Just Quit Quitting

imagination, resistance

There’s a part of every moderately ambitious drawing where I start to hate the process, and kind of hate everything else, too. In this case, I had sketched a couple of the branches, but there was so much more to do – so many painstaking details to figure out. I had second and third thoughts about finishing this piece at all.

I was on vacation doing nature drawing with my mom and my ten-year-old daughter, which was an interesting window into the artistic process. My mom recently retired from a library job, and one of her goals is to learn to draw and paint. She’s doing a good job, but she’s still in that stage where it’s hard to figure out why the thing isn’t working, let alone how to fix it.

I know she has good observational skills, because I remember drawing with her as a kid. You know those artists where you look at their work and just feel like maybe you should quit forever? When I was little, that was my mom. I would try her get her to draw all the people for me, because her people had noses and things. She told me if I just kept drawing them myself, eventually it would work better, and it turned out she was right – almost all my people have noses now.

My daughter is a little past this stage, but we went through the same thing in reverse. At ten, she’s really serious about her art and getting pretty confident. Things don’t always turn out the way she wants, but I’m constantly impressed by her process. She always asks me what I like best about her drawings, and what I might consider changing.

So our backgrounds are pretty different, but the funny thing was how we were all running into the same problem. All of us hit this point in our drawings where it was harder than we expected, and we weren’t sure how it was going to turn out – or if it was going to turn out, even.

For me, years into an illustration career, that moment hasn’t really gotten any easier. I guess the better I get at drawing, the bigger my expectation gets, too. I always imagine that I’m going to do things slightly better than I actually can.

The thing that has gotten easier is that now I know what I have to do when I slam into that block – I just have keep working, even if this thing is going to end up in the trash. Quit quitting. One branch after another.

Half an Idea

journaling, resistance


 

Maybe this is you: you want to draw (or write a story, any kind of creative thing, really) but you can’t get started because you have literally no ideas.

Or, that might sound totally crazy to you. You could start anywhere – and if you’re really struggling, you could always start with what’s right in front of you. In either case, talking to someone on the other side of this issue can feel a little surreal. Some people don’t understand this type of block at all, while others get paralyzed by it.

For what it’s worth, I’m in the get-completely-paralyzed camp. The best suggestion that I used to hear was to do the work anyway, and I promise I’ve tried that. If it works for you, great, but when I try it I tend to get pages and pages of uninspired doodling or notes about my grocery list. And that can be useful sometimes – I absolutely love doodling and freewriting on their own merits – but for me they don’t tend to lead directly to finished work.

So, I sit around waiting for lightning to strike, and occasionally it does.

Fully formed ideas interrupt my plans or even wake me up in the middle of the night. Something like this painting of the muses (cropped for detail above), which started with a feeling that maybe I should draw the muses as Greek statues in front of a rainbow wash of color. That’s what I expect an idea to feel like, and it’s exciting and I love it when it does – but it might only happen once or twice a year. In the meantime I get bored and frustrated and certainly don’t spend a lot of time developing my business and skills.

Recently, though, I got a tip that actually makes sense to me: watch out for half ideas.

You know, things that pass through your mind and grab your attention for no known reason, like a memory or a daydream, a bit of a night-time dream or even a sensation in your body. Even a quarter of an idea is better than nothing. They can be a bit hard to notice at first, and actually, this is a great thing to journal about because the more you practice watching for them, the more you’ll catch.

For me, most recently, it was a bit of color. I caught myself imagining a splash of bright pink ink, which reminded me that I’ve been curious about playing with spray inks. So I checked some out at the store, and there happened to be a pair of red and pink inks, which is a weird favorite pairing of mind. I was able to buy it, so that’s now on my desk, and next time I feel blocked I can pick it up and start with some experiments.

Of course, you don’t have to spend any money. I could have started with that half an idea and worked with a splash of watercolor, or even thrown some water at a marker sketch. Maybe my first experiments will turn into a finished piece, or maybe the shape of the blobs will inspire a drawing once I get over this initial resistance and actually engage in making something.

The magic of this process is that you have a place to start, but literally no idea where it might end up.

Love Spell Coloring Page

imagination


 

Do you remember coloring books? Maybe you like the fancy new ones?

Whether you’re a habitual colorer or not, you’re welcome to download this page, print it out and use it just for fun. I also designed it to work in a love spell, though – light some candles or incense (if you want) and play your favorite music, then let your imagination run wild while you color this page and see what happens! Suitable for all types of love.

Notes #1

notes


 

Here are a few artful, magical things I added to my sketchbook files this week:

★ These intricate pen and ink pages (pictured above) by Russian illustrator Elina Limkina (via Colossal)

★ The fact that hydrangea flowers act as a natural litmus test, turning pink or blue depending on the acidity of the soil. I’m pretty sure this requires more investigation!

★ This perfectly perfect tiny book by Erzebet Barthold: Four Spells to Bind the Fairies (via The Skeptical Occultist)

★ Some thoughts on habits vs goals from Farnam Street

★ A new book that I’m loving because it brings political organizing into a creative and spiritual framework, too: Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown

I guess it’s time to start a new page of notes. What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve seen or heard this week?

Popular and Unpopular Pots

journaling, resistance

Today I went to an art studio to pick up the pots from my first try at using a potting wheel. I took a class a couple of months ago, and I guess while I was waiting for them to be fired, I’ve had pots on my mind.

A couple of weeks ago, I made this drawing in my sketchbook. I was working on a drawing for a client today, and somebody I met at the studio was telling me about how much she wishes she could draw like that. I get that kind of a lot, and I hear that’s typical for folks who draw – but personally right now I wish I could make pots like this.

I know a secret, though. I saw what my drawings looked like when I started, so I know that if I can learn to draw really well, probably anybody can. Maybe we’re not all going to be DaVinci (actually, I’m pretty sure none of us are going to be DaVinci) but I really do believe that if you want to draw and you keep drawing, eventually you’re going to come up with something that you love.

Right now, I have to try hard to believe that the same applies to pottery. You don’t get to see my really unpopular pots because they didn’t make it to the drying stage, but here’s one with a very…creative…wobble. I almost threw it out, but in the end I kept it to experiment with glazes, and I’m actually pretty excited about how these tree branch stencils worked out. I definitely want to play around more with airbrushes, dripping glaze and making my own resists.

And then there’s this one, which I really do love, maybe because this glaze is the most amazing greyish purple in the world. Now I want to stay home drinking coffee out of it and drawing in my sketchbook, but I hope I don’t get too satisfied with one, because apparently I have a lot of ideas for interesting pots.

 

Blank Book Block

journaling, resistance

beautiful sketchbooks

 

The first page of a blank book is the hardest, and also sometimes the best.

In honor of that truth, I’m dedicating the first real post here to this subject: blank books, and what to do about them, especially if you (like me) have trouble getting started in the face of all that possibility.

First, the easy part: make sure you have a couple of books on hand.

This is kind of a good trick, actually. Convincing myself that I have a backup – that this is not the last blank book I will ever begin – definitely helps take the pressure off.

My most recent pair of blank books came from Michael’s. I usually like this sort of size (5 or 6 by 7 or 8 inches) because it’s big enough to do some real work in, but small enough to be cute and portable. Anyway, these books are nothing special, but if you’re close to a Michael’s they have a pretty good deal on two of these for four dollars.

Online, I like the look of these handmade notebooks, especially if you want to stockpile a few at a time or add your own art to the cover. Or, if you have a special project in mind and you want to throw money at things like bookmark ribbon and fancy latches, there are always Paperblanks (like the ones pictured above). Fair warning, though – these books are beautiful, but if anything that makes it harder to get started.

Whatever you choose, a plan is all very well, but sometimes you just have to get through that first page.

Sometimes I start with a fancy title, a table of contents (leave it blank at first, then add numbered entries as you work through the rest of the book) a quote or borrowed image for inspiration or if worse comes to worse just a doodle – it’s not perfect, but honestly, the rest of the pages aren’t going to be, either.

If you’re in a hurry to get started, you could always make your own book (I guarantee that this process will work with recycled cereal boxes, duct tape, and one-sided scrap paper, but admittedly that the one in this tutorial is a lot prettier.)

Honestly, though, my personal favorite is a three-ring binder.

What it lacks in aesthetic quality it makes up in versatility. You can usually slide a personalized cover page or decorative paper under the plastic, and in any case you’ve got complete editorial control over the contents. Lined paper? Blank? Pages cut from magazines or printed worksheets?

Plus, if you don’t like the way that first page turns out, you can always start over.