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.
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.
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.