|9/20/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Asa-gao ink, Zig marker, Canson XL 140 lb. paper|
Three years ago today, I started drawing.
It’s become a personal tradition to write an introspective post on my drawing anniversary. I think it’s important to honor and celebrate something as important to me as sketching, especially since it was a part of me that lay dormant or repressed for most of my life. An anniversary is also a convenient annual retrospective of my progress and process.
Today I’m still thinking about the excellent, inspiring post I read a few days ago by Alex Zonis, a Chicago urban sketcher, about “talent” versus persistence, tenacity and 10,000 hours of practice. (If you haven’t yet, go read her post now.) Although I still have many (I’ve estimated 9,000) hours yet to go before I reach the 10,000 I need to consider myself sufficiently well-practiced, I identify strongly with everything Alex wrote.
Every now and then when I’m out sketching in public, someone will approach me, and the conversation goes something like this: “Oh, you’re so talented. . . I wish I could do that. I can’t draw a straight line.” I accept this comment as a compliment, since I know it was intended that way, but then I also always say, “It’s not talent. I only started doing this a few years ago, and before that, I couldn’t draw a straight line, either.” (At this point, they look at me with skepticism.) Then I say, “The only reason I can do this much now is because I’ve practiced nearly every day for the past three years. That’s all it takes – not talent.”
At this point, the person’s expression changes from skepticism to dismay, and I assume they are doubtful that they could do it themselves. But I also think they are disappointed that I wasn’t born with this “talent,” because it means they can’t let themselves off the hook – “I wasn’t born that way, so I could never do that.” If what I just told them is true, it means they could draw, too – but they’d have to practice, and they don’t want to hear that part.
My very first post on this blog was about the topic of regular practice, and it’s something I think about a lot. When I consider all the times prior to three years ago that I started learning to draw, and then eventually quit, I’m not sure what all the factors were that led to quitting, but I know that at least one of them was that I got bored with the subject matter I practiced with. Whenever I took a drawing class, the subject matter was inevitably something suited to classroom studio teaching, such as still lifes or piles of cubes and spheres. Drawing books were the same. While I accepted that basic drawing principles are easiest to teach when using readily controlled subjects as these, and while I also knew that something of value can be found in anything I might draw, I could not get past the fact that these subjects did not resonate with me. I was well-intentioned – I didn’t mind working hard and practicing; I knew that to improve at anything requires practice – but I didn’t have the discipline to keep doing something that bored me.
It wasn’t until I discovered urban sketching that I finally, finally, found subject matter that resonated meaningfully. I no longer felt like I “had to” practice; I felt compelled to. “Practice drawing” wasn’t something I checked off my to-do list; it was something I couldn’t wait to get out the door to do.
So this post today on my third anniversary isn’t about the virtues of urban sketching versus still lifes. It’s not a lecture about how you should draw more often. And it’s not even a list of suggestions for making regular practice easier.
All I have to say is that if you want to get good at something and you don’t want to quit before your 10,000 hours are up, look for subject matter that resonates with you. After that, you will not feel forced to practice – you will feel compelled. And the 10,000 hours will take care of themselves.