The Drawing Habit
Developing a daily drawing practice & the 30 Day GUT experiment begins!
Helloooo Grown-Ups Table, aka GUT peeps, aka friends! (New here? Pop into the introductions and say hi.)
Every week we explore a new area of drawing I’m curious about. Sometimes it’s an artist like Maira Kalman or Ruth Asawa. Sometimes it’s a particular element of drawing like line, space, perspective or texture. And sometimes we use drawing to wonder about the bigger picture, like, how can we bring more gratitude into our lives, or how does music effect us, or what happens when we get real quiet?
Right now I’m sitting with a big picture question that relates to drawing but also everything: as we get older and things can start to feel narrower, how do we continue to create the life we want for ourselves? In the midst of change and hard times, how do we let go of stuff we no longer want, and how do we create habits of those we do?
Something I think everyone at the Grown-Ups Table shares is an interest in bringing more creativity and connection into our lives. I’m feeling that extra strong right now. I realize that making a real deep change doesn’t come from being responsive. It comes from initiating small, steady, incremental changes. It takes a different pace, and longer commitment.
So, this week - nay, month! - I’m offering myself, you, all of us a 30-day experiment: we are going to draw EVERY DAY for the next 30 days. It’ll just take ten minutes a day, use super simple structures to create a doable drawing routine, and see how that impacts not only our drawing, but our brains, hearts and bodies.
Cool? You down??
Note: if you are like “heck no, Wendy. I prefer my drawing in 30 minutes a week chunks, TYSM.” That’s great, too. You do you! No rules in art. The weekly assignments can work that way, too. But for those of you feeling like you want to develop a more steady, regular practice and create a deeper internal shift right now, this new GUT adventure is for you. For us.
The Drawing Habit
A lot of people assume working artists make art every day. Some do. Some don’t. Some work sporadically in a frenzy and then collapse, and some keep steady bankers hours. There is no best, most effective schedule for making art. There is no “hack.” There’s only figuring out what works for you and then keep doing it. Because no matter what any artists working style may be, every artist has a practice. We have a creative routine. That routine becomes a habit1. And that art habit, well, that leads to being an artist.
How my drawing habit began.
A lot of people are surprised to learn that there was about 10 years there when I stopped drawing. Completely and totally stopped. And it was in art school of all places. I was told “drawing isn’t art, and painting is dead” (oh, 90s art school) and I was young and impressionable. So after drawing obsessively since I was little, I stopped. I went on to have interesting jobs, go to grad school, etc etc. But it wasn’t until I was about 30, commuting back and forth on the subway to a job downtown, that I started drawing again.
One morning in 2006, for reasons I don’t totally remember, I decided to draw a passenger in the subway car. Then I did it again on the ride home. And then I kept doing it. Every commute. Twice a day. Twenty minutes a day. I’d go home at night and paint the drawings. And I fell back in love with drawing again.
Over the next two or three years, not only did I build up a huge body of work, I developed a practice, an approach and an identity around drawing. Drawing became a compulsive habit. It taught me to look, to connect with strangers, all the skills and such - all the things I do now really started on that train. I became myself again on that train.
I do not think it would have happened if I hadn’t had that daily ritual.
I don’t draw like I used to. There’s a part of me now that feels like I’m that 20-something-year-old Wendy again, off exploring other parts of myself. But in essence, I am and will always be a drawer. I’m happiest when I’m drawing every day. When I don’t I get a little frazzled. A little anxious. A little unmoored.
Given those are super frequent feelings for me these days, I can tell it’s time for me to step back into my river. Time to get into the drawing habit.
If you, too, want to reintroduce a creative habit into your life, or maybe start one for the first time, then you’ve come to the right table. And with that, may I introduce exactly what we are going to do this week.
The 30 Day Drawing Experiment
For the next 30 days on the GUT we will do DAILY DRAWINGS. Thats ten minutes a day, every day. Every week I’ll give you new prompts and suggestions on how to encourage the regular practice. By the end of the 30 days we will have set ourselves up with a creative routine, gotten into the habit of making, developed our resilience to keep creating through challenges, learned a lot about ourselves, connected with each other - and created an entire darn body of work.
And we are going to do it together.
Creativity. Accountability. Community. The GUT trifecta.
Cool? Let’s do it.
No doubt many of you have heard of The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron. The book and its practices is mostly focused on writing, but as Ms. Cameron says many visual artists have found it useful, too. One of the the exercises she suggests doing to free your creative self is “Morning Pages”: a daily free writing session done first thing in the day. Three pages. Uncensored. No backtracking. Just a verbal stream of consciousness purge onto paper. It’s about getting all the crap out of your head onto the page and allowing space for your creative self to step forward. I know successful writers who swear by this practice, and I did it myself for several months a while back. I appreciated how it loosened my brain.
And as a visual person, I’ve always wondered how this practice could be altered for someone like me. What would happen if I did “Morning Drawings”.
So this past week I tried it. And I loved it.
Every morning I sat at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a blank sketchbook page, a pen. I set a timer, pressed start, and drew for ten minutes.
The drawings I did were simple and repetitive. More like doodles. And unlike usual mornings when I look at my phone, after a minute or so of drawing, I noticed my mind started to settle down. A couple more minutes of drawing and my breathing noticeably changed. A couple more minutes and my shoulders dropped. As thoughts would bubble up, I’d jot them down on the same page, then just go back to drawing. Maybe I got anxious for some reason minute, but I just kept drawing and I noticed it changed again.
I was shocked when the buzzer went off. I wanted to keep drawing. But I put my pen down and walked away. The next day I woke up eager to do it again.
So this is the model we are going to use for our 30-day drawing GUT experiment. Each week we’ll have a new assignment, but those timed 10 minutes in the morning won’t change.
Let’s see how daily drawing like this changes our brains, hearts and bodies.
Thoughts on daily habits you want to share? Leave them in the comments! Love to hear what you think about this before we start.
In Week One we’re focusing on two artists for our daily drawing inspiration. They are:
Hiroyuki Doi, whose work I learned about on an episode of writer John Green’s brilliant podcast Anthropocene Reviewed.
And Agnes Martin, who you have probably heard me talk about in DrawTogether or the GUT, and whose work John Green also speaks beautifully about in that same episode. (DrawTogether did an interactive drawing podcast episode about Agnes Martin for kids you can listen to as well.)
The three drawing structures we’re using are:
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