No Rubbishy Drawings OR Showing Up To Do Your Work

December 26, 2013


Left: Instead of focusing on the ways this quick sketch doesn't have the modeling I was aiming for I can check off the ways in which my preference for interesting hair and ears helped me achieve a tolerable likeness, how the gouache puddled on the paper (a fun factor), and how I managed to reserve as many whites as I did. All of this gives me directions to focus on for future drawings, instead of stopping me in my tracks. Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and gouache, 9 x 12 inches.

When you read the last several posts of 2013 you’ll see a theme emerge—some end of year thoughts which I hope will jump-start you into 2014 for a great year of visual journaling.

Wednesday I wrote about engaged curiosity in the hopes you’ll plan some excursions of your own. Today I am returning to a topic I’ve written on many times since I started this blog in October 2008—showing up.

A reader wrote to me sometime in 2011 and seemed caught up in the notion of “rubbishy drawings.” She wanted to cover them over or tear them out of her journal.

I pointed out, as another reader had in a comment to her comment, that there were “no rubbishy drawings.” And even if there were, who’s going to care? You are the ultimate audience for your journal and if you embrace that fact, then everything you do in your journal is part of your learning, part of your process, part of your progression. Thoughts about whether something is rubbishy or not just don’t enter into it.

If you change your thought process to allow this positive approach then you open up your mind to allow that you are where you are NOW, for NOW.

It’s important to be in the now, and even more so when you are assessing your work and deciding where to go next. If you start labeling drawings as rubbishy and editing them out of your journal you miss out on the ways in which those difficult drawings show you where to go next. 

And you're denying where you are now. Which means you can't get anywhere else. (Think about it.)

That’s what I’ve been writing about a lot in the past two months.

How can we develop this mental attitude that accepts what our “old, negative” selves dismiss as rubbishy? You embrace the fact that sometimes you sketch when you are too rushed, too stressed, not focused enough, but you sketch anyway!

That’s a huge gift you give yourself. A reward for wading through what can seem like the muck of human life—time in your journal, time with your creative pursuits.


Left: I've done countless sketches of actress Angela Lansbury because I really enjoy "Murder She Wrote." In some sketches she's hardly recognizable, in others I may capture some aspect but not others that make her recognizable. It's good to look critically, in a technical sense, at our drawings, so that we can see where our propensities for error lie.(Do we always make the face too wide, the nose too long, etc.) However we shouldn't dwell on composing a laundry list of faults within a drawing to beat up ourselves with. Instead we should look at those errors as a way to make judgments about how to correct our habitual "flaws." I have "wideology." I tend to make things appear wider than they are. Knowing that I can stop myself seconds before I put down an offending (in ink no less) line, and just simply pause and check. That's a much easier and fun way to work than to live in fear of putting a line down, and dwelling on the "wrong lines" that may go down. I look instead at drawings like this and point out the dimensional flaws so I can correct them later, but then ENJOY the memory of how fun it was to put in those eyebrows and those eyelashes. And I remember how, when I made those marks I thought to myself, Angela Lansbury really was quite a babe when she was younger and it still showed in her face. That thought made me happy and it forms part of the relationship I have with the sketch. It's part of what makes sketching fun for me—the things my brain gets up to when I sketch. If I tore this sketch out of my journal because it was "rubbishy" I wouldn't get to revisit that relationship of thought and drawing. 9 x 12 inch Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch.

If you start tearing out pages from your journal you’re undermining the full, wonderful display of that gift. Years from now you’ll feel kinder about those awful sketches and you’ll be glad to see them. They will remind you that you worked through a bad patch and made it to something marvelously fun and exciting.

And they stand as a testament to the strength of your creative resolve: shit was being flung everywhere and I worked ANYWAY.

Working anyway is the most important thing you can do in your creative life.

Working when you are stressed, strapped for time, sick, in pain, or otherwise inconvenienced is usually the time when your essential creativity kicks in and finds a way for you to maximize your time, your approach, and your ideas.

Real editing (of the useful type, not the judgmental type) happens because you don’t have time to waste dithering. 

And so instead of being "rubbishy" those sketches are actually a testament to the nature of your creativity. They say that you are showing up to do your work.

Showing up to work anyway—make it the motto for 2014.

    • Chris
    • December 26, 2013

    Amazing how, with the space of a few months, “rubbishy” drawings look a little bit better when revisited!

  1. Reply

    A great post that could not come at a better time in the year! The quirky misses that some people throw away? Others can use them to create a sense of ‘style’. NO bad drawings in 2014! Just drawings that are more or less appropriate to a goal we set up!

    DRAW FREE IN 14!

    • E-J
    • December 26, 2013

    Hey Roz. Well, this is a timely post, as I mull over how best to move forward with my current sketchbooks so that I can start to fill the lovely new ones I got for Christmas. And I’ll ‘fess up to your readers here and now: the “rubbishy drawings” person was me, and two years on, I have yet to blast this particular psychological block.

    I have a Moleskine spread from September 2011 with a couple of people drawings and some text, none of which I was at all happy with, and as I gouached over the bits that offended me the most, I heard the voice of the almighty Roz echoing in my head … In the end, I wrote over the painted areas with your advice to me from that July, and looking back at the page, I see that I added with a whine: “But it is HARD!!”

    I wish I could report that I am now much further on in my acceptance of the rubbishy, but it’s deeply ingrained and something I still struggle with. Two years and many drawings later, an unsuccessful sketchbook drawing still has the power to inhibit me. As to who is going to care – I guess it doesn’t help when relatives, etc., do not respect the privacy of a sketchbook, and have been known to just grab it and have a nose through/criticize/laugh at the not-so-great drawings. Ultimately, though, it is my responsibility to give less of a crap, both about the pages I have turned and about others’ reactions. I know that. And I really am going to focus in 2014 on “working anyway” – however uncomfortable that feels.

  2. Reply

    Thanks Ellen, I hope to push people who perhaps haven’t been at it long enough to know how things cycle, to save those sketches. Have a great 2014 sketching!

  3. Reply

    E-J, kudos to you for owning your own baggage. I’m sorry you haven’t blasted through this particular block yet and I hope that 2014 is YOUR YEAR. Do it. I know you can!

    It’s OK to admit it’s hard. Because it’s ingrained with you you’ll have to work harder than someone else who has a different “easier” hang up to banish. But I really believe this is the most important thing you can do in regards to your art life. It will free you to progress by leaps and bounds and will open up new avenues of joy for you.

    I’ve the advantage of having done this for so long, and for having been such an obnoxious child, that relatives have never grabbed my books out of my hand. (Well maybe my brother did upon occasion, but I don’t think he ever did, I’d show him things and we’d talk.)

    I would encourage you to set boundaries with these book grabbing relatives. If they ask before grabbing, “Can I see your book,” simply do a Bartleby and say, “I’d prefer not.”

    Or say, “No, my sketchbook/journal is about practice and that’s just for me.” And change the subject.

    If you are worrying about their judgment, remember that everyone carries his own baggage and when someone (relative, friend, or stranger) says something to you about your art it’s coming in part from that baggage—it’s more about them and their baggage than your art. Remembering that, actually reminding yourself of that when they say something, will help you distance yourself from any emotional investment at all in their thoughts about your art.

    Also remind yourself that regardless of what they think about your art, you’re the only one who can assess it right now because only you know what you were trying to accomplish (in style and execution) and only you can weigh in on it in what is a constructive fashion to move you towards improvement and your goals.

    I’m not going to advocate that you sit at a family meal, put your hands on your ears and go, “Nah, uh, nah, umn, nah, um nah, I can’t hear you.” But internally you can sure try to do that and it might help.

    If you want to have a full artistic life you are going to have to develop a really thick skin and train yourself to not care about what those folks are saying.

    So as important as your time each day sketching will be your mental prep and “toughening.” Think about it that way this year. Put equal time into toughening your mind against those intrusions.

    And find activities, pursuits, or teachers/mentors who can help you focus on developing your own intuition so that you know what you are doing is good for you.

    And keep saying to yourself “This is where I am for NOW.”

    That’s what you want to hear in your head: your own voice validating what you’ve done because this is where you are for NOW.”

    Change your vocabulary. There is no such thing as an unsuccessful sketchbook. A sketchbook with sketches in it is SUCCESSFUL. There’s no way around that, if you put a sketch in a sketchbook that sketchbook is AUTOMATICALLY A SUCCESS because it has been used in the manner in which it was intended.

    Your internal critic might try to quibble with you and tell you it isn’t a successful book until it’s finished on the last page, but here’s why that’s bullshit:

    YOU AREN’T ON THE LAST PAGE YET! You are here, NOW, on THIS page, so that book is a success.

    Frankly I would like to slap some of your relatives/friends/whatever, for laughing at and criticizing your work. Unless you’re living with J.M. Turner no one should be speaking. Again, this is all their baggage.

    Focus this year on boundaries: come up with a few polite ways to shut down rude and intrusive comments so that you train the people around you to stop making them.

    If they want to talk to you about your art they can ask respectful questions like, “Could you say a few things about your use of red in this composition,” or something like that. That phrasing isn’t intrusive but is asking for you to explain some things—and if you want to be an artist who sells her work you need to get used to explaining why you did things anyway.

    If you have trouble setting these boundaries at this level then step back even further and stop drawing in public for now. Draw when you are alone with a pet, or draw a still life. Draw at a public place like a zoo, where if someone comes up to you to be “rude” you can simply say “I’m sorry I can’t talk to you right now because I can’t draw and talk and focus at the same time,” and put your head down and draw. If anyone in a public space pulls your journal out of your hands call a guard! Avoid your relatives who do that.

    Once you have that focus moving forward work on your internal critic and root out the reasons you feel vulnerable to those attacks.

    Then practice ways to tell the internal critic to shut up. (I’ve written some posts about that.)

    Then bolster your intuition and belief in your own artistic taste.

    Now you’ve done the spade work for a mental environment in which you can create without letting the intrusiveness of others derail you.

    Do all that in baby steps which will feel like shit, day after day, until suddenly it will feel natural. Development of even good habits will feel that way.

    And all the while keep getting your physical drawing practice in.

    You’ll feel differently at the end of 2014. It may still feel uncomfortable, but it won’t be as uncomfortable. And in 2015 it will be less uncomfortable and so on.

    E-J you can do it. Hear that voice.

  4. Reply

    Love this post. My choice of fashion sketching for your Int’l FAKE 2013 got me going and I’ve kept at it through thick and thin. I’m very proud of myself!

  5. Reply

    Thank you Anne. And I have loved SpyGirl! Keep going!

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