This is one of the most common things that my students ask me. I don’t know if it’s because of the constant capitalistic pressure of being productive regardless of the context or purpose, or because we forgot how to enjoy something without hyper performing it. Whatever the reason, if people want to draw more, I’m here to be supportive and offer some tips and tricks for it.
The important thing to keep in mind is that drawing is a motor skill, like dancing or playing an instrument, so the concept of daily practice applies quite well to the goal of advancing our skills and moving along the learning curve.
Daily habits are a tricky thing though: there are things we do automatically (making tea for breakfast, opening the window after getting out of bed, brushing teeth…) and things we may struggle more with (throwing out the trash, working out…). So the first thing to understand is the difference between what already is a daily habit for us and what is not.
Usually we can categorize habits through these parameters:
- Duty vs Pleasure balance: there are some things that I do because I know I should (for my own good) and I manage to do them daily either because they became part of my routine when I was little (education), or because the guilt I feel not doing them is bigger than my resistance towards them.
- Time frame: it’s easier to be consistent doing something that requires five minutes rather than one hour.
- Failure and dopamine: make it impossible for yourself to fail. If my standard for daily workout were “If I’m not getting out of the house and going to the gym to bench press my bodyweight, then it doesn’t count”, it would be harder for me to get that nice dopamine high of a job done every day. Especially at the beginning, choose the simplest thing possible.
Keeping this in mind, we can make a plan to build our daily drawing habit.
Find pleasure in practice: humans are less masochist than they want to believe. If everytime we’re sitting down to draw we find that the whole experience is unpleasant, it will be harder to find the will and the energy to repeat it. And what can make drawing unpleasant? Complicated setups, not having a defined space/location, aggressive inner critic/monologue. We should make it as easy as possible. Some solutions that worked for me during the years are:
- Keep a sketchbook on your nightstand and draw either last thing before going to bed or first thing when you wake up, before getting up and having breakfast.
- Keep the pen and the references you’ll want to use (if you’re not drawing from life) ready with the sketchbook.
- If your inner critic voice is especially strong, work on mental exercises to keep it in check. There is a very nice book on this topic that might help, “Mindfulness and the art of drawing”.
Start small: Not everybody can be Ling Ling 40 hours. Start with 5/10 minutes practice per day, max. Then you can build upon it. Even better, attach your drawing practice to something you are already doing everyday. For me, drawing when I wake up, before breakfast, is the best motivation (I’m one of those people who wakes up STARVING). Using breakfast time or lunch breaks are very common solutions as well, or commute time. If you already have a regular evening routine, you could also find something there, like drawing while sipping you herbal tea.
Don’t sabotage yourself. Make it impossible for yourself to fail. My rule is: Drawing every day literally means “Opening my sketchbook and making any sort of mark on a blank page every day.” Notice that there is no reference to the subject or the quality of the outcome. You need to be able to tell yourself: “I did something everyday, I was able to be consistent.”
This is useful in building up the ability to be consistent, as a foundation for your next steps. You can, then, use that “space” to refine the purpose and shape of your practice. But first, you need to open that sketchbook every day.
For this reason, my suggestion for those who are starting to develop their daily drawing habit is to spend at least one month just doing blind contour drawing. One blind contour drawing every day. It doesn’t take more than 5 minutes, and it’s not supposed to look good. It’s good practice for your observational skills, the quality improvement of your contour line, and also a nice way to disengage that damn inner critic (there is nothing to judge or compare).
I wish you all good luck with your drawing practice, and remember to be kind with yourself. Drawing should be a pleasure and not yet another performance, especially when you are doing it in your free time.
If you want to have accountability buddies outside of social media, I created a telegram private group chat where people are supporting each other in their practice and where I share thoughts and practices I don’t share elsewhere.