Various Habit-Related Tips

Here are some tips to help you start and continue drawing.

1. Try to reserve a fixed spot where you can draw

If you can reserve a corner in your home where you always draw and only draw, that can be a powerful habit trigger for you. You can get into the habit of starting to draw by just sitting down there, and that can become an automatism.

2. Put drawing tools there so that it is easy to start

It is easier to start drawing if all the tools you need to draw are there in front of you.

Designate a workspace where you will always draw and only draw. You want your mind to associate that space with drawing; you want the act of entering that space to trigger your brain to start drawing.

Also, make sure you have a clean, uncluttered space. We work better if there isn't a mess around us.

3. Try to find a fixed time when you can draw

Next to having a fixed place to draw, a fixed time can also be a powerful habit trigger. In that case, you don't need to have a designated spot. If you always draw first thing in the morning or the evening after dinner when all other chores are done, it doesn't matter as much where you draw. You could doodle while watching a movie on the television every night.

4. Try to make sure there are no distractions

At least in the beginning, when you are still trying to form a daily drawing habit, your brain is fighting it every step of the way. It will grab any distraction as an excuse. Do dishes need to be done? Is your phone lying there, and are you wondering if someone posted something interesting on social media somewhere?

Try to remove all distractions: make sure no device is connected to the internet near you, turn off all notifications, close doors so people can not barge in, et cetera.

Also, try to make your work space an area where other people can not easily intrude and interrupt you. A room where you can close a door, with a sign that says you should not be disturbed, would be a good option.

I found that watching television, some longer online video, or listening to some podcast or music can help you get into the flow of drawing. That background noise has a soothing effect and distracts the “critic” part of your brain as you get into the flow of drawing.

But this may be different for you!

Maybe you need silence, or perhaps you need music without vocals or the background sound of murmurs from a coffee place.

Experiment and see what works. It pays to consider and design the soundscape around you while drawing, as it influences your mindset and art.

5. Make sure you set small targets

If you set your ambitious targets, you will find it hard to get started. Set your targets small: draw just one quick sketch, maybe? Or only draw for 5 minutes? Or perhaps even just one line? And then keep going if you feel like it, of course! This is just about making it easier to start drawing.

One great way to create a habit is to choose something that triggers it. When we brush our teeth every night, the fact that we are going to bed triggers it. In her excellent book, Twyla Tharp explains how her trigger is to get into a cab to the gym in the morning. The rest all follows from that. You can design that trigger too: maybe you always start drawing after you made a cup of coffee, or you put one line in your sketchbook and since you do that before every drawing session, that becomes the trigger to start the drawing habit. Choose something small, and do it for a few weeks until it becomes an automatic trigger to start drawing.

6. Make sure you enjoy every second of the activity

It just helps if you enjoy making every mark. Choose the drawing tools you feel like drawing with today. It will make it more fun, and you will hopefully look forward to what you now perceive as the fun activity of drawing every day.

7. Try to find a way to make your pages visually pleasing

It may help to find things to draw that don't require utmost precision to get right: clouds, trees, cartoon heads. It will be easier to make your sketchbook visually pleasing.

A beautiful sketchbook page is a reward in itself and helps you as it may make it easier to help you get started the next day.

Fill out a full sketchbook page with lots of sketches, and don't worry if you find yourself drawing over a previous sketch. This is about practicing, and it looks good anyway if you fill a page with lots of lively, fun sketches. Or you can make things go in front or behind each other and get a fun collage. Most importantly, don't over-think it. Just draw. There is always a next sketchbook page where you can do things differently, and it's just a sketchbook page.

I find sketchbook pages tend to look beautiful, and it helps if you have something beautiful to look at afterward. It's a little reward.

8. Make notes

A trick I learned from Alexander Steenhorst is to write down things you notice in that sketch after you finish the sketch.

Are things off? Are there things you particularly like? Are there things you now discover you need to practice more? If so, spend a page or so practicing just that.

His advice is to write what you want to practice at the top-left of the page and then fill that page with practice. In the bottom right, you can write takeaways: things you discovered you need to practice more.

And then, you take new sheets of paper to practice on, start writing what you want to practice on each page, and rinse and repeat.

This process is so powerful because not liking your art can be demotivating. This process where you make notes, analyze the results rationally and conclude your next step turns it into a positive experience. You learned something! You discovered things you need to practice more. For me, that turned negative experiences into positive ones.

It can be a real downer when you hate your art, but coming out of the process with a clear plan to fix it can be invigorating.

9. Switch up tools

If you feel like you can't arrive at nice-looking art no matter how hard you try, what can help is to switch up your drawing or painting tools or even to use some other medium like sculpting or writing for a bit.

10. Create a safe space

One thing you should do is keep a sketchbook you promise yourself you won't show to anyone. A sketchbook where you get to experiment, try things out, fail without consequences. Especially in this time, when we're already persuaded to share each and every little bit of creativity we had online, it can be invaluable to create a space where you can try things out safely. More likely than not, beautiful things will occasionally happen in your private sketchbook, exciting things you won't see in your more controlled art that is designed for an outside audience. These two feed each other; keep a private sketchbook, and make finished pieces of art to show the outside world.
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