Taking on too much as a creative challenge

Drawing of toolsThere are times when I bite off more than you can chew and then chew like mad. January I took on a number of drawing challenges while also doing Liz Steel’s Sketching Now class and the Sketchbook Skool BootKamp (yes that is the way they spell it). I quite deliberately went on overload – in fact I started to call the month overload January! All up I did 36 sketches in the month so allow me to share what I think I gained from the experience and why I went on overload.

Why I went on overload
I admit that the reason I did this, was a desperate attempt to kickstart a practice I have had trouble doing. For a long time I have wanted to establish the habit of regular drawing from life and I have found it difficult to do. I do manage to write a journal daily and regularly use a studio journal to capture design ideas and record what I am working on but doing a drawing from life has been a difficult habit to establish. When I was younger, I used to sketch and draw often. As digital technology became more and more part of my life the habit was broken. At first I did not really notice it as I was still working in my studio journal often from photos or doing collages and I my creative urges were perfectly satisfied by working with textiles. But in the last few years I have missed drawing from life. I have missed that feeling of pen on paper. Even more so, I have missed the close observation of life that comes with a habit of drawing.

What I did and what was my goal
I decided for one month to take on as many sketching challenges that caught my attention. I thought that if I took on too much and went on overload I would at least achieve the goal of drawing from life everyday.

How I did it
On Facebook there are a number of large sketching groups and they are simple to join and share work on. These groups are active with interesting chatter that revolves around the subject of art and drawing yet being a Facebook group the conversation is not hidebound or elitist. My “overload January“ coincided with many new year challenges so there was lots of community stimulation and chatter which makes any challenge more fun

drawing of a jacketI thought about timing
In Australia January is a holiday month. The children do not return to school until February and many families are on annual leave. So for me, with my husband on leave and the house in holiday mode it was a good time to do such a crazy thing, in other words the timing was good. For the whole month I did a sketch everyday.

What did I gain?
I learnt and gained a huge amount. After about day 3 or 4 I was no longer procrastinating as I started to establish the rhythm of including drawing in my daily life.

Within about 10 days I realised I could not aim perfection. I simply had to ditch the idea totally. I did not have time to dither about and agonise if something was good enough to show publicly. I learnt that there are good and bad days. All faffing about stopped and I learnt to simply turn the page and get on with the next sketch. This was also a blow to the destructive internal critic as it was a case of “shut up I am too busy to listen to you”. This attitude of  not listening was consolidated through the month. Dealing with an internal critic like this is not quite a habit yet but is definitely stronger than when I started.

I had stopped being so stressed and precious about every little sketch I made. Then, I did super crazy thing. One of the current Facebook memes is a 3 for 5 days challenge. The idea was to post 3 pieces of art work for 5 days but instead of posting previous work I decided to adapt it and post 3 sketches a day for 5 days. It was the best thing I did as it really pushed me to get on with it and consolidated everything I was learning. After that block of 5 days doing 3 drawings a day doing one felt easy!

Where things could have gone wrong
I think there are a number of points in the process where I could have stumbled or fallen. Sometimes when we set ourselves a particularly strenuous challenge it is easy to feel overwhelmed and do nothing at all. I think this happens particularly if the actual gaol for doing the challenge is not sorted in our minds. The reason I did it was to draw everyday and that is what I achieved.

It is easy to feel defeated by a challenge if you focus on what you have to do rather than what you have achieved. Early in the month for instance I decided I did not have time to doubt what I was doing and really had to give the internal critic the royal order of the boot. To be honest that is a huge achievement. I am not saying that I have no internal critic, everyone has one, but I was reminded that I control my internal dialogue rather than it controlling me.

The other reason I need to focus on what I have achieved- is that if I focus on simply keeping up the experience becomes a “to do” list. For me the minute something becomes a “to do” it can kill my creativity.

The advantage of going through this process in public by sharing it online in a blog is that I had tame the drive towards perfectionism. Every one wants to produce their best all the time but that can block producing anything at all! In publishing online I had get over myself, and stop taking every little mark so seriously. Going public like this  helped to disable the internal critic too.

So What is next?
First up I will not inflict a daily sketch on folks as I think although interesting for some a round up every few days is probably more suitable. It also means less time blogging!
This month I hope to do two things. The first is to turn some of what I draw into designs and patterns and share a little of that process.
I am going to meet the challenge of sketching daily but also as the Australian summer cools a little and we head into Autumn, I plan to get out of the house a bit and draw outdoors more.

Below are the sketches I did this month. Click on any of the thumbnails to see a larger version

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17 Responses to Taking on too much as a creative challenge

  1. Jo says:

    Fantastic effort Sharon and also a great idea to kick start the drawing with such a thorough immersion. I have a busy summer sewing for my daughter’s wedding but I will put this on the definite to do list for next summer.

  2. lin says:

    Putting all your sketches together like that makes a brilliant display – well done for keeping up with the challenge.xx

  3. Many congratulations on achieving your goal for daily sketching and more! It’s great the challenges came at such an appropriate time for you. I agree with so much of what you wrote about posting whatever, it has helped me tremendously knowing that prevaricating will not make me learn and how important the process, action and intent are. I will talk to you separately about why we feel so perfection/ result driven, cos that’s a whole other topic! Looking forward to continuing my sketching habit alongside you!

  4. I’ve read what you have written and I know about what you are talking. I’m am on the some courses you are and have no time at all. I draw almost everyday and sometimes when I’ve no time I just do a strolling line – like Paul Klee said, ” drawing is taken a line for a walk”. No compromises, just the goal to do it. The important is the process not the result. Assume the risks and have fun. For me the time I spend drawing is a moment of peace.

  5. Marianne Squire Maszer says:

    Great work, Sharon, I chuckled about your giving the Royal order of the boot to your destructive inner critic. But seriously, I am glad you did. My favorites of the month were the tools, they were really captured well and reminded me of my late Dad.
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Barbara M says:

    Well done!This has really worked for you and given us lots of eye candy into the bargain!
    Look forward to more of your sketches.
    Barbara M

  7. Nina says:

    My head was bobbing up and down in agreement with what you wrote so excellently. You were inside my head and coaching me on. I’m in the dead of winter on the other side of the world, but it’s exactly what I needed to hear at this particular time. Thank you. You encouraged me to go on, not to drop out and to be boss of my time and energy once again. I love sketching and was using it as a reward for when others things were done. No more. It is my priority…Thank you Sharon

  8. Andy Lloyd Williams says:

    The results of the sketching challenge and your discipline are quite amazing. Congratulations Sharon.

    • sharonb says:

      Andy they amazed me too if I am honest with myself. I thought it would take a lot longer to reclaim old skills – I still have lots to learn but it feels like I will do it.

  9. Leonie says:

    Hi Sharon, great to read your post. I was amazed at how productive I became while I was drawing on holiday last year. It was an organised tour so those magic words of our guide “you have XXX minutes of free time” became the catalyst for really getting that drawing down on the page.
    I’d also like to hear about Sketchbook Skool as I’ve also considered taking their courses.

    • sharonb says:

      Hi Leonie – I agree nothing like a bit of time pressure to push me- I will chat to you about Sketchbook Skool on Sunday when I see you.

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