Sketching as a Daily Practice

close up of a drawing pen on a sketchbook

I’ve been looking at my wall of shame (the numerous, unfinished, large oil paintings I have hanging on my studio wall), and it’s been my intention to finish them this year. But maybe that intention is just too rigid. Because finishing those pieces is actually an outcome of something larger — me returning to my art, getting to a place where I feel I can finish those paintings.

I have approached art so infrequently over the last six months. I tried setting a night a week to work on my paintings, but because it was just one night a week, it became a sort of momentous occasion. There was too much at stake. I was racked with anxiety at the thought that I wouldn’t make enough progress, that what I did wouldn’t be good enough, and I would end the night feeling no better than if I hadn’t spent the night painting at all.

And then I started thinking about doing art as a daily practice.

I journal every single day. It’s habit. Some days I write pages and pages before I’ve finished my second morning coffee, others I might just manage a simple log of the day. It’s a long time since I sat at my journal and wondered what to write. It’s a part of me because of the daily attention I give it. But the key with my journal is that when I started out, I was a complete beginner. I didn’t write with the intent of creating a good journal entry, I did it for the process.

And I think that’s where I’ve slipped up with my art — I’ve lost the beginner’s mindset.

Art was with me through most of my childhood until I left secondary school. Then there was extremely sporadic dabbling over the following 15 years up until last year when I had a sustained period of producing and selling art. Whatever caused me to burn out last year

So I’ve resolved to forget about the end result, and instead concentrate on the process. This has started with daily sketching — pick a photo and sketch it. Not happy with the result? I’ll draw it again today or tomorrow. I’ll work with lines and shading. I’ll play with colours. I’ll try anything just to engage with the process. If I simply make marks on a blank page, then I’ll consider the day a success. Because every time I engage with my art, I’m building the familiarity, gaining experience, learning from mistakes, and ultimately building a habit.

An anecdote in Art & Fear explains it well:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Art & FEAR by david bayles & TED Orland

I can so relate to this. I’m guilty of this stalling for perfectionism. I’ve spent too long wondering why I can’t do it, rather than just doing it. If I have to start back at the beginning, I will, and maybe some day soon, I’ll be back to where I was — hopefully better.

Published by Chris

Landscape artist Chris Richards lives on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in the village of Ystradgynlais. Chris works mainly in oils, but also dabbles with acrylics, ink pens, watercolours, and soft pastels.

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