For years, Fear of the Blank Page meant that while I carried a notebook of some sort with me everywhere I went, I never used any of them. My beautiful little books must require only beautiful and auspicious creations, it seemed. What was I going to capture in the few moments I was sitting still that would be worthy? Worse, if someone happened to pick up my book, what could I have created that wouldn’t raise a questioning eyebrow?
I wish I could say that I ended this dilemma by giving up caring what other people would think. Alas, that is also not in my nature. Instead, here are the things that helped me get past my reluctance and get busy drawing.
1. On a trip into London, I made a pilgrimage to Foyle’s Bookshop (honestly, if you ever witness me walking past a bookstore, assume my body has been taken over by aliens) found Danny Gregory’s book, The Creative Licence. (Actually, it might be more accurate to say, I found Danny Gregory. I suspect it does not matter which book or blog post is your introduction, the man has to be the single most influential force in creating new sketchers. Check out his blog, Everyday Matters, and see if you can resist!) This particular book assumes you want to draw but haven’t since childhood, that you are shy to begin, and that you are unsure you have anything worthy to sketch in the first place. It goes on through nearly 200 pages of advice and encouragement, illustrated by Danny and his sketching friends. It took me years to read and absorb and is still the book I return to over and over again for inspiration and assurance.
2. I joined Sketchbook Skool (SBS). A year and a half ago, I was fiddling around looking for online drawing classes when I found a link for SBS and it sounded so great, I signed up that second though Klass (it’s a little high-concept that way) didn’t start until April. And even though I was still working a bazillion hours and getting ready to move to one place and then another. And even though my internet connection in Armenia was so slow, it took an entire day to view each 7-10 minute video. I caught up a little when I went back to Buffalo in May, but I was typically bad at keeping up with the homework assignments. The program uses a masterclass style with one sketchbook artist giving a week’s worth of lessons and homework assignments. To be honest, I found it inspiring but overwhelming in the beginning. I was such a beginner, I was basically always frustrated by how poor my drawings seemed compared those of the many talented students and instructors. Imagine my delight when they announced that the lessons would be available to students in perpetuity! This turned out to be of the greatest benefit to me and I’ve signed up for each successive semester, following the videos and doing assignments as I am able or as the spirit moves me. I can (and do) jump back and forth and I find that revisiting older lessons as I grow more confident and capable allows me to glean more each time. But, as helpful and inspiring as the actual lessons are, perhaps the greatest benefit of SBS is that it has created a community of amateur sketchers (and some professionals too) who share their efforts and encourage and inspire each other to grow and improve. Seeing all the ways that people have approached the same assignment has quite literally changed the way I see the world.
3. I took Koosje Koene’s Awesome Art Journaling class. Though it was short and simple, I took it right in the middle of moving chaos (avoidance, anyone?) and I fear I didn’t take away as much as Koosje put into it. Still, Koosje (the other half of the creative team behind SBS; check out her website – it’s also full of usefulness) is so positive and so supportive to beginners (and ALWAYS responds to emails sent to her by students – I am in awe), I can look back in my sketchbooks and see that this class is the one that pushed me into making drawing a nearly every day habit. And that habit is one that works like meditation for me. It allows me to slow down and has encouraged me to closely observe and notice the details and peculiarities of wherever I am. Though I still take too many photos when I travel, I have begun pulling my sketchbook out and trying to record the moment I am in, and those drawings take me right back to everything I was experiencing in a way my snapshots never seem to.
I am sure there are people who took up drawing without needing books or online classes or communities but I don’t think I would have made the leap without Danny and Koosje’s help. Along the way I’ve begun to believe that I can create my own vision of a moment and that getting it “perfect” is not the point – in fact, sometimes getting it “finished” is often beside the point as well. Just as I was about to publish this post, I received an email from the guys at SBS that shared a quote that captures my thoughts precisely: “Practice any art… no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” – Kurt Vonnegut