Failing to Draw Stories

I have a long history with drawing but almost no history in making decisive, finished, framed pieces that I would be proud to offer as gifts.

This must change.

In elementary school, I poured over Stephen Gammell's illustrations in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. In high school, I took several art classes that taught me to be uptight about the process. My college experience was filled with hours listening to Bob Dylan while drawing bovine jawbones, white plaster balls, and life-drawing models.

Deer Skull, 26 Feb 2012

Deer Skull, 26 Feb 2012

Drawing, especially from observation, is an essential skill to any artist, but it should be a means to an end. My hands only seem to produce lonely piles of sketches.

I want framed stories hanging on my wall, posted on my website, and placed in the hands of loved ones. Drawing has never been absorbed by my non-art interests and sprouted leg of its own. In short, I need to be building gifts not sketches. My drawing skills should be a vital ingredient of a larger project.

Part of my effort on this blog, is to document my drawing process and move forward. I just want to develop my potential to it's fullest. Part of what drives me is my work-a-day life.

My profession puts me in close contact with failing health and death. In response, I simply want to use my time well. I don't intend to sound romantic or wistful, I'm just stating a fact - we don't have a lot of time to do what's important to us. I have love and health and opportunity in my life and I am grateful. I simply want to make use of these things before I lose them. Sound dramatic? I'm just getting started.

franzen_steinbeck.jpg

In framing my intentions, I want to include the dedication to East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In trying to read the books my father read I've put this one on my list for 2015...or '16. I've read the dedication again and again though, and I love the honest and beautiful sentiment. I read it as a lesson on how and why to build a gift.

From Steinbeck:

Dear Pat,
You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, "Why don't you make something for me?"
I asked you what you wanted, and you said, "A box."
"What for?"
"To put things in."
"What things?"
"Whatever you have," you said.
Well, here's your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts—the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
And still, the box is not full.
John

So now that the stakes are high, my intentions lofty, and failure almost certain, let the humble work begin (think cat drawings).

On Morning Routines

On August 27th, I started a daily routine.

I began by writing 500 words each day. Over the last month, I've added to the process and it now looks like this: I wake up, brush my teeth, floss, take vitamins, drink a tall glass of water, meditate for 15 min with the Headspace App, journal 500 words, review my weekly planner, do 10 push-ups, and wash dishes.

The whole routine clocks in at about an hour and twenty minutes and it feels fantastic. I decided to record what I'm learning in case I forget my original intentions. Check out my notes below.

Routines keep you grounded. The root of any unhappiness I feel comes from being in a reactive mode. This is the source of all stress for me - things are coming at me and I have to constantly shift priorities and put out fires. Not fun. In contrast, a strong morning routine gives me space and time to act with intention on what's important, but not urgent.

Life is impermanent - you need a friend. Fortune passes, health is in flux, and seasons change, but a strong routine feels like a reliable friend - a tough hombre that's always there helping you get s*** done and invest in your projects. I am convinced that this consistency is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Have a process not a pipe-dream. Goals give shape to your daily effort but that's about it. Set them aside once your process is clear. Trust in the work. It will take you places. If you can't do the work everyday, you've got a pipe-dream.

Small, daily effort adds up. Consider the humble push-up - performing 10 of them takes 30 seconds. Do this after you brush your teeth every morning and you can rack up 3650 push-ups in one year! Small effort adds up. Start today.

Aim Low. The beginning runner that decides to run 3 miles a day isn't running anymore. The artist that dreams of painting one huge mural after another can't make the first brushstroke. The writer that is too ambitious to just write a page a day is still blocked. Too much ambition can freeze you up. Aiming low gets you to start the process and knock down the easy goal. Once you've started (and this is the secret) you'll probably go way beyond that first page, brushstroke, or warm-up. As your daily effort continues you'll log a ton of progress.

Know your anchors. Before starting my routine I knew of one action I did daily - I always brushed my teeth when I woke up. This action became my anchor, my starting point, the gateway - you get it. Designing my morning was just the process of attaching other actions to this fixed point. First, I added writing, a week later I connected meditation, then came push-ups, and now the process just keeps evolving. I keep any changes to the routine very small and well-considered as to not rock the boat.

Track you progress. Whether you plan on keeping a journal or not its a good idea to jot down a few observations about how its all going. What is boring about the process? What is your favorite part? How long does it take? How could you tighten it up? What would make it easier? Can you make it mobile? Answering these types of questions will keep your routine running like a well oiled machine.

Going forward...

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm only hitting the one-month mark in my routine and I can't believe how productive it feels. I hope to read these notes a year from now and be thoroughly embarrassed at how far I've come and how little I knew.

For further reading on creative routines check out the excellent blog Daily Routines which is now a book - Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.