I suggest to my Drawing Practice students that they do a six-week plan and goal setting session at the end of class; and that they repeat that every six weeks for the rest of their lives.
Knowing what our goals are, and seeing how we executed our plans, helps us realign our strategy for going forward.
But I think it is most important to do a self evaluation at longer intervals, mostly to savor the work you’ve created and see the value in it. It can be done at any time, but it’s easiest in our culture to do it at the beginning of the year. It’s a time when people typically stop to set some goals and make resolutions.
Because of this my students have been posting their end-of-year evaluations in the Facebook group I share with them post-class.
First I have to say again what extraordinary students I’ve been privileged to work with over the years. These are people who show up for their drawing practice and try to look honestly at that drawing practice. I see over the years the real changes that happen in their work. And as important, I see the growth in the way they talk about their art and understand its place in their lives. They making progress in a healthy way. I’m grateful to work with them.
At the end of 2019 one woman wrote about her practice and some issues she’d had. Below is my comment back to her, explaining my view of Drawing Practice as a physical regimen, and related aspects to that. I’ve rewritten a few of the sentences so it reads better to those of you not part of this group.
Most of my students in this group have now worked exclusively from life for the first year past their class session with me (which is something I advise them to do), and some have kept up that practice for a good deal longer. The practice of drawing from life shows in a thousand positive ways that sometimes they don’t even realize, in part because their goals aren’t fully aligned with their art actions yet, and in part because they think people are off having tons of fun sketching from photos and they are distracted by that notion.
I hope you’ll find something in my comments to them that will help you seek balance in your own drawing practice.
More on Roz’s Reasons It’s Important You Draw from Life
(written to her Drawing Practice Facebook Group Students, and edited slightly for general consumption)
——————–While you all know I wouldn’t open the group to posting of work sketched from reference photos I do hope that even those of you working with photo references, but who are having difficulty, would consider posting a text message detailing your situation so we could weigh in and offer some help—or a kick in the butt as sometimes is needed.
I don’t find reviewing work from photos interesting or useful, since I find that students often get defensive. During discussion they respond with “that’s the way it looked.” Instead of comprehending the questions I’m asking them about the nature of the rendering, or even understanding that it was their job to correct the way the subject looked and overcome the photo reference based on their actual observance of the subject in life; they are trapped by the “glare” of difference between photo reference and sketch. I think drawing from photos causes more problems then it solves, in general, but also specifically in a class.
But I also know that there are times in everyone’s life (including my own in 2019 when I’ve hardly been out of the house except to see an eye doctor) that photo reference is what we have to work with.
I think when something like that happens in life and the things you want to draw are not available, and you do use photo reference, you have to spend AS MUCH TIME drawing from life as from photos in order to counteract the use of photo reference. Hence all the pears, peppers, and squash that I sketch each day to get my mind set back to life drawing.
So if you are drawing from photo or video reference PLEASE end your drawing session or at least your day with a healthy dose of drawing something from life that is dimensional (not something lying flat like pens and such on your desk or cutlery on your table, but 3-d standing up stuff like your dinos or fruit or vegetables, etc.).
This may seem like, “UGH, here’s another thing that Roz wants us to do,” but I only mention this because of all the students I’ve worked with and all the difficulties I’ve seen them get into, AND my own understanding of my process when I can’t get out and about.
Several of you who have been sketching from photos this past year admit to having hit a wall, or stalled in your Drawing Practice.
Drawing from photo reference can bring on an ennui and worse, a complete lack of interest in drawing because the focus is NOT on your interpretation of the live specimen, but on your ability to make something match the photo.
And that’s not the goal of drawing in general, and practice in specific. The goal of drawing is always to interpret.
Even worse, when you work from photo reference the natural inclination of everyone (and believe me I have had countless classroom critique sessions where I have had to open students eyes to this) is to compare the sketch to the photo, as opposed to judging the sketch on sketch’s qualities. Even the artist whose work is under examination buys into that mental construct which means you suddenly have a whole body of people feeding their individual and collective internal critics.
And you can guess, from knowing me, how much that makes me crazy to see that.
Drawing is a physical act as well as an emotional and intellectual one. Whether you like it or not, because it is built on practice (and it is) it is like an EXERCISE REGIMEN.
The problem with a regimen is that if you focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others you get an imbalance in your artistic body just as you would in your physical body doing all sit-ups and no back extensions.
Then you need physical therapy (PT)—and the only PT for photo reference imbalance is LIVE SUBJECT sketching.
I really recommend that everyone look at his or her practice over the past year, now that the year is winding down, and see where he or she has gone off the rails on these issues.
You’re not a bad person for drawing from photos. Sometimes it’s the only thing we have.
If I had not been drawing from TV for the first six months of the year I would have gone insane. It was EXACTLY as if I was at a sub-station in Antarctica all by myself, doing video chat with Dick to repair things remotely if he was at work—the exception being the food supply was better thanks to Dick.
So put aside notions of guilt or shame, that’s not what my points are about. Look at what you’ve been doing and look at how and in which ways you feel your drawing practice is off kilter. Then set up a new PT regimen for yourself that sets out to fix this imbalance.
This means changing up what you use for subjects—something live has to come back in. My recommendation is to learn to love peppers. Man oh man those stems and crevices—there are lots of fun angles to draw. And your internal critic (i.c.) can’t blast you because the pepper still going to be recognizable as a pepper. All you want is to feel the shape on the paper.
And then you need to look at how your i.c. is running the show and set something up to counter that as well. Maybe it is going to life drawing co-op again and learning on site what the i.c. says so you can come up with quippy responses. Maybe it’s simply going out and sketching people in the street so you can get that engagement with live subjects, and then shut him down.
Realize you’re going to need to shut him down through the way you talk about your art to others as well. So come up with a strategy for that. (Remember from class—always find something you love and enjoyed in every drawing you do. Always listen to your editing eye who will tell you in specific terms something that you can fix—he will never tell you your drawing sucks, but instead explain that the proportions are off, or the angles…specific things you can look at, check, and work on next time.)
Then don’t forget that you also have to have the supportive bits in your life, like people you can chat with about art, trips to the museums, art books you read, art research you do—all the stuff we go over in Drawing Practice. Life elements that support your drawing practice and interest in art have to be in place.
It’s your way of protecting yourself and your art habit.
And then and only then can you set goals SPECIFIC goals, and ferret out ways to implement those goals, e.g., whether you need additional classes, a week off from household duties to focus on your art stuff, a week off from work to focus on your art stuff. (Remember these are short periods of time when you can focus and recharge—you are not setting up your drawing practice to take place only on the weekend in one supercharged 48 hour period. That’s a recipe for disaster. You are using specific focus times to recharge your momentum to make it easier to keep that momentum.)
I found it was helpful to give up designer ice cream and use the money to hire a house cleaning crew two times a month—yes I ate a lot of designer ice cream), because then I could focus on my work (both my clients and my private work).
Look hard for where your individual Achilles heel is. Then set up your life to bolster what you want bolstered.
Write it all down, fill up your calendar with art appointments, and get going.
If you falter, that’s when you FORGIVE yourself, and start again IMMEDIATELY. You don’t wait.
And if you need some help PLEASE speak up. [Non-Drawing Practice students need to find art buddies and mentors to whom they can speak up to for help.]
It is hard for us to know that you are drowning when you have put gaffer tape on your mouth and jumped into a pond 100 miles away. The splashes aren’t even noticeable.
I hope there’s one thing you have all known from working with me. I’m don’t judge people who try and stumble. You may still be trying and stumbling for the next 20 years so there is little point in that. It’s the fact that you’re still trying that is important.
People don’t ask for help because 1. the internal critic is shaming them or has another subtle strangle hold on them (which sometimes masquerades as confidence or a belief that they are too advanced for any help). Or 2. because they think people are too busy to help them.
The first is always a problem. The second is often a reality, but at least in this group if you’re having a problem someone will be able to jump in and give you a suggestion that will be specific and helpful until someone else can join in and so on—because it’s going to take more than one answer because everyone is individual.
And when in doubt, setting up a side project that is just for you is always important.
In my page about the Patreon start up I actually wrote about my side project, filming myself drawing after surgery. It was that side project which led me to an epiphany about life, about sketching, and about balance.
Side projects have NEVER failed me. They lead me to the next creative thing, the next skill I need to acquire, or the new dialogue I need to have with myself.
What would be a side project for you I don’t know, again because we are all different.
Do not confuse side projects with your drawing practice.
All the time I was videotaping myself sketching as a side project I was doing other sketching as well—since I was trying to come to grips with what was happening, and shutting down my business, and burying my father-in-law—see life NEVER stops until it does, and then that’s it. So we can’t wait for things to calm down before we take action, we have to always be in action mode.
If you are working on a project you still need to have your drawing practice (and maybe it’s a pepper every day to balance things off). Sometimes a practice will turn into a project and it’s difficult to distinguish, e.g., my Daily Dots. They were a project because I set guidelines and limits and “rules” for myself as well as designed the format within which I would work. But they were also a bit of drawing practice each day, ensuring I would draw from life everyday, in case I couldn’t get away from the computer and client work.
Throughout those 4.5 years I was still doing all my studio work for clients (drawing time involved) and doing my other private sketching, and keeping a visual journal.
Can you jump into something like that right away, NOPE, that’s the result of four (at the time) decades of practice. All those things were already going on, I had built them all into my life based on my self-evaluations and specific goals. But you need to be developing those aspects of your life so that all that goes on all the time.
This doesn’t mean that you are going to be come a professional illustrator. We aren’t talking about that type of goal, we’re just talking about making a space in your life where you work towards mastery in one area—just as you would make time for your practice if you were learning the piano or another instrument.
How much time you give of your life to all this is the individual part. I was all in because that was my life. You can do all those facets but instead of taking up a good portion of your day it all happens in 90 minutes and sometimes less. It’s about SCALE.
Don’t be overwhelmed; be realistic.
And please remember we can’t hear you splashing in that pond miles away.
Start today and lay this all out for yourself as it relates to your life and make an action plan.
I know you can all do this because we’ve been through this together. Get out your notes. —————————-
I Haven’t Been Through Drawing Practice Class, What Can I Do?
Don’t worry if you haven’t been through DP and don’t have notes to refer to. If you see the logic in the above, and the need to keep a balance in your own drawing practice then look around and find artists with whom you can talk on a meaningful level about your art. The way the internet is these days you would even be able to do a “remote” group with video conferencing.
Set ground rules for this group’s discussions so the group doesn’t devolve into a mutual admiration society.
If you haven’t been taught how to talk about your art in a healthy and balanced way I recommend you check out Liz Lerman’s “Critical Response.”
In the late 1990s I was one of a large group of artists selected to be trained to provide artist residencies in the schools. Lerman visited twice while she was developing “Critical Response,” and we all got to participate in the process and observe the process. Many of my friends in W.A.R.M (Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota) have continued to use this process in the mentoring portions of that group.
Whether or not you have a moderator/facilitator who has been through the process I feel confident that you will be able to learn together on the fly, as a group, if you show up willing to work diligently. Your art is worth it.
Additionally, take time to do a thorough self-evaluation, a realistic analysis of the internal critic in your life, and make a six-week plan when you have your daily art practice built into each day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day.
I’ve written about all those topics and actions numerous times on this blog. You can find those discussions using this blog’s search engine.
This is something that you can do: you can restore the balance to your drawing practice.
You can start today.