What I’ve Learnt from 100 Days of Drawing during #makingarteveryday

This year, I joined the “Making Art Every Day” challenge run by Lisa Bardot to work on building my digital drawing skills.

So far I’ve created a drawing on my iPad every single day of this year and it’s working wonders on my skills. On top of boosting my technical skills and familiarity with the ProCreate App, this is likely also the longest consecutive number of days I have actively created something.

My hope was to improve my drawing skills and maybe produce some drawings that I was proud of along the way. What I did not expect was how much I would learn about my own creative process through being diligent about daily creation.

Here are some things I’ve been learning.

Drawing from Reference

I’ve always thought of drawing from reference as “boring” (aka haaaaard) and drawing from imagination has long been my preference and strength. However, in recent years I’ve come to realize that the biggest challenges I face in my artwork, (colour, light, shadow, perspective) are only going to be overcome if I put in the work of drawing from reference.

Through consistent practice I’m really seeing improvement in how I pick out colours and values and I’m getting better at translating what I see onto the page. I’m starting to see drawing from reference as an integral part of my artistic training, much in the way musicians would practice scales.

Do what works for you

The Challenge comes with a hashtag, but I’ve decided not to share my artwork online while working on the challenge. I send my favourites to my Mum and Dad, and that’s it.

Previously when trying to improve my art and posting it online, I’ve become too attached to the number of likes or comments I get on my work and have quickly gotten discouraged. This time around, I’m doing this challenge for myself alone. That way there is no pressure to create a “perfect”, shareable drawing every day, and I can allow myself to play or push myself in alignment with my energy levels and available time.

Some drawings have taken me several days if they’ve been particularly involved. Some days a drawing just remains unfinished. Some days I’m not satisfied with the result but I can just file it away and move on. I’ll still have learnt something.

Some other ways I’ve made this challenge my own is switching prompts around, so I can work on particularly interesting prompts on days I have more time, or I delegate simpler sessions to days when I don’t. I allow myself the occasional “easy day” where I might just create a sketch or follow a tutorial by the course creator where I can switch my brain off.

With a challenge this long I think it is important to make sure you’re doing what works for you, instead of trying to force yourself into rigid guidelines.

For me, the most important rule is that I pick a prompt and do at least 10 minutes of drawing every single day. Everything else is secondary, and I’ve found that the time I spend on drawings has naturally extended as I grow more absorbed with the challenge.

There are no shortcuts

There are theories you can memorize and techniques you can practice, but ultimately, you learn to draw by drawing. A lot.

The internet age promotes instant gratification to such an extent that I feel we’re beginning to forget the value of actual hard work and the fact that there are some things you simply cannot shortcut.

There are no crazy hacks you can use to learn to draw. A majority of the drawing process can be painstaking and annoying and sometimes just downright boring until you get satisfactory results.

There are parts of the creative process that just take time. That’s just how it is. You can put in the hours and become good at drawing. Or you can spend forever looking for hacks and tips and tricks and probably won’t. There are no shortcuts. Sometimes all you can do is sit down, put in the hours and do the work.

Treating every drawing as an experiment, not focusing on the outcome

As a result of this challenge I’ve noticed a significant shift in my mentality around creative work.

I used to be very attached to the final result, would get frustrated during the process, try too hard to make it work and then be disappointed when the final piece didn’t turn out how I expected it to. For the first time ever I feel I’m truly learning to enjoy the process, not the results.

I’m becoming less attached to the final outcome, possibly because I’m drawing so much from reference and the best I’m going to get is that the final drawing looks like the photograph, which to me is not particularly exciting. Instead I’m starting to draw much more satisfaction from the process itself, becoming aware of the struggles that invariably accompany the creative process and embracing them, then truly relishing the moment when I conquer those struggles and achieve a breakthrough.

I’m treating every image as an experiment, without focusing too much on whether or not I like the finished piece. Ideally, in every drawing I will learn something new, whether about composition, the subject matter, colour, lighting, or simply about the creative process itself, so no drawing is ever wasted. Even if it turns out rubbish, I will have learnt something, and that knowledge will pave the way to better drawings in the future.

Frustration is a completely natural part of the creative process

This is something I know at heart, but still need to learn over and over again.

The creator of the course says it best:

The creative process is HARD. It never fails that I reach a point in a project where I hate everything I’ve done and want to give up. I’m sure you’re familiar with that feeling too. But the thing I’ve learned is that feeling is just a part of the process. Creativity is magical, but it’s not magic. It takes work and it has it’s tribulations. But if we are persistent and keep going, the feeling will pass and we’ll reach an outcome that gives us that delicious creative euphoria. – Lisa Bardot

I think this is a major roadblock many creatives face, the fact that creativity (like pretty much everything else) is not always fun and games. It’s not always easy. You’re not always “inspired”. Creativity often looks an awful lot like hard work and trudging on in the face of frustration to the other side where the euphoria of triumph awaits after a job well done. Sometimes.

In other work, this is a given. But for some reason, in creativity, we expect to be always “in the flow”, or “inspired” and if we’re not, we feel we’re doing it wrong. We are not. Frustration is a  natural, and rather significant part of the creative process, and we just have to push through it to the other side or take a break if it’s really not working.

Some of the truly rewarding things in life aren’t always fun while we’re engaging in them, and struggle is a normal and healthy part of the process, not a reason to give up.

Deep Satisfaction

On the other side of inevitable creative frustration, lies some of the deepest satisfaction I have ever experienced in my life. Recently I spent several hours over several days pushing through tiredness, frustration and boredom on a drawing of an orchid. There was so much detail that I was not able to shortcut on, I just had to put in the time it cost to draw each and every one of those veins and markings and it was just plain hard work.

All of a sudden came the moment where for a second my own brain was fooled, and looking at the image I wasn’t certain if it was a painting or a photo I was looking at. With that moment came such a massive surge of satisfaction, the joy of having overcome a great challenge, of having pushed my skills to their limits, of having persevered.

For me, nothing quite compares to the deep and pure joy of creative satisfaction.

Sustained Focus

This is something I’m thinking about a lot at the moment.

We live in an economy that seeks to capitalize on our attention, by making us spend as much time as possible on our digital devices, using the apps of billion dollar companies that are doing their best to keep you “engaged”  longer and longer and longer.

Our attention is pulled in every direction from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, and the impacts on our personal wellbeing, our social connections, our society as a whole and even our politics is staggering. My own work is mostly online, so my attention is constantly being pulled every which way while I’m trying to get work done.

Other than reading, engaging in creative work is often one of the longest stretches of time I spend committing to a single task to the exclusion of all else. It is hard, but it is also incredibly satisfying and rewarding. Right now, I feel like this is healing something inside of me. I am reclaiming my ability to focus on a single thing over a sustained period of time, without distraction and I think in today’s day and age, that in itself is a skill beyond value.

I’m excited to have reached the 100 day mark, yes, it’s an arbitrary number, but it still feels substantial and significant to me and I’m curious to see how my skills will continue to evolve over the next 265 days and how much of what I’ve learn will be transferable to my own personal projects.

Thank you Lisa Bardot for creating this challenge, it is profoundly changing the way I create and think about creativity and has helped me profoundly increase my skills.

If you’re interested in the #makingarteveryday challenge, check out the Hashtag on Instagram, or visit Lisa’s website Bardot Brush where you can sign up for the challenge.

Shapeshifter

I am the Maker. Shaper. Breaker.
Made of shadow and of snow.
I am the Maker. Shaper. Breaker.
Made of shifting, ever flow.

I am the Maker. Shaper. Breaker.
Circles are the way of life.
I am the Maker. Shaper. Breaker.
I am the cord. I am the knife.

Break

This mask must break before I shatter

Lest worst of all the things that matter

Die in the dust beneath the feet

Of those who told me who to be

 

It shatters and I fall apart

Pick up the pieces of my heart

Lay a mosaic of broken dreams

This skin was never what it seemed

 

Leave behind this empty shell

Off self-made misery and hell

And fill the void inside my heart

With things I love, hold dear and art

Create First.

I open my iPad in the morning to check up on something and emerge hours later after falling down the rabbit hole of the internet. Again.

I try not to be too hard on myself. Social Media is designed to draw us in, to keep luring us back, to reward us for liking, clicking, scrolling, swiping. It is designed to turn us into addicts.

I take steps to minimize this influence in my life. Notifications are off. I keep my iPad and laptop away from the bedroom. I still don’t own a smartphone.

And I still find myself distracted more often than I’d like.

Starting my day on the computer or tablet is productivity poison. I am swept away by a deluge of bad news, nasty people and comparisonitis.

Checking my email first thing sets me up to be in a reactive mindset for the rest of the day, letting my inboxes dictate my to-do lists for me.

I relied on this so heavily last year that I started to forgot how to create for and from myself. Creative juices and muscles shrivelled away. Finding my way back to my own creativity, bringing something new into the world, fleshing out my own work instead of gorging myself on inspiration porn, has been incredibly hard for me.

 

Right now, I’m trying to raise my standards for myself.

Create First.

Share Second.

Consume Last.

 

Working to build this little mantra and habit is helping.

First thing, before I check my inboxes, I try to create something of my own, no matter how small. Even if it’s just three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness journaling. It might be a small sketch. Or a blogpost draft.

But I create.

 

Second, I share.

I am notoriously crap at sharing and promoting my work even if it’s crucial to my business. I do okay on word of mouth referrals, but I’m crippling my own potential by not putting more of my work out there.

Sharing comes second, whether it’s something I created that day, or something older I want to showcase.

 

Only when I have done those two things do I get to consume.

It’s never perfect.

I still fall down the internet rabbit hole, but now I end more days knowing that at the very least I have taken steps to bring something of my own into this world first.

And that can make all the difference.

Minimalism Game – Wasted

January 2018, I completed a 31 day challenge where you throw out one item on the first day, two on day two, three on the third and so forth.This was inspired by The Minimalism Game, my Mum and I just extended it for an extra day. 496 items later, here’s what I’ve learnt.

*

“It’s a pity though,” she said. “All that food going to waste.”

I’d just told her about helping my parents purge six shopping bags full of food stuff from their kitchen, most of which was past the sell by date.

Way past the sell by date.

 

I absolutely agree with not wasting food, but I’ve come to realize I’m actually wasting more food by hanging on to the old stuff.

Food that is 3, 6, 8 and more years past the sell by date is already wasted.

Keeping it means I can’t see what is in my cupboards that is still usable.

Keeping it means I am buying duplicates because I can’t find things I thought I had.

Keeping it means things get lost behind crap and end up going to waste along with it.

I am wasting more food by not throwing away what is already wasted.

 

However.

Letting go of it I am now able to use up what is actually usable.

I am able to cultivate awareness of what I do and don’t need and am now able to shape my  buying habits accordingly.

I’m buying less.

Using more.

Cooking is more fun, organized and pleasurable.

I’m more likely to cook that fancy pasta because I actually remember it’s there.

I’m using the special sauce because it’s not hidden behind 20 jars of jam I don’t eat.

Meals feel more special every day because I’m actually able to use some of the fun, fancy and exotic ingredients I was previously unaware of.

 

Food waste is a terrible thing and I try my best to keep it to a minimum.

But keeping food that is older than my little brother isn’t going to suddenly make it usable again.

It’s just taking up mental and physical space.

I’m trying to learn from the things I wasted so I don’t have to waste more of the same in future.

And admitting to myself: “No, I probably do not need three pots of shrimp paste.”

Minimalism Game – Fantasy

January 2018 I completed a 31 day challenge where you throw out one item on the first day, two on day two, three on the third and so forth. This was inspired by The Minimalism Game, my Mum and I just extended it for an extra day. 496 items later, here’s what I’ve learnt.

*

Oftentimes what is hardest isn’t letting go of an item itself, but disentangling myself from the identity I have attached to it.

Items I have purchased and kept for an idealized, romanticized version of myself.

I would like to be the kind of person who uses those cute heart shaped silicone shapes to make pralines for her boyfriend (who actually isn’t that into sweets, and would be way more excited about a good steak).

I would like to be the kind of person who romantically sits on the couch leafing through her cookbooks, but the reality is I have better shit to do and there’s an app for that.

I would like to be the kind of person who creates amazing mixed media art with all the wonderful art supplies she has, but the reality is my preferred medium is pencil, paper and some watercolour.

I would like to be the kind of person who fills myriads of beautiful handbound notebooks with prose, but the truth is that fancy notebooks paralyse me, and I’d prefer to just scribble around in a 50ct writing pad rather than risk marring those pristine pages with something mediocre.

I would like to be that person, but the truth is:

I’m.

Just.

Not.

Those things belong to a romanticized vision of the person I would like to be, but can’t be arsed to become.

Letting go was painful, because letting go meant admitting “I am not that person”.

The first time I experienced this I was clearing out my room after finishing school and came across a box of magic tricks for kids. I’d owned it for years and barely used it. I was in love with the idea of being able to do those tricks, but it dawned on me that I didn’t want to spend the days and months and years it would take to actually be moderately proficient at that skill.

I would rather be enchanted myself than spending my life perfecting my sleight of hand to enchant others.

I would rather find joy in actually cooking than in thinking about cooking.

And I would rather have fun making good art on crappy paper than never making any art at all because the paper is too good.

496 items later, I haven’t missed a single thing.

Hold

Love hold my hope
Love hold my dreams
Not too tight
So they may breathe

Just so close
That I may know
That they are safe
And time will show

If they were ever
Meant for me
If not my love
Then set them free

Rising

Hail the Dawnstar, shining bright
Chase out the horrors of the night
Drive out the shadows, ghosts and fears
Heal the nightmares, dry the tears

Sunlight blazing, eyes grow bright
Heart be joyful, kissed by light
Spirits rising, soul take flight
Dawn has come, farewell the night

Cast your flames out far and near
Impale the wraiths upon your spear
Chase out the horrors of the night
Hail the Dawnstar, shining bright

Seeing

Thank you

To the strangers,
Who saw me in the street
And gifted a smile.

Thank you

To the teachers,
For seeing potential and strength,
For shaping body and mind into who I am today.

Thank you

To the healers,
Who saw what was healthy and whole,
When all I saw was brokenness and hurt.

Thank you

To the people who looked into my eyes and saw me,
As I voiced truths and dreams
I couldn’t admit
even to myself.

Thank you

To my family,
For seeing me as I am,
Not how you want me to be,
Always.

Thank you

To the friends who chose me, as I chose them.
For seeing me,
in light, and in shadow,
in weakness and in strength.

Thank you

To my partner, my lover, my other half,
For seeing me and helping me see myself clearer.
To see and to be seen by you,
there can be no greater gift.

Thank you

To that mysterious force that permeates my life and being,
for seeing me when there is no one else to see me,
and no light to see me by.

Thank you

To those who see the good and real and true in this world,
whose hearts see clearer than eyes ever could.

Keep seeing.

For the sake of all those who need to be seen.

I see you.

Dear 2017

Dear 2017,

You were good to me and you were also hard.
Hard when I thought you should have been easy.

You were the wild freedom of motorcycling under the open sky and the feeling of being more trapped and uninspired than ever before.

***

You were love and connection.

Laugh out loud tea parties with best friends. Family. Baking and crocheting with my Mum. Motorcycling and geeking out about motorcycling with my Dad. Deep conversations and big life decisions with my partner.

***

You were disconnection and loss.

Hitting goals I thought meant something to me, but that were probably someone else’s goal to begin with. No fanfares. No fairy glitter. Just a vague sense of loss and mild disappointment.

You were the reluctant and cathartic purging of certain structures, obligations and people from my life and the gentle thrill of subtle new beginnings in their place.

You were stability. You were safety. You were distraction and boredom and yearning for more but feeling too tired and burnt out to do anything about it.

Craving fullness while running on empty.

***

Dear 2017, you were surrender under protest.

Hibernation and the slow, uncomfortable and joyful process of reconnecting to my body and soul after months of disconnect, overwhelm and busyness.

You were funky new hair, freshly pierced ears and the same boring outfit every day.

Embracing the shift while clinging to familiarity.

***

You were doing the work and resisting doing the work.

Taking first tentative steps towards old dreams and being pleasantly surprised.

Resisting the truth harder than ever even while reaching out for it like my life depended on it.

Being utterly broken on the wheel of my own resistance.

***

Dear 2017, you were watching so much coming undone, in my life, the lives of others and the world at large and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Waiting for someone else to save me, and the painful realization that no one could.

You were the shedding of the skin, an arduous peeling back of the countless, colourless and brittle layers to uncover what is good and real and true.

***

Dear 2017,

You were good. You were hard.
You were amazing. You were uncomfortable.

You were an important year and I hope I will understand you and your role in my journey a little better soon.

Right now I’m mostly confused.

Goodbye 2017.

As uncertain and wobbly as it may be

And as reluctant as I may be to take it

I am ready

For the next step.