Last month I challenged myself to draw 30 sketches of Edmonton (my home city) in 30 days, and I invited people to join me in the challenge. The goals were to create new perspectives of the city and to create a consistent creative practice while breaking down creative barriers. It was hard! Though I didn’t make it to 30 and there were some days when the last thing I wanted to do was sketch, I learned a lot. I’ve decided to share some of the photos and a bit of my creative journey throughout the month. You can see all my sketches and those that other people sent in on the project blog at sketchesofyeg.tumblr.com.
The first sketches I did felt liberating and exciting. The idea came out of a desire to be creative every day, and to encourage others to be creative, and at first I felt like this project was really going to help. I was bringing my sketchbook everywhere, finding inspiration in unlikely places, and even pushing myself to draw while I was with people.
And then something happened. I started to judge my sketches more harshly. I started to feel embarrassed when the sketches I was posting weren’t perfectly accurate and polished and I was frustrated that they didn’t look the way I thought they should. Soon I saw my daily drawing as a chore, rather than a fun way to inject creativity in my day.
What went wrong?
I forgot to let the project be fun. I started to feel like I was in art class again and was worried about getting a bad grade (the reason I didn’t do a major in Art, or a BFA, was that I was worried the schooling would make me hate making things – I think it was the right choice). Even though I had invented the project and I had stated that the goals were not to create perfect replicas of things I saw (that’s what photographs are for), I was feeling responsible to some sort of invisible judge and it was defeating the whole purpose. Once I realized what was happening, I worked on trying to let that judgment go and enjoy the last week of sketching.
Here’s what I learned throughout the month:
1. Take the pressure off. Yes I had made a commitment to sketch every day, but I hadn’t made a commitment to make flawless works of art every day. No one was going to give me a grade. No one expected it to look like a photograph. Looking at the Urban Sketchers website was a huge help as it showed me that even “really good” artists don’t get perspective right every time, don’t draw straight lines, and use squiggly lines to represent trees and people.
2. Slow down. When I was in a hurry to get a sketch done I was never happy with the result. If I spent time really looking at my subject and carefully figuring out how that would translate to the page, the compositions would work out much better. This made the experience more enjoyable in general since I found myself really looking at things I might have only glanced at in passing.
3. Speed up. Conversely, I tried not to be too fussy. I’ve read that it’s better to sketch quickly, without trying to get every line in exactly the right place. Once I had a general idea of how the image would fit on the page, I tried to work quickly so that my negative inner monologue wouldn’t have time to catch up. I also tried to look more at what I was sketching than at my paper.
4. Other people are so impressed by the fact that you’re drawing in public that they won’t think to criticize you. There were times when I felt so self-conscious about having people see what I was sketching. But I’ve never had anyone tell me it wasn’t good and I needed to focus more on that. I finished a sketch while sitting with some friends and one of them said, “I’m amazed that you did that. I was just sitting here talking and you whipped that out. I couldn’t do that.”
When the challenge ended I was relieved that I didn’t need to sketch every day. But now I almost wish I had extended the challenge so that I could work through the struggle and find joy in it again. A friend told me that whenever we do something that’s really important to us, there will be times that we hate it and times that we love it and we just have to keep working through the ups and the downs and doing the work that matters most to us. I still carry a sketchbook around, looking for inspiration and ideas, though I definitely feel less motivated without the daily deadlines!
Are there areas of your creative life that are important to you but somehow still really hard to get done?