It was the first of January 2011 when I finished the day with a quick sketch, determined to do so daily for the rest of the year. Just a little experiment for the next 12 months. Now that I am nearing the 5th anniversary of daily sketches, I found it was time to stop for a moment and look back, over hundreds of drawings...
A Timeline Of Learning
I started without any big intentions or expectations. It was actually quite relieving to do something small, which does not have to lead to a project or be published later on. Soon it started feeling like my personal little diary without words.
Just after the first year, in late December, I sat down with a cup of tea, gathered all my drawings and had a good look back. Back over every single day of the whole year. Comparing the first weeks of awkward lines, with a lot more expressive lines later on. Seeing how my way of depicting things developed, but also on a personal level, what my daily life looked like over the course of a year.
It would be an understatement to say that I was swamped with positive feelings. When do you see the progress you made so clearly? In my case that gave more me than enough energy to carry on. Ah well, another year of sketching, why not? I was hooked...
I felt writing this post should be more than just me having a look back. There are many things I learned and mistakes I made, and I consider it more important to share my experience during the process rather than just sharing the sketches.
A part of me also wishes I could encourage some of you to try it as well. Despite the danger of pointing out the obvious here: this applies to everything. Write a short poem every day, do a headstand, solve a puzzle, or sing a song...just pick something you've wanted to learn for a while.
The brain remembers every time we do something and after a certain amount of repetition it'll form a habit. Habits are curious little things and even harder to get rid of than to build, but collecting useful habits certainly can do no harm.
I found that it helped me to think of my daily drawing like I think of brushing my teeth. That's something you just do every day, without giving it a lot of thought. It's part of a daily routine and you don't need to force yourself to do it (except maybe when you come home drunk after a long night out). But you would never give up brushing your teeth after a week because you were just too busy with everything else!
Keeping it simple
After the routine is there, it's all about keeping it simple. I fell into this trap during my fourth year, when I felt I needed to do more than just sketches. Make a proper drawing every day.
I was just learning Spanish at the time and decided to illustrate a word every day to make remembering easier. The first few weeks it was alright, I had recently moved to Argentina and was still a little bit in holiday mode, so taking time over drawings was a good balance. But it went on and some days it took me hours to make them. Not even half way through the year I felt burnt out and was about to give up the daily drawings completely. I actually did for a few weeks, but I couldn't last long without it either...
Making a crappy drawing
I guess part of my overdoing it was also due to the decision of publishing them straight away. Suddenly there was some kind of pressure that I didn't have before. Even though I thought I wouldn't let it influence me, it most certainly did. It's not easy to post crappy drawings online and yes, there will be a lot of crappy ones. They have to be there in a process of learning. But if you make a crappy drawing you make a crappy drawing. Tomorrow is another day...
I am not sure how I feel about publishing them in general, but I think it's important to keep in mind what difference it might make to your process. My solution was to only publish the ones I feel comfortable with and let the others just be there for me, telling me what to work on, or showing me that I just didn't have a good day.
This is kind of connected with keeping it simple, but I think it deserves it's own point. I tend to get lost in drawings when I am on to something I like and then suddenly three hours are gone without me even noticing. For the next year I am planning to set a timer and not allow myself to go over 30 minutes. I think this is going to be a really good experience...but I can tell you more about it in 12 months' time :)
Stop and look
I still think that if I hadn't sat down with a cup of tea in December 2011 to look back over the past year's drawings, I probably would have just stopped there. Moments like this right now are the ones that make me happy and proud. Clapping your own shoulder might be frowned upon, but really, it's important to collect the positive feeling of achievement. This feeling is the fuel you need to carry on for yet another year.
My first sketches were tiny and colourless. I was only about to explore what was actually coming out of me, so there was no place for playing with colours and details. Especially in the first year I often helped myself with stick-figures and entirely ignored hands and feet.
More and more the lines became forms and my figures grew proper arms and legs.
It took me all the way into the third year until I gingerly started playing with colours. Also the amount of detail grew a lot and I dared to go bigger than just thumbnail sketches.
Like mentioned above, this was the year I took it too far. I mean, I am really happy to have done all these drawings and it pushed my progress big time, but it also grew nearly into a part-time job...which is hard, when no one is paying you for it ;)
This year I slowed down a little and changed my approach. Instead of making a diary or a word out of my life, I just set myself to drawing a character or person. It helps to loosen the personal connection. Even though I think my mood will always be completely visible in my drawings, not forcing it was a liberating feeling. It was also the first year with a limited time frame of under one hour.
Possible Side Effects
One really nice side effect of doing this, apart from improving drawing skills of course, was collecting memories. You get a record of every single day in your life and I was surprised of how much I can still remember what I meant when I made the drawing. For most of them I can recollect what was happening that day and how I felt about it.
I have never been one for taking a lot of pictures, because it felt like spoiling moments and then I tended to forget both, the moment and the photo. With the drawings it is different. When there is a moment I want to remember I concentrate on feeling it as much as possible, so I can recollect it later on. As soon as I get time to sit down with a pen and paper I relive the moment and try to find the essence of it for the drawing. I think there is no better way to remember situations than that.
One more thing: you might be surprised by how much you learn about yourself and your peculiarities during the process. It's a great way of reflecting and I was able to spot how things influenced my moods and life. Funnily enough, I found out that certain picture-ideas seemed to be connected with certain emotions. I often had the impulse to draw something and then remembered that I already did so months ago, with the same trigger. This is one great way to find out unhealthy patterns in your life!
I also noticed that I tend to express emotions mostly through body posture or movement, which made me discover my fascination for body expression and eventually lead me to start contemporary dance - so you never know what a project like this might lead to ;)
I guess that was it, my 5th anniversary of daily sketches and I am already pretty excited about the next year to come. So many days to fill with drawings :)
Happy new year, ya'll! :D