Saturday, December 31, 2016

Drawing Daily: End-of-Year Musings

12/29/16 brush pen, colored pencils, ink
Three years ago when I made the commitment to sketch every day, I had hoped that developing a daily drawing habit would improve my skills, and I think that’s been true over the long haul. Some days I still make sketches that look like I’ve set myself back a couple of years, but then the next day I’m back at my usual place. I’ve been at this sketching thing for more than five years, and I’m progressing at a much slower rate now than I used to. It’s not as exciting as it used to be when I saw regular improvement, which is such a built-in reward. On the other hand, I’m more motivated than ever to keep going because I know I’ve come so far since I began.

12/28/16 brush pen, white colored pencil
I’ve accepted that it’s inevitable to see the most rapid improvements in the beginning, and after that the changes are more gradual and incremental. I’m no longer afraid that I will hit the dreaded plateau of never seeing any improvements ever again. I believe that as long as I continue to make conscious efforts to actively learn from my practice, I will continue to grow, even if growth is not always visible day to day.

Mind you, sketching daily doesn’t make sketching easier. Every sketch has its own challenges, and I’ve never actually made a sketch I could say was “easy.” But with practice it takes less mental muddling and confusion to figure out how to approach a sketch, so at least that part feels less daunting.

Whenever I set out to sketch, I enjoy the whole process: choosing the subject matter, composing the scene, deciding which materials and tools to use, and finally completing the sketch. But one thing that is hardly ever part of my process is getting inspired. (I admit I’m inspired quite a bit when I travel, but at home in familiar territory, it’s much harder.) As you can see from the examples here, nothing is inherently inspiring about a shallot, recycle bins or a lamp post (I was waiting for Greg to return from the men’s room at the mall when I made the latter – my “inspiration” was five minutes to kill). Nothing is special about the subject matter of most of my sketches – yet the act of sketching makes it special to me in that moment. It’s as if the inspiration is retroactive.

12/28/16 colored pencils
Sometimes I hear other sketchers (or would-be sketchers) say that they want to draw, but actually sitting down or going out to do it – making the choice to do it – is the difficult part. There are always other things more urgent in our lives that we are obligated to get on with. Conversely, there are always less important things that call to us more seductively. (Maybe I’ll draw now. . . hey, someone just commented on my Facebook post! I’ll take a quick peek. . . ) And I’m sure that the longer it’s been since the last sketch, the harder it is to make the next one.

Over time, I’ve come to learn that while drawing every day has benefits in terms of generally improving my skills, the far more valuable benefit is this: Every sketch I make makes it easier to make the next sketch. Today’s sketch always makes it easier to make tomorrow’s sketch. And that’s as good a reason as any to sketch every day.

Happy sketching to all of us in 2017!


  1. Excellent post. You've given me several things to ponder. That bit about the hardest part for some is getting started on a sketch hits close to home. In a heartbeat I can be out the door to sketch. No problems there. But I'm really struggling to sit down and draw from my imagination or from a photo. Just can't do it. The few times I've done it I've enjoyed the process but it's that sitting down with nothing to discover that is the barrier. I don't know how people get excited about drawing someone else's view of the universe.

    1. I'm with you on that -- very hard to sketch from a photo, even my own (worse, actually, since I'm not a good photographer!). I've gotten over my resistance to still lifes, though, which used to seem so boring to me. Not the same as discovering something outdoors, of course, but rendering any 3-dimensional form in 2 dimensions is still a major challenge for me, whether it's a landscape, a building, a person or a pear. So it's all good practice. Happy New Year, Larry! Of all people, I know you will be sketching in 2017 and beyond! :-)

  2. Happy New Year, Tina! I find when I don't sketch one day it makes it easier to make an excuse the next I really try hard not to miss a day. Yes, after a while you don't notice the improvements in your own work so easily. The big changes have already happened, but looking back over a span of time you do notice a change. Here's to lots of inspiration and sketching time in 2017! Maybe this will be the year we can meet in person. I'm hoping to get to the symposium this year...keeping my fingers crossed. Happy sketching!

    1. Joan, your daily sketching and painting are an inspiration to me! I'm crossing my fingers that this will be the year that we meet, too! In the meantime, here's to a fresh year of daily sketching!

  3. I would love to sit down and have a long conversation and sketching session with you one day. We missed each other in Barcelona and finally got to say hello in Manchester. Unfortunately I am not going to Chicago.

    It is so interesting to hear where other people's challenges and areas of ease are. I have been sketching daily for almost none years. I can see that in some methods (quick sketching, urban sketching, buildings) I have improved and become so much more confident (although there is still so much room for improvement). I am more confident in the composition of my page - there is still room for improvement but I am happy with what I do. I think I realised very early that watercolour pencil were my medium and I just love to use them.
    never need to look for inspiration, drawing from photos is ok, but drawing from my imagination is challenging! It is really interesting to hear your thought as you seem so confident with everything !

    1. I'd love to have that sit-down with you someday, Alissa! You're one of my urban sketching heroes! Oh, I'm not sure I'm confident with everything, but I'm happy that my sketches might look like I am! :-) Happy New Year, Alissa!


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