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50 day drawing project: 5 top things I learned

I've just finished a 50 day drawing challenge and I thought it would be a good way to get this blog up and running again.

The idea was a simple one: draw every day for 50 days. I am happy to say I managed it - even the one day where I very nearly forgot to draw! Here I'm going to share the top 5 things I learned. Not only because 5 is a nice number, but because I hope it'll stop me rambling too much.

1. Confidence comes with practice

I decided to do this 50 day project, even though I wasn't feeling very confident at the beginning. In fact, it was because I needed to gain more confidence that I thought it would be a good idea in the first place. I had got out of the habit of drawings regularly from life and needed to get back to it.

Ah, confidence, that thing we're all looking for. I've said it before and I'll say it again - not doing something because we're not confident yet might mean we never do it. And that would be a shame. I need to remind myself of this a lot.

This is my first drawing for the project. I remember feeling really stiff and stuck doing it at first, but it was the first small step towards something bigger. It was practice.

Confidence coming with practice isn't rocket science - the more we do something, the easier it becomes. Generally. But if you're like me, you might hate anything that doesn't come easily to you. This is really silly because how can you expect to be good at something you've never done before? Sometimes this happens and it feels great, but shouldn't be a rule of thumb. Confidence drawing, like fluency in an instrument or new language, comes with practice. So it was in the name of practice, of doing a drawing every day to gain confidence, that I started this project.

By day 50, I was so much bolder and less-fussed about what I was doing. It's because I had all those other drawings behind me.

2. Trying for 'perfect' doesn't work

Even when you've got to the point of confidence, perfectionism can creep in and really cause havoc. If I go out with my sketchbook thinking "today's the day I'm going to do that perfect drawing", chances are it won't be. Why is this? Well, I think it's because perfectionism is creativity's kryptonite.

The more I try to attain 'perfectionism' the less likely I am to get there. The more I let it take over when I'm drawing, the more in my head I get, and the more in my head I get when I'm trying to make something, the tighter, stricter and more anxious I become.

It's also worth saying I don't think perfect is a helpful thing to strive for anyway. What I learned doing this 50 day drawing challenge was that the first and most important thing is to make the work. Afterwards, you can worry about how it turned out - but it'll be done, there'll be something solid to reflect on. If I don't do the work, I'll still be worring about outcomes, but I won't have anything to show for it. I won't have any "I just tried this and thought let's see". And that's how perfectionism can be paralysing. It can stop you even trying.

Practically, my avoidance of perfectionism looks like packing a mix of non-perfect materials. On purpose, I don't normally bring a full colour palette with me - this leads to lots more exciting and experimental colour decisions than if I have an overwhelming 160 set of pencils in my bag.

Also, I try to avoid perfect settings or views to draw. This is something I found really hard when I was starting to draw more from life. I'd worry over a setting not being 'right' to draw - not pretty enough, not interesting enough - whatever excuse you can think of, I made it. But really this was just me avoiding sitting down to make the work. Now, I try and just sit (or stand) somewhere on impulse rather than overthinking it. If I see something that catches my eye I think right, this is it then, and get set up. And if I don't really feel inspired, I might sit down anyway and just make the work.

This drawing is a great example:

I thought this was a really ugly view, but I was so tired from recovering from Covid I just sat down anyway. And it turned out to be a great thing to draw! I had really misjudged it. Also I had a pink page, instantly making the drawing more fun for me. It's not perfect, but that's ok because I don't care about perfect so much anymore.

3. Being creative every day makes me feel like myself

At the start of 2022, I had a really busy period at my day job (Marketing Manager for a very corporate business). This meant I neglected art and became, unsurprisingly, quite grumpy. I am a patron of Ella Beech's Patreon (which I highly recommend) and Ella started a 50 day project a couple of weeks before me. I was complaining about feeling too compromised by my day job during one of our sessions and then I thought hang on, I could do a 50 day project too. So I did!

Me drawing on location as part of my 50 day project.

Even in the midst of a long day, carving out a bit more time for making art made me feel more like myself. It made me feel more 'on track' with my life - something I haven't really felt for a few years since I went full time at work during the pandemic. I felt more connected to the bit of me that makes art for fun, or 'just because'. A part that when art was designated only to the scraps of time I felt I had, became similarly stressed out and focused on outcomes.

I did this drawing in a 15 minute tube journey, breaking up my busy day.

One of the most important things I did as part of the project was give myself freedom to explore and play. I think doing something different and taking a break from your routine is really important. I wasn't setting out to achieve anything much other than completing a drawing each day for 50 days. That in itself felt like a big goal. And it led me back towards being clearer on what kind of work I want to make, being more inspired, and feeling closer to the inner artist part of myself that I'd left a bit in the shadows.

4. I had more free time than I thought

It was hard at first to find time to draw. I was worried the project was another example of me taking on far too many things, overstretching myself in trying to get everything done. I panicked about having enough time to draw, and ended up spending a few early evenings manically fighting the setting sun.

But as I persevered, I came to realise that actually I did have time - if I made it a priority. Now, I'm in danger here of sounding like Mollie May and her ridiculous 'we all have the same 24 hours'. We don't, and I'm not suggesting that. But talking from my experience, I found that there were a few things that helped:

  • Always having a sketchbook and pen in my bag - so even on the busiest days, I could draw for 5 minutes when I remembered.

  • Going to things early ir extending them - a few times when I knew I had something in my diary, I'd add on 30 mins before or after for a drawing. This helped, because I'd already made time in my schedule - I just had to extend it a bit. This is against my norm of cutting timings very fine!! But it helped.

  • Realising it was up to me. Sounds silly really, but reminding myself I do have control over what I do and what I don't do helped me find more time.

  • Remembering my above point on perfectionism and learning that it doesn't have to take a long time to make something.

5. Setting myself some themes gave me purpose

I stand by what I've said about giving myself time to play and explore being very important in this project. That was the main aim as it were. But I realied 50 days is a long time! By day 12 or so, I felt a bit aimless, like I wasn't really sure what I was trying to find.

So I set myself some themes to explore. They were:

  • I had already decided that for this project I wanted to draw from life - this felt like the easiest for me to be honest. I am more practiced at this kind of drawing, and I think of it as the 'melting pot' for my other work. More on this in this blog.

  • I felt unconfident with paint, so I made myself use paint. Simple, right? I started to bring a simple paint pot with me during the second half of the project, and this injected another learning and aspect of exploration for me.

  • I wanted to explore colour. I did some drawings in Brixton market that I liked, and I had laid colour down on these sketchbook pages before going out. I decided to repeat this with some of my 50 days pages. And it really helped me loosen up. I think there's something about having colour already down that makes me bolder with my colour choices.

Now, this is all just for me. You might find that you don't want to complicate things with setting mini themes within the project. But I felt it gave me more of a clear journey, and that I'll be able to take some of these things I've learned back into my drawing from imagination work.

I made this piece in the final days of my 50 day project, and consciously aimed to make it in a similar way to my observational drawing.

I looked back through my sketchbook and picked out things I'd done that I felt worked or that I'd enjoyed. I've been looking to develop more of a link between my sketchbook and my imaginary work, and this really helped.

I'm going to keep going with this, feeding my 50 days work back into my imaginary work. And I'll be back to tell you how I get on.

Until then, stay well and keep going.

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