Embracing Repetition

March 5, 2014


Left: The two images in today's post are quick sketches made to study a particular bird and explore how best I could capture that bird. The sketches are like giant (7 x 9 inch or so) thumbnail sketches. They don't mean anything to anyone but me. How do I see this bird? What is characteristic about this bird? What is individualistic about this bird? How can I capture any of that in a painting of this bird? As I work through these sketches I also think of what type of media might work best to create a finished painting based on what I'm learning as I sketch. So my mind is always working. There is no drudgery in this type of repetition, but only exploration. And sometimes, after six or seven such sketches in a session the fun factor is actually breath-taking.

I've written in the past many times about how I draw the same things over and over. Indeed, last Friday's Project Friday was one such post.

I feel I have to address it a little more today because this weekend several people asked me at different times (so frequently that at one point I turned around to look for the hidden camera that would confirm I was being punked) how I can bear to draw something over and over again.

I think it's essential to draw and draw again the same subject because you gain skill.

This repetitive sketching also gives you access to learning more about the subject you're sketching or painting. I think of all my bird paintings (after we get past the fact that they are all self portraits) as ways to understand how the bird's beak is structured. (I could spend my life on that one question.)

Last fall I wrote "Why Draw?: The Tautology of Drawing—Drawing is love." It's one of the shortest posts I've ever written. I think it's 3 short paragraphs. It's basically what I believe, you can go read it there.

Also in the fall I wrote a "Why Draw?": Because It Leads to Something…Drawing is Subversive." Another fundamental point of my philosophy.

My point in writing today is to state clearly (to all those still in line to ask me if I'm bored yet) that in seeing something clearly over and over again because you are focusing on sketching it you open up whole new ways of being aware and conscious in your life, and of showing others what you see and what you focus on.

This isn't a trivial thing.

It's part of why I teach sketching and journaling—it's been so positive a part of my life I want everyone to partake of that as well.


Left: See caption above for explanation.

But I do realize that everyone has a different mental make up. 

I remind myself that I was once a distance runner who ran the same route over and over, simply working on refining my times. It didn't really matter that I was running along the Mississippi on one of the most gorgeous parkways in the world, beautiful and different in all seasons. For some people that repetition, mile after mile, day after day, would have been boring.

I also remind myself that when I returned to biking in the summer of 2008 I reverted to type and rode the same route over and over with some slight additions (which were repetitive).

And I live with a long distance swimmer who swims the same pool length over and over—that and the fact that we agree on the three most important Founding Fathers (though our rating order amongst the three differs) is probably the single most important factor in the longevity of our relationship (I've used that point before, but there you have it, there's no getting away from it.)

With all that force of behavior behind me it is obvious I'm going to embrace repetition, in many things, but as being particularly useful in sketching.

My mind is just made that way.

But I can't help trying to convert folks.

The fun factor is immense. This is the way what is perceived as work by the general population actually proves to be play. I don't see myself as repetitively slogging down the same bike trail day after day, I see myself joyously peddling (if only the snow would melt) down a wonderland of path, pavement, vegetation, and animal life, that I know so intimately I know exactly when to start kicking in when the path rises up a hill, and still maintain my speed, and not even (well hardly) ruffle my breath.

And in drawing I find that the repeated experience of observing something pays me back with a more intimate knowledge of the subject. I can put away past aspects of learning, such as the basic shapes and component parts, and begin to see something as a whole. I can understand something as a whole.

I really hope, whether you are new to sketching, or have a daily sketching practice, that you take a moment to think about why you draw, how you observe, and what it all means in your life, and means to you as a person. 

Then I hope you'll try a little stint with repetition whether it's the same subject in three positions over the space of an hour, or the same subject in a different setting and pose each day for a week, or a month, or for several years. Change your view and approach—it will make you stretch your creativity muscles.

Engage your mind as you embrace repetition and you'll be rewarded with a depth of understanding that will change your mind and your heart, as well as your drawing skills.

Related Posts

    • Dan
    • March 5, 2014

    “in drawing I find that the repeated experience of observing something pays me back with a more intimate knowledge of the subject.”


    I love that line.

    And it’s so true. The entire reason I started sketching and have held with it has been that intimate feeling/knowledge/rush I get when I observe whatever subject I’m working with.


    • JMain
    • March 11, 2014

    Love this post on repetition! Right now for me it is squirt bottles . . . . like for window cleaner and ‘spray & wash’. Lots of different planes and contours. Who would have thought! Have been doing this for a couple of weeks now and not at all bored.

    Love your blog!!

  1. Reply

    JMain: thanks. When I read squirt bottles I thought for a split second of the SODA bottle, then read the rest. There are indeed lots of different planes, contours and styles of those window cleaner type squirt bottles! I can see how there is a ton there to keep you busy. I hope you continue having fun with them! THanks for writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Cookmode

Pin It on Pinterest