolas, the intersection of both.

Seven years in, Nikkolas is still creating art every Sunday, helping him process events and subjects ranging from celebratory to somber. His subjects range from Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, to George Floyd, to a portrait of the Obamas as The Incredibles – which even earned him a letter from former President Barack Obama himself.

Here’s how you can start your own weekly art practice:

1. Commit to an amount of time once a week that feels doable to you. You don’t have to reserve the whole day, maybe it’s just a few hours dedicated to doing what you love.

For Nikkolas, his method is speed painting. Speed painting allows Nikkolas to create incredibly powerful and masterful pieces in as little as an hour. Mistakes are welcome in Nikkolas’s process and often result in a new creative direction. 

2. Choose your tools. Find the medium that you love and the tools that you need, so when it’s time to start your creative ritual, you are ready to go. A key part of this process is reducing distractions, particularly if you are working for a short amount of time. Turn your notifications off, or place your phone in another room.

3. Share it with the world. A crucial part of Nikkolas’s Sunday practice is accountability: he posts every work on social media, laying aside fears of judgment. It’s this accountability that keeps his practice thriving for all of this time. He encourages artists to be fearless with how you share your work. 

“Nobody can approach this topic the way that you can, from your unique perspective.”

4. Repeat. A ritual only becomes a ritual the more you integrate it into your life. So whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly cadence, put it on the calendar and stick to it. The best part is that if, like Nikkolas, you start a Sunday sketch series, you may find yourself brainstorming ideas or jotting down notes to yourself in anticipation of your creative time. In establishing that practice, you’ve now given yourself something to look forward to, rather than something you’re kicking yourself for not making enough time for.

Explore Nikkolas Smith’s class on Artivism and use that as a springboard to explore your own creative rituals.

Explore Nikkolas Smith’s Artivism Class

Learn how he makes art for change, and use his class as a springboard for your own creative ritual.

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