Make It Impossibly Hard On Yourself

I realized something interesting recently. I had just finished making a drawing from observation with a pen, and it dawned on my that I don’t find that daunting anymore.

You may draw directly with a pen, or you may remember the hesitation to do so when you first started out drawing that way. You can not erase pen lines! Scary.

What if you make a ‘wrong’ line?

I had been drawing with a pen from memory for a while, which is quite a bit harder than doing the same from observation, and now felt to me that the latter had become easier.

If you make it harder than on yourself than is strictly needed for a task, performing that task in a regular way becomes easier.

To be clear, ‘making it harder on yourself’ isn’t the sole reason for drawing from memory. It makes you better at visualization and at drawing what you are visualizing.

Drawing with a pencil and eraser has become that much easier for me.

Making it harder on yourself can simply also be about having fun challenging yourself.

A variant of this that challenges you to be more creative is to turn coffee stains into things. You tend to give yourself artistic license when you do this: turning a stain into something is hard enough as is! Might as well make it something cartoon-style.

I wrote a review of the book The Talent Code a while back. One of the stories in the book was about soccer players practicing playing soccer in tiny rooms. Then when they went out onto an actual soccer field, they felt they had enormous space around them.

Playing on a field had become much easier because they had made it hard on themselves during practice, playing in a too-small space.

In high school, I was allowed to participate in a math contest. We trained for it, and our math exercises were decidedly more challenging than the ones we had to do at school. When I returned to doing school work, the math classes had become way too easy for me.

The math exercises were different from what we had to do for homework, and we participated in the contest for the fun and the challenge of it, but it may also have prepared my brain for certain a level of abstraction that suddenly made my homework too easy for me, even though we hadn’t done that type of math yet.

Then I ran into this Proko course, on Drawing Dynamic Creatures which has just started and which I am participating in.

In the introduction, David Colman talks about drawing animals while they are moving! Talk about challenging!

Have you ever tried that? I have. Trying to draw monkeys that moved around in a zoo like crazy is hard!

They are going to offer video footage of moving animals you can use to practice on.

Maybe I should try that. From memory. With a pen.

And then, I ran into this interview of Al Hirschfeld with Art Spiegelman.

Al Hirschfeld was known for his artful caricature portraits of famous actors. Because of that, his roster of friends included all celebrities of the twentieth century. So every interview with or documentary about him tends to focus on all the celebrities in his life.

But Art Spiegelman, thankfully, is an artist. And he asked if he could see Al Hirschfeld’s sketchbooks.

And what followed was a mind-blowing revelation!

You see, Al Hirschfeld went to the theater to see the actors play live. He watched them as they moved around. And he drew in that theater. In the dark.

He drew without looking at the sketchbook page!

To be sure, these weren’t drawings in the normal sense. He made quick notes of things he saw so that he could work that into a finished piece when he was back at his drawing table.

But still.

Okay. I get it. I have to draw. With a pen. Without looking at the page. From memory. While or after having looked at something that moved incessantly.

I bet drawing a static thing from observation with pencil and eraser will be a bit easier after that!

I’m not sure all forms of ’making-it-harder-on-yourself’ are that useful, but it is worth pushing yourself to do things you find challenging. You should do so in moderation as it should remain fun.

Maybe you could give it a shot, too! Trying to become better at something, try a much more difficult version of it, and then return to the original process later to see what it did for you.

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Drawing Workouts
My drawing workouts are sequences of short exercises that go well together. They help you warm up, practice a fundamental, and end with some fun drawing and a beautiful sketchbook page to look back on.

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