Wednesday 16 April 2014

Drawing - facing fears and overcoming one's inner critic

Over the last two weeks I have been taking part in an online class on Illustrated journaling. I figured there is always something new to be learned and I was right. 
It's been a busy time as I have had commission paintings to complete as well as work needed for an upcoming exhibition.

Chinese ceramics - Ink wash, gouache and dip pen © 2014 Carol Lee Beckx

The course has been a good impetus for daily drawing; for trying new materials and exploring different methods. Certain aspects of my art practice have also been clarified. I am a painter. I am a drawer (?) that sounds like a piece of furniture - sorry draftsman.

I am not and never will be a "coloured - penciller". However, I do have new found respect for those who practise the craft. One needs loads of patience and a vast number of different colours.  The former I have when doing something that I love, but this medium uses up my patience quotient rapidly. Yes, I enjoy watercolour pencils used in a rough calligraphic way, but endless layering and blending - no way, not for me.

Beetroot - FW Acrylic inks calligraphic pen © 2014 Carol Lee Beckx

The course has also highlighted a common problem among the participants - how to overcome the critic that sits on your shoulder telling you that what you are doing is rubbish; that you can't draw; that people will laugh at your efforts etc. etc.etc. It's a boring monologue that doesn't let up, a constant stream of negativity. Consequently you stop, tear out the page, throw the book across the room and stop trying.

I like to couple advice on beating the inner critic with this quote by Chuck Close talking about inspiration:

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.

All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction." 

So often we stop doing things because we are afraid of criticism, failure and rejection. Sometimes we don’t even start. Creative people often use procrastination as an avoidance technique.

The dialogue goes something like this:
            Ill start drawing when my children are at school/ university/ when I retire/when I build a Studio/ after the holidays/ when I am on holiday and so on.
I encounter this constantly in my classes. Students have not done anything since their school days because the inner critic keeps telling them their work is no good. Before even picking up a pencil there are exclamations of:  “I can’t even draw a straight -line.” Well, that’s where a ruler is very handy.

The Solution ?
  • Just start - draw something; anything. It doesn't have to be an important thing. Then draw another thing. Keep working.
  • Set a time limit with a reward for yourself when the time is up and you haven’t stopped working - this can be as short as 20 minutes (and the reward doesn’t have to be chocolate!)
  • Try to avoid constant self-criticism before you have completed the task.
  • Rather than sitting with your work, walk away from it and come back to it later when you can assess your progress in a less emotional way.
  • Assess it as though you are someone else and try to be kind. Look for the positive qualities first; then honestly look at where you could improve.

I encourage my students to own their first attempts. I suggest they buy a proper hard cover
bound journal which makes tearing pages out really hard. A ring bound book says - 
“just rip out your feeble attempt, no one will ever know."
Ultimately, if you constantly do this you will end up with a very slim book indeed. I ask them to look at the drawing, realise that perhaps they could improve; date the page and turn to the next page and do 
another drawing.

When your book is full of drawings you can look back on previous work and see how far you have travelled - and you will feel proud.

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