WHAT ‘S A SURE FIRE WAY TO IMPROVE ON A SKILL?
You know it, there’s just no getting around it – practice!
Unfortunately there are no ‘become-a-master-painter, illustrator *insert desired skill here*-quick’ schemes available to humans. At least not ones that actually work!
Nope – for the person who truly wishes to improve their artistic abilities – the only way is through.
Not over, under or around the side.
Dedication to the craft is what creates results. You gotta show up, every day, come rain or sun, on days you just don’t *feel* like it, on days you’d rather sleep in, days when you just want to give up – on, well… everything! No matter what type of day – you gotta show up and look your sketchbook / easel / canvas square in the face. 👁️U👁️
The problem is that this seemingly simple idea of showing up every day is rather, well… difficult to do.
So difficult that I have in the past, been incapable of sticking to it! I draw, paint and sketch on a regular basis, but find setting a regular schedule and sticking to it every day a real challenge. It occurred to me recently that I if I want to improve, I should build the habit of doodle warm-ups into my daily morning routine. As I’ve already built up a routine doing other tasks like reading and journalling every morning, I thought I’d try to add the doodle warm ups as a type of ‘bolt-on’ to this routine.
I thought it would be nice to share with you how my morning routine has looked over the past few days with the incorporation of the sketch add-on:
- Wake up – normally around 7am
- Make a strong black coffee
- Sit down at my desk with said coffee (mmmm….)
- Switch on the essential oil diffuser (I currently have the Mystic Moments Baby Powder Fragrance in there – sooo lush)
- Put on one of my favourite instrumental playlists on Youtube like this one
- Grab my spiral bound sketchbook and Stabilo Pen 68
- Sketch for 30 mins using reference photos. Sometimes I participate in draw this in your style challenges or just look around the room I’m in for doodley inspiration.
- Read 30 mins of a good book – (I only read non-fiction as an adult though I loved anything Marian Keyes when I was a teen!) I’m currently reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
- At this point I re-read my goals, set intentions and write in my journal to plan my priorities for the day. These normally include home learning activities with my daughter like science experiments, maths, using Purple Mash, Khan Academy or IXL, life skills like teaching her how to cook as well as chores and of course art – lots and lots of art! We love using Skillshare or the Art For Kids Hub lessons. On the work side of things, my to do’s range from writing blog posts and editing my website to creating more artwork to add to my Etsy shop, planning, researching, sketching ideas out for my children’s book project and more.
I really enjoy drawing animals, landscapes, flowers, people (though I struggle with body proportions so much 😩 !) As well as interior designs and personal home decor accounts. I follow loads of travel accounts too as I adore spotting a lush green mountainous landscape to doodle. It’s like I’m transported there whilst drawing without ever having to leave the comfort of my chair. Perfect lockdown activity! 🙂
Here are some of my morning doodle’s to give you a better idea of the types of subjects I draw and the loose style I prefer to work in.
I’ve gone ahead and detailed a few tips that I’ve found useful in getting started with a regular warm up routine. You might find them useful too:
Designate a sketchbook that you use only for the purpose of your morning / daily doodles. If you have to scratch around your study or rummage through your craft cupboard to find some paper, it could to take the steam out of your efforts, and make it harder to stick to the habit of showing up every day. Remove possible obstacles such as this one. Like the runner lays his/her clothes out at night before the morning jog, so should you lay out your ultimate weapon of mass creative improvement -your sketchbook!
Choose one tool / art supply that you’ll use to make your daily sketches with. If it’s your iPad and Apple Pencil, great. It could be a plain blue ball-point pen, a stick of charcoal, a black felt-tipped marker, a dip pen and ink or any other art supply you’ll feel happy to use over and over again.
Do your sketches at the same time of day. Preferably at a time when you’re least likely to be interrupted and when your energy is good and you don’t just want to veg in front of the telly. I draw in the mornings around 8am as my daughter is normally still asleep, my husband is working and the cat, well… quite honestly the cat is always welcome during my doodle sessions! *Note – DO NOT use Indian ink as your main tool if you have a cat who enjoys lolloping all over your desk as you draw. You can thank me later for that tip! 😉
Build up a large Pinterest library of images that inspire you – or save pins from accounts you love to your Instagram collections. Then when it’s time to sketch – you whip those beauties out and voila – no art block in sight! Having reference material to hand sure makes the process a whole lot easier and less time consuming as you’ve already put in the research prior to sketching. * Remember to credit the creator / artist / photographer of the image if you decide to share it on social media.
Let go of any expectations you have that whatever you draw has to be good. This one is SO important! Making a masterpiece isn’t the point of my morning doodles. If it was, I would call it my “Be Hard On Yourself” routine” or my “Sit Down, Shut Up And Don’t You Dare Get Up From That Chair Unless Your Artwork Makes You GASP In Amazement” ermm…Routine. But that’s not what it’s about.
There are only 3 things you have to do:
1. Show up
2. Put pen to paper and
3. Attempt to recreate an image by training your eye to really SEE what’s there OR draw from imagination, in which case no one will know if you intended for your 3 legged dinosaur doodle to end up looking as it did or not!
Forget about the notion that practice has to be fun. Notice – the 3 steps above don’t suggest that you have to enjoy yourself during this process (though if you have a certain familiarity with the material you probably will). When it comes to creating a final piece of work, I’m a massive advocate of the playful approach – to just sit down with your materials, let go of your inner critic and have fun with the whole process. However, having fun isn’t a requirement for practice.
But practice by its nature is difficult. If we didn’t need to practice that would mean we were already brilliant – so it’s exactly because we aren’t yet at expert level, that we need to soldier on. To push through the tricky bits to get to the other side. It’s the same when I play piano – most of the time I love it, but equally there’s a lot of time where I just hate it. It’s HARD! Normally, that’s when I’m forcing myself to practice a small part of a song over and over until my fingers feel like wibbly-wobbly sour-worms. This part is NOT fun, but it is necessary to get me to the point where eventually the playing BECOMES a joyous thing.
Brew yourself a cuppa – if you’re a coffee lover like myself, you’ll get a kick out of a quiet house, a cup of joe and a sketchbook looking longingly back at you! Coffee and art are the perfect combo don’t you think? (Tea is OK too, but I’ve sold my soul to the COFFEE gods so tea just doesn’t give me the punch I need) ☕☕☕
And a bonus suggestion if you’re so inclined – would be to start your own daily doodle account on social media or with a group of creative friends on WhatsApp for example. Just getting it out there will help you be more accountable and you never know how many people your rough sketches and doodles could inspire in the process.
The point is, that you do all the above as form of PRACTICE, not only in the sense of the word – as in to improve, but in the sense of using it as a kind of ritual. Some people pray, others meditate or exercise – the ideal situation is to come to a place where drawing is a daily practice in the spiritual sense. To prove to yourself that you CAN do it. As one of my all time favourite authors James Clear talks about in his book Atomic Habits – Everything we want to improve on relies on building good habits, showing up to the task day in day out. I myself am not perfect at this, but I try and I strive to complete my morning routine every day. I know it benefits me so why would I want to skip it?
For me – laziness is the true answer most of the time. So I’m making a conscious choice to defy any ‘lazy bones’ residing in me and make this a habit because I REALLY TRULY DESPERATELY WANT TO IMPROVE my artistic ability, and until some clever peeps invent the “Become A Great Illustrator” pill, that’s what you’ll find me doing.
The good news is that this habit turned out to be life changing!
It helped me push through the boring, frustrating and downright difficult parts of illustrating my book Conscious Colouring. I spent around 6 months chipping away at it, one minute, one hour, one day at a time… until I finally finished.
It didn’t matter how crappy some of my work felt on certain days, it only mattered that I SHOW UP regardless.
Colour your way to a peaceful day!
Colouring in is so much more than just a kid’s activity, it’s accessible and scientifically proven to be beneficial to all ages!
No matter how bad your day may have been – taking some time for yourself can restore that magical mental “flow” state.
Most importantly, guiding you to remember that you’re only ever a few moments away from a calm and balanced state of mind.
It’s your turn now – I’d love to hear from you. Do you already have a daily sketching / painting habit in place? Do you follow the tips I’ve mentioned above or do something different? What works for you?
And if you don’t already have a sketch practice in place, what are the things that are holding you back? What’s your number one problem with making it work?
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