You Can’t See the Road Ahead

When you start out you may look at other people’s art and wonder how you would even go about getting to that level of skill. You look at where you are now and where you want to go and all you see is a gap in skill that seems unbridgeable in your lifetime.

You haved to keep in mind that learning to draw is a long-term process and it’s hard to plan ahead. You don’t know what you don’t know until you start trying. You don’t know where you need to build knowledge or skill until you collide with your lack of it. You can’t determine your style without trying a million different things and then subconsciously curating them into something that is uniquely yours.

Learning is not linear. You may be stuck at one level of skill for weeks or even months. Then you take a surging, massive leap forward to a place you couldn’t even have imagined before.

As you keep showing up, observing the world and practicing, your brain is doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Then it finally goes “ta-daaaa” and presents you with something unexpected and new.

But to get to that place you have to keep showing up though doubt and uncertainty and trust the process.

You never know how long it will take you to reach a certain level. Sometimes it will take much longer and sometimes it will take much shorter than you expect.

You can’t plan ahead because you never know what the struggle of the day will be. All you can do is show up and meet it in the moment, over and over again.

The path will reveal itself one step at a time.

Your job is to keep taking those steps.

You Don’t Need Any More Knowledge.

There comes a point where watching yet another tutorial on how to get better at drawing is no longer helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, tutorials are amazing and can be very helpful when you’re using them in a targeted manner. But if you’re watching tutorial after tutorial without actually picking up your pencil, chances are more information is not what you need.

For example: For getting started on ProCreate I’d say watch one quality tutorial on the basic functionality, and then start drawing. You don’t need to understand the whole programme or all the tools. You’ll learn most when you dive in and get to work.

You will never feel quite ready. You will never feel you know enough. You will not understand all the things you don’t know until you test your drawing skills in the wild.

All the preparation in the world will not save you from making mistakes. You will make many messy, crappy drawings until you learn enough to make better ones and that’s fine. That’s simply how it is. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

You have to work through the bad drawings to get to the good ones. Everyone does. You cannot cheat or shortcut the creative process.
More important than watching tons of tutorials is training your own skills of observation and translating what you see onto the page. Most important is that you pick up a pencil and actually put marks on a page. If you watch tutorial after tutorial you get good at watching tutorials. If you draw everyday, you actually get good at drawing.

If you watch loads of tutorials, but never draw, it is nothing more than inspiration porn. If it hasn’t worked already, watching more tutorials is not what will get you drawing.

Start before you feel ready. When you start, you’ll be able to figure out where your actual areas of struggle are and you can watch targeted tutorials to help you master those areas.

But if you’re not putting that knowledge into practice, it’s a waste of time. Time you could better spend drawing.

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.