Tapping into your inner artist is a journey, especially if you’ve never given yourself space or opportunity to do so. On my personal creative odyssey, I’ve learned that only about 15% of the process is raw talent and the remaining 85% is a combination of other, more personally-driven factors, such as inspiration, determination, and the ability to get out of one’s own way.
This Spring we wrapped up, Up Close & Personal: The Art of the Sketched Portrait, a four-session visual art series on the fundamentals of drawing realistic human portraits. And, as I ruminate on the afterthoughts inspired by this class, I’ve compiled three non-technical revelations I had that can be applied to your everyday life.
1) Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes (aka the eraser is your friend)
During our first class, we were led through a drawing exercise introducing us to the overall composition and proportions of the human face. We started with a simple shape and added layers until all the facial features (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, etc.) were accounted for. Once completed, my classmates marveled in their day one finished product. I, on the other hand, spent a majority of the first class drawing the initial circle and walked away with considerably less than the other students. As a recovering perfectionist, I couldn’t just draw any run of the mill circle. No, it had to be the best circle mankind has ever seen with an impeccably smooth line and a seamless connection. My classmates had picked up on the suggested process, gained momentum and were sliding into proverbial home base and here I was stuck at home plate. If I wanted to improve, I had to come up with a plan to get past this self-imposed block.
So, I learned to draw with a light hand and embrace my eraser. First, with a feather-like touch, I let the pencil glide over the page, making the motion of the shape I’d like to draw and repeating that motion over and over again until I saw the desired shape, then I applied more pressure with the pencil. Second, take a step back, assess your work, keep the lines you like and erase the lines that you don’t. If all else fails, turn the page and try again.
Perfection slows you down! In art, as in life, the goal isn’t to create flawlessly, its to create authentically and communicate your unique point of view to the world. So, when attempting new adventures, especially those you are unsure of, it’s okay to tread lightly to start, continue working at it, retain the elements you favor, discard the ones you don't, find your stride and then dig in. And again, if all else fails, turn the page and try again.
2) Everything Is a Work In Progress
I’ll be honest, your first attempt at drawing might look a bit … rough. Just like learning to walk, talk and drive, improvement requires patience and consistent effort. Even the pros have to make more than one version of a piece of art before arriving at the final product. To demonstrate this our instructor, David, would start each class by sharing early sketches drawn by famous artists to show us that creation is a process requiring numerous drafts.
The same principle applies to the creative novice. If I sketch 100 sets of lips, for instance, I can say with confidence that the 100th version will look drastically different than the first. With art, you get what you give; the more time and energy you dedicate to the practice the more your skills will advance. If you keep working at it chances are greater you will eventually reach your desired goal. Try different angles, paper textures, tools and techniques until you find your groove and hit the mark.
But, how will you get to the 100th version if you never start the 1st? Saying, “drawing isn’t my thing” or “I’m not good at that” as the rationale for why you haven’t tried something becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making these statements you talk yourself out of seeing what the possibilities are. Nothing fuels my soul like having students surprise themselves, declaring, “look what I did!” and “I never imagined I could do that!” Even if drawing turns out not to be your particular cup of tea, taking the action of attempting something that was previously inconceivable sends a message that permeates through your being and proclaims, “I cannot be inhibited, I am an evolution, I am a work in progress, my potential is limitless.”
3) The Best Way To Get Over A Bad Habit is to Replace It With a Better One
The other day, I found myself slipping into a technology vortex of mindlessly scrolling through a never-ending social media feed. In the past, I would’ve succumbed to the temptation and let hours slip by, living vicariously through the adventures of others. Instead, this time I turned off the phone, turned on some good music, pulled out my sketch pad and started drawing. I worked on practicing some basic forms I learned in class, gradually adding details and features until I was satisfied with the night’s development. In doing so I realized that I didn’t miss the screens a single bit in the process.
Sometimes, the reason attempts to undo bad habits fail is because we focus all our attention on not doing the undesirable activity. So much so, that the bad habit remains central in our thoughts instead of rerouting our focus to a better alternative. We end up depriving ourselves and thinking about the bad habit just as much as when we indulged in it. But, now that I have a budding art practice in the works, my thoughts are occupied by something more fun and rewarding and as a result, the allure of social media distractions has lost its luster.
Are you ready to start your creative journey? Check out the 3rd Wind Network website to see what classes are coming up at www.3rdwindnetwork.com and while you're at it, subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date on future classes and events.