Celebrate the Process – Lessons from #makingarteveryday

One of the things drawing every day has taught me is the importance of embracing the creative process over the final outcome. I’ve been aware of this concept for a long time, but it’s only through experiencing it myself through consistent daily practice that I’ve really started to internalize it.

Creating everyday at a consistent, high level is often just not possible. Some days I have better ideas than others. Some days I’m sick. Some days I’m hurting. Some days my mind is distracted by other things. Some days I give up halfway through a piece. Some days I’m just really tired. But I’m learning that the individual pieces are just stepping stones in my journey as an artist. They don’t matter all that much. What does matter is the progress those pieces help me to make over time and the improvement I see in the long run.

This year, I’ve gone from not creating digital artwork at all to creating small pieces I’m proud of quite regularly. I’ve gone from being clueless about how to use the ProCreate app to confident enough that I don’t have to think about the technical aspects of the drawing process, it feels natural. I’ve gone from total creative stagnation to a growing list of pieces I want to create. It’s Day 149 of the challenge, and I’ve seen significant changes since January 1st.

On days a drawing doesn’t turn out, or I don’t finish it and don’t ever intend to, it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Creativity and life are cyclical, sometimes that’s just how it is. Instead, I measure my progress more by what I’ve learnt from each piece, rather than by the final outcome.

I can create a piece that is total crap and still have learnt something during the process. I practice my craft, I make happy mistakes, I learn lessons and gain valuable insights.

Instead of asking “Is this piece any good?” or “Am I happy with the result?”, I’m starting to ask different  questions.

Areas of Focus

  • Did I come across any weaknesses (perspective, anatomy, values) that I can focus on improving through further study?
  • Did I improve upon an area of weakness while working on this piece and gain any new insights?
  • Was I able to bring any recently learned lessons into the creation of this new piece and what effect did they have?

Tools & Media

  • What tools or media did I use?
  • Did I learn something new about those?
  • What worked or didn’t work?
  • Did I try a new colour scheme or colour combination I haven’t tried before?
  • Did I learn something about the media I created with, did I discover new effects or learn something about how the media behaves that I can replicate and use in future?
  • Did I discover or try out any new techniques?
  • Was I able to refine an existing technique, even if just through practice?
  • Did I make any interesting mistakes that led to new discoveries? Maybe even a new effect or technique I can reuse? Are there mistakes I can avoid in future?

Big Picture & Learning from Mistakes

  • What did I learn while creating this piece?
  • Where did I see improvement over past pieces?
  • Even if the picture didn’t work out as I hoped did I still learn something that could help me improve on this piece if I attempted it again?
  • If I drew the same picture again would I take a different approach?
  • Did I learn something that will help me create better pieces in the future?

When approached like this, no drawing is ever a failure. It’s just a lesson. It’s a small piece in a larger body of work that ultimately helps me hone my craft and create stronger pieces in the long run. I learn to make the good pieces through creating a lot of pieces. Some are good pieces. Some are crap pieces. Most of them fall somewhere in between.

It’s not the result of those individual pieces that matter, but what I learn about my craft, myself and my creative process in the making. The real magic happens in the process. By embracing it, I allow it to change me. And ultimately, the greatest reward is the larger picture all those pieces are a part of, the act of living a creative life, day to day, which really, is all I ever wanted.

Turning Points

It wasn’t until around the 100 day mark of the #makingarteveryday challenge that I really started to feel comfortable drawing digitally and things started to get fun. Until this point, a lot of the images were just me copying existing pieces for practice and technical understanding, which is why I didn’t share any of the pieces online.

Around the 100 day mark I hit a turning point of sorts. Daily practice was starting to pay off and I’d gotten comfortable with using ProCreate, so I could just create drawings without thinking about it and focus entirely on the creative process. Habit at this stage also kicked in to help me overcome resistance and sitting down daily to draw became fun and fairly easy instead of a chore.

Around this time I also started getting creative and creating my own pieces again. I switched things up, I limited my colour palette, I started experimenting a lot more with the given themes and approaching them more playfully. Drawing started to feel fun again.

The past few years have been a dry spell for me in terms of personal creative work. For years I’ve suffered debilitating chronic fatigue, which it turns out were caused by my dental retainers. Outwardly I functioned pretty well, but on the inside I was dying and losing the energy for all the things I used to love. My creativity shriveled into non-existence. My work life tanked. All my tests came up beautifully, on paper I was healthy as could be. Doctors kept trying to refer me to a psychiatrist, but I had the persistent gut feeling that the problem was rooted in my body. I had my retainers removed in November while traveling in Thailand and things have been drastically and steadily improving ever since. The nightmare is over.

The #makingarteveryday challenge has helped me regain the creative joy I thought I’d lost during those years and for that I am incredibly thankful. I am fulfilling my life-long yearning to create everyday, and it has helped me unlock the new medium of digital art, making it so much easier to create while traveling. This is also a new string to my bow, as I can now also offer digital illustration for work as well. 

Building a daily habit of doing something you love is life-changing and healing. For years though, I didn’t even have that energy to build that habit because my body needed healing first. Sometimes the blocks are not just in your head. And sometimes they literally are.

Getting my braces out in November was the first turning point. Day 100 of the #makingarteveryday challenge was the second. Trial and error and finally trusting myself and my body finally led to the first, persistence and daily work made the second one possible.

Thank you to @lisabardot for creating a life-changing creative challenge at exactly the right time for me. And thank you to my Dad and boyfriend for the awesome art toy and daily travel companion that is my iPad Pro and to the creators of the @procreateapp for the app that is so beautifully designed with the artist in mind. To my boyfriend who was always there for me when I couldn‘t be. And to @kkalp, whose newsletter saved my life.

#makingarteveryday Day 101 – Cutting Board

The image at the top of this post was one of the first images where I started experimenting with this new illustration style and really pushed into the fun zone with digital drawing.

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