Sometimes you have to be bad at something to get good

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I my original idea for what to do when I grew up was to be an illustrator. It took one course in college to derail that. Because of that class, I hadn’t picked up a drawing pencil in…a very long time. The other day, I was given a set of pencils and a fresh pad of drawing paper as a birthday present.

There is nothing more daunting than an empty page. Whether it is writing or drawing, the empty page represents endless possibilities. You could fill that blankness with literally anything you can create. And sometimes you just freeze when presented with the opportunity.

I know that sometimes my reluctance to write is based on a streak of perfectionism. I know that a lot of the time, I can write very well. Sometimes I write too well. I can’t shut up. Because of the ease that writing has taken in recent years, I’ll be honest and say that really it’s not that good. It’s not as good as it could be. So, sometimes, I struggle with sitting down and putting the words and thoughts down because I know it could be better. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be passable, it might resonate with some semblance of brilliance, but really it’s just jabber. Editing is what might give it a chance at being okay. But why edit when you can just keep writing?

So, the drawing set…

I haven’t drawn almost at all in 26 years. Other than a brief flirtation with watercolors (and they sucked) I haven’t drawn anything. So, I’ve been trying to make myself sit down and at least sketch something every once in a while. Jeez, it is hard.

If I had an excuse, I would have to say that my job at the university gave me ADHD. Anytime I was in the middle of doing something, somebody would come into the office and I had to stop everything to chat with them. It didn’t help that we had the only windows looking out into the hall and outside in the entire building. Any sort of movement meant it could be another walk-in or student or professor needing help. So, you threw on the brakes and did your actual job between contacts. There was also the matter of working in the office lobby in an open environment, which usually meant anytime a co-worker saw something on the internet, you had to give it your attention. Cat videos, gossip articles, the forecast. It’s a wonder I got anything accomplished.

So, when I sit to draw something I have a list of problems.

  • My skillset: I’m not anywhere near how I used to be. I fight the technique. I get discouraged.
  • My attention: For example, I took a break from doing a sketch to write this.
  • What to draw: I don’t even know what to draw anymore. If I’m going to take an hour out of my day to do something, it ought to be worth it, right?
  • My confidence: Anything I draw is going to suck and therefore it is a waste of my time.
  • Frustration: Sometimes it’s palpable.

These are all excuses to stop.

But here’s the reasons I keep doing it. I can actually feel parts of my brain that haven’t been used in years getting a workout. Yes, my technique is beyond rusty. It is corroded. Probably just a step away from being dust but it can only get better.

It increases my level of patience, not only with the art, but with myself. I’m forced to take the time to do something that doesn’t come easily. I’m forced to pay attention and work through a problem and I can feel pathways in my brain reconnecting. I’m forced to just be still and work through it.

I don’t know if it is getting any easier every time I try to do it. I do know that I’ve forgotten so much. I remember some basics. Darker pencils for things that are closer. Just work through it and draw what you see. Sometimes there is more erasing than drawing.

Anyway, I want to keep at it. But when you aren’t immediately good at something, it can be difficult to keep working at it. I don’t plan on being an illustrator anymore. I just want to reconnect with a different artform that isn’t just writing. It’s something I have missed yet something I am still interested in.

These days we live in a world that equates value with how much money you can make on doing it. I think we’ve limited ourselves so much in this. Sometimes there is just the joy of doing something and that is the reward. We monetized joy and I think that is wrong.

So, I’m going to keep sucking at art. If I improve, then I hope I can appreciate how far I’ve come. If not, at least it is relaxing. I guess this is one of those “hobbies” I keep hearing about. I haven’t had one in a long time. Not one that I hadn’t planned on making my life’s passion.

Sometimes you just have to do something for yourself. Even if you are terrible at it. The drawing set was not something I asked for, but as it turns out, it was something I have needed.