Before we jump in with this, I just want to mention that this is something I wish my younger self would have read, and it may not be helpful for everyone.
Also you can change drawing to any creative pursuit… writing, knitting, painting, researching, honestly pretty much anything is applicable.
Here’s the hard truth...
The only way to get better at drawing is to SPEND TIME DRAWING. It’s simple as that.
No amount of tutorial video watching, reference gathering and artist stalking is going to improve your art if you are not actively spending time practicing your craft.
I imagine it might seem like I’m someone who spends umpteen hours a day drawing religiously, but truthfully that isn’t the case. Especially recently. Without having tattoo work to design, I have found it really hard to be motivated to create. I’m so grateful for my client work, Patreon, and the classes I’ve been taking, which all keep me drawing regularly, but outside of that I’ve honestly not been practicing a lot.
Obviously we are still in the midsts of a pandemic, and we have all spent the last 18 months navigating some unprecedented events, so I am not berating myself up about my lack of output, and neither should you. But, for me, making art and improving my skills makes me really happy. It’s a big component of my life and how I feel on a day to day basis. So I’ve put together some tips for people who want to spend more time on their creative endeavours but struggle with dedicating the time, which includes myself…
1. START SMALL!!
Don’t tell yourself you’re going to get up at 7am and draw for two hours everyday as soon as you wake up, every single day, forever. I did this. It’s a sure fire way to end up hating drawing. Especially if you’re not a morning person.
Maybe try 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week, or even just once a week. 15 minutes is a million times better than no minutes.
So I’m a big fan of scheduling. Although pinning down an exact time and date for weeks in advance is never a good idea (life will change, and your schedule will go to pot), but how about scheduling three 15 minute drawing slots in the next week?
In an ideal world you want to schedule your 15 minutes when you have no distractions, feel motivated, and also have some free time after. But having all three of those line up is wishful thinking for most of us, so you may have to figure out which you're able to implement….
No distractions -
This is pretty self-explanatory, but when you are trying to do something that is difficult or frustrating (which drawing often is) it’s soooo easy to let yourself get pulled away from the task at hand. I think the most important thing is to figure out what distracts you the most, and how you can minimise it. Is it your phone? That’s easy to solve, put it in another room. The internet? How about the freedom app? Is it other people that you live with? Partners, roommates, children? Can you explain that this is important to you and you can’t be interrupted? Or maybe leaving the house would be better for you? You can draw in the park, or on the subway, or in cafes or the library (if you’re allowed where your are).
Feeling motivated -
This is different for everyone, and may change on a daily basis. Are you a morning person, or an evening person? Or do you feel enthusiastic after you finish work, or after the kids have gone to bed? Do you want to keep your days off free, or is that when you feel most creative? Try to schedule your drawing time when you’re not feeling exhausted. Also keep in mind how you feel after you draw. I am REALLY awake after drawing, so I can’t draw before I have to go to sleep. But I know loads of my friends draw in bed, you just have to figure out what works for you. Try some things out, and remember that not every day will be the same.
And free time -
If you’re anything like me, after 15 minutes of drawing you’ll get into a creative zone and want to continue what you’re doing. It’s handy if you have some free time after your 15 minutes to continue if you feel like it.
3. MAKE SPACE
If you’re able to, create a space for yourself to practice.
This can be super hard, I know. I live in a tiny apartment in Toronto. My partner and I are both creative, so we decided to have work spaces rather than an eating space. My desk doubles as a place to eat. But it is first and foremost my desk (rather than a dining room table that I draw at).
If you aren’t able to have a dedicated space, put together a drawing box that has everything you need (sketchbook, pencils, pens, eraser etc) and keep it super accessible. The trick with this will be to link pulling out your drawing box with another activity, else it will sit in a cupboard somewhere easily forgotten, and too much effort to drag out when you’re feeling the slightest bit unenthused. Maybe after you eat dinner you get the box out and spend 15 mins drawing on the sofa? Or immediately after you get home / finish work / the kids go to bed?
Also your space might not even be in your home! I used to spend a lot of time in Toronto Reference Library prior to lockdown, oh 5th floor how I’ve missed you.
Self-bribery is an underrated tool. I basically treat the resistant part of my personality (you know that part that would rather do annnnything else than the thing you actually should be doing) like a small child. If I do the thing I need to do, I get a treat.
As I mentioned, before covid, I used to spend one day a week in the library drawing. Being there in general was a treat for me, as I find its a really nice place to be. But I would also buy myself a bubble tea half way through the day. Sometimes I don’t know if I actually love the library as much as I think I do, or if I just created a pavlovian response to it with bubble tea.
Your reward doesn’t have to be food, or cost money. Do you love watching YouTube? How about one video for every 15 minutes you complete? As long as you don’t end up in the YouTube rabbit hold obviously.
Another one that works for me is to print out a calendar, stick it to the corner of my desk (right in front of me) and cross of each day I draw with a big fat marker pen. There is something incredibly satisfying about marking of a completed task in a super visible and overt way. It’s not only be a reminder do the task, but also a reward for doing so.
5. MAKE IT EASY
If you find that you finally sit down to draw and then… nothing, poof, no ideas…. try making a ‘spark’ file.
I have a Pinterest board just filled with utterly random things I like, which is where you’ll find most of my sketchbook pages start with ( ref sketchbook tour on Patreon), and lately I have also been keeping a list in the front of my sketchbook of subject matter that I’m interesting in and warn-up drawing ideas. I also have a lot of art hanging in my home, and a wall in my work corner covered with my own and other random things, which can be a good starting point for me.
Also, if you still have no idea where to begin, just begin. Make some marks, random lines, circles, squiggles, doodles. It all counts.
It’s waaaay harder to not do something if someone else is checking in with you. This is the reason why I find live online classes (where you’re in a classroom) waaaay more beneficial than pre-recorded lessons like on SkillShare (which are still great, don’t get me wrong). Having teacher and classmates (or clients) that are expecting to see what I’ve made that week is more motivating than anything else for me.
Do you have a friend that wants to draw too? How about you set up a zoom call schedule and draw together. Or have a weekly or monthly check in with each others progress? You don’t even have to have the same goal for a weekly check in, someone wants to draw, and the other is learning how to juggle? That’ll work just fine.
Despite all the scheduling, planning, rewarding and hoping, you put into place, you will inevitable ‘mess up’ and miss a day. It’s normal, and it’s not ‘messing up’. We are not robots. Life never goes to plan. And that’s totally ok. Do NOT beat yourself up about it, that’s going to get you nowhere, move on and begin again when you can. And feel proud of yourself when you do.
Remember taking breaks is not only ok, they are ESSENTIAL. Your brain and body are precious things, be kind to them.
Thank you for being interested in what I do!
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