A sketch a day, everyday for a month: What I’ve learned so far
A Sketch a Day, Everyday: What I’ve Learned So Far
Art is never the result of what you set out to do.
At the beginning of the year, my friend Mindy convinced me to do a sketch a day with her. She lives in Richmond and I live in Portland and so everyday we trade photos of our sketches of the day.
So far I’ve sketched my hand, a dying plant ( which I watered), various cafes where I write, various faces of cafe goers ( surreptitiously) , a bagel before I ate it, a stapler, a computer tower, in my office, among other things. Sometimes I only have ten minutes, so I do what I can quickly, before I have to go teach a class.
I have learned an enormous amount in the last month of doing this seemingly small thing everyday, and most of it as it turns out, is about much more than drawing.
Here are a few of the insights I’ve gleaned in the last month:
- It’s about your inner game
I have no formal art training and so everyday, I confront my feelings of incompetence and perfectionism. For much of my life, these feelings have stopped me from doing things I have longed to do, and prevented me from even learning the skills involved.
Whenever I am able to get over myself, and do something, no matter how terrible it is, it is better than nothing. Done is better than perfect. Something, even a bad something is better than nothing.
2. You are not the best judge of your own work
. Not only because most of us are super-critical of our own work, part of learning how to do something is learning what to look for and appreciate. It takes time and experience to know what to value in your own work. A lot of times you think something is terrible and a day or two later you go back and look at it and realize its better than you thought it was, and putting judgements of good, bad, better aside, it’s interesting. There are things to learn from what you did that are valuable and teach you, not only about how to do things “better” in the future, but also about the particular way you see the world.
3. Company helps. In fact it’s essential to learning something new
It is incredibly helpful to have a creative partner, and an encouraging audience for your efforts as they are developing. You’ve seen kids at the playground at the top of the slide calling to one of their parents to witness them, as they go down the slide. “Hey Mom! Look! Look at me!” Part of the pleasure of learning is having a witness and one who cheers you on. As adults, and as artists, we often only show creative projects when they are “good enough,” or near completion. But in order to break new ground, to take creative risks, we must risk feeling and being not good at something, sometimes for a very long time. When you have a creative partner who is there to encourage and keep you going and discuss the process, then it stops being scary and starts being a creative adventure, a new way to play. Being witnessed and cheered on in this early stage of learning how to do something new has allowed me to un-learn perfectionism and enjoy the downs as well as the ups of the process because I’m not doing it alone.
4. Showing up is the practice
I find most days I am impatient, in a hurry to get it done and this impatience makes it hard to pay attention to what is before me. Drawing in this sense, is a meditative practice. You don’t ever do it perfectly, and that’s not the point. The point is to show up and notice how you are showing up.
5. Paying close attention is an act of Love
Learning to draw is a practice of learning to actually see what you are looking at. We all have preconceptions about what tables and trees and people should look like. Our mental preconceptions or prejudices get in the way of seeing what is before us accurately and recognizing it’s specificity. No one table or person looks like the stereotype we impose on reality. We have learned categories that help us to easily identify and know what to do with the world we see, but a lot of times those very categories filter and replace our ability to see clearly.
Drawing a sketch a day has me thinking about love, and how we see our filters or our stereotypes and impose them on things, as well as on people. Perhaps love is a form of close attention, a willingness to recognize that our understanding of the other, the one whom we love, ( as well as those we dislike) is partial, made from projecting our needs and desires and imaginings. At the same time we have a desire to see past these preconceptions, to attempt to see clearly and with appreciation the person who is actually before us.
In my experience, art is never about what I intend to do. It’s about the things I learn and the ways I am changed in my attempt to get closer, in some imperfect way, to the reality before me.