We all catch a cold, come down with the flu, sprain a muscle or two, even break a bone now and then. But it’s still important to keep up with your drawing habit.
I had a particularly rough time keeping up my daily practice the past few weeks. A cold went to bronchitis and my attitude went to mush as well. I was missing the final days of a glorious fall (cool temps, mostly dry weather), perfect for cycling.
I found initially that the coughing was so bad it was frustrating to work with my regular tools and keep any consistency. Normally, regardless of how I feel I’m able to sketch, but this bout knocked me down hard for two weeks. I missed three days sketching, then did an anemic sketch, missed another three days; you get the idea.
I could tell that this bout of bronchitis was going to continue for some time (four weeks and counting). I wasn’t going to miss any more sketching. I needed something to work against the listlessness.
Here are a couple tips if this happens to you.
1. Change tools—Pick something that you haven’t used before or haven’t used for awhile and work with that. Your expectations will be low, not just because you’re under the weather, but because you aren’t up to speed on the tool you selected.
You can see my fun Red Bird Series starting here and going for five posts—all parallel pen sketches helped along with a little bit of water (on the water-soluble ink).
2. Change size/scale, either of your paper or your sketch. Here’s an example of that with another parallel pen sketch done in a book smaller than I typically use.
Additionally you can simply change the paper that you work on. Cut some loose sheets of paper that you have on hand down to a size you want to work in.
3. Go out anyway—If you’re so sick that you can’t do your normal sketching sessions like going to the zoo or getting to life drawing, but you’re well enough to safely drive, go out any way with your journal and pen and sketch when you stop on your errands.
I did the above page spread of sketches last Friday when the coughing had subsided to “only when I try to talk” and I was safe and alert enough to drive. I placed an order for take out at one of my favorite restaurants (The Everest on Grand!) and while I waited for the order I swung over to Wet Paint (also on Grand Ave.) and picked up a few essentials I needed for ongoing projects.
At Wet Paint I had a nice chat about one of the staff member’s upcoming show (after warning him that I was going to stand well away from him so I didn’t cough on him). Then it was off to the restaurant for my food where I was able to sit in the waiting area, silently, without coughing, and quickly sketch some of the diners. Moving the pen loosely about the page, working quickly in case they finished their meals and left, helped energize me.
I worked with a pen that I’m totally comfortable using. (This also happened to be in a smaller book, but it’s the size I typically carry about with me these days, so the scale issue here is related more to the choice of thin-nibbed pen.)
I also found things to sketch in the parking lot of the CVC when I picked up my prescriptions.
If you already have a drawing practice which makes use of those little spaces of time one can find when running errands (and I strongly suggest that you develop this approach) then it’s an easy thing to continue the sketching when you’re ill.
You are simply putting yourself in a situation where sketching is called for and habitual, and then giving in to the sketching habit, regardless of how you feel.
This is one of the reasons it’s important to have a drawing practice that makes drawing a habitual part of your day. Sure, you might miss a day or two when you are sick, but you don’t have to miss many days. You can still stay in the stream of sketching.
Which brings us to point 4…
4. If you have a regularly scheduled sketching time, sit down at that time and sketch anyway. That’s the “fake it until you make it” strategy, which is surprisingly fruitful, because as you start moving the pen across your paper you will find the habit rallying a little bit of strength and you might surprise yourself with what you get down. Regardless of the result you’ll feel glad you kept the appointment. Perhaps a bit of doodling allowed you to think and plan what you might want to work on when you’re well? Or it just provided a nice short break to remind yourself that things will be “normal” again.
And most important…
5. Practice Letting Go of Perfect—when you’re ill it’s probably a given that you aren’t going to be as precise (because of the coughing???) or as clear in your thinking as you might be sketching when well. There might be factors of listlessness from fever that keep your attention from focusing. This is the perfect time to practice experimenting and simply sketching without expectations. This will help you when you’re back to 100 percent as well.
One really quick way to let go of perfect is to tell yourself you’re doing “studies,” or to work only with thumbnail sketches. Thumbnails have the great advantage of being small, quick to do, and something that only has to be “readable” by you. So letting go of perfect is easy when you’re working on thumbnails because you’re working with possibilities not completed pieces.
Don’t know what a thumbnail sketch is? It’s a small, quick sketch made to work out composition, values, cropping, negative space, all those things that go into making a final piece. You are working quickly and trying out a number of different ideas. I tend to think of my journals as a series of giant thumbnails.
When I’m planning paintings I tend to spend time pushing out several thumbnails so I think the possibilities through and don’t waste time. And with watercolor thumbnails also allow me to make a painting plan.
But the main thing thumbnails do by their very nature, is force you to give up the idea that they need to contain perfection—they are simply searching.
That’s never a bad thing.
Life is rarely a perfect thing, and it’s good to remind ourselves to always be present and make time for our sketching which yields so much benefit in our larger lives.
Remember “completed” pages, regardless of whether or not they are “finished,” will do much to improve your general attitude.
P.S. And yes I realized after I’d saved the post and couldn’t change the permalink that my list grew beyond two things!!! I could have kept going.