You’ve no doubt heard it again and again and again. Your art teacher told you this, your hero whom you’ve looked up to and take inspiration from has said this, and even your roommate who’s a far more focused and productive artist told you this. If you want to be a good artist, you must do this one. Simple. Bless-ed. Thing:
The problem is. Life just get’s in the way! You wake up in the morning and have to go to school or work and you think “I’ll get to it today,” but the day goes by and you haven’t drawn anything. Not seriously, anyway, more likely than not, you might have doodled here and there, but you didn’t do anything to reach your goals. You’re no better at drawing than you were yesterday, and you STILL do not have that much needed body of work.
By the time evening comes around, you have chores you need to take care of, laundry, dinner, what have you. Not only that, but you so exhausted from the day that you do not have a shred of mental or creative capacity to open your sketchbook and draw something.
Maybe you’re just a bad artist. And should give up.
Or, maybe the people who are telling you “Oh, just draw every day” Should also tell you HOW.
Because it’s really difficult. I am personally bad at drawing every day. But, I do go through phases where I actually do draw every day, not because I’m inspired by any means. Far from it. But let me tell you what I do to draw every day.
These are not hypothetical things either. These are actual strategies I’ve used in the past:
1. Set a scheduled time and a time limit.
Human beings in general are good at keeping appointments. If you had a doctor’s appointment or a job interview on Tuesday, chances are you’re going to keep that appointment. Treat your art the same way. Set a daily reminder in your phone if that helps you (it doesn’t help me personally, but I’ve heard it helps others).
Another thing that helps me draw every day on a psychological level is just setting a time limit for myself. By that, I mean a minimum time limit. For me, that’s usually 30 minutes. Sometimes I get really into the art I’m making, and will go above the time limit, but it’s a lot easier for my brain to start drawing (especially when it’s resisting and would rather sleep in, play on my phone, or World of Warcraft) when I can just say to myself “okay, just 30 minutes, and I can be done.”
For you 30 minutes might seem daunting. If you’re just starting out, you can set a ten minute time limit, or even five. Just as long as you get STARTED, which is the hardest thing about doing anything.
2. Don’t draw every day. Aim to draw just 3 days in a row.
-or maybe even just one day.
This is equal parts helping yourself START drawing every day and start out already feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Human beings love accomplishing things, and get more motivation to draw, make sales, or any kind of skill, if they already know they’re capable of accomplishing such tasks.
It’s why video games are so addictive. You get that dopamine rush when you complete an objective. Does this mean you turn off the game forever? Know, now you go to the next mission or quest, usually a little more difficult, but you’re already feeling motivated.
If you can start by just drawing for 5-30 minutes for one day, there’s a good chance you’ll feel motivated to do it the next day. If you’ve drawn for 3-5 days in a row, then it seems like all you know how to do is keep moving forward.
3. Wake up earlier
Not in a million years.
Hear me out:
I don’t have any peer reviewed papers that I care to cite at this time, but I’ve heard again and again that people have a tendency to be more creative, smarter, and productive in the mornings. I personally have never been a morning person- no matter how my Marine dad tried to make me so.
No. The thing that motivated me to wake up earlier started off with my desperation to try anything to write a 50-page thesis, which I worked on in the evenings… being lucky enough to maybe write one paragraph.
When I started waking up in the morning (1 hour earlier than I needed to), and ate yogurt to get my body going, I kid you not, I wrote five pages in 30 minutes. I found I was less critical of myself, more creative, had a better vocabulary, and weirdly enough, much more energy than when I tried writing my thesis in the evening after the school day.
Waking up early worked so well for me, that I applied this to my art. I “scheduled” myself to paint or draw no less than 20 minutes but no more than 3.
Not only that, but other good things came to mind as well. Even when I was going to a job I absolutely hated, the knowledge that I started the day doing something I loved made it bearable. I started the day feeling accomplished and more confident in the face of my verbally abusive manager.
Not to mention the large body of work I acquired as a result of waking up early.
4. Be as lazy as possible about it
Sounds a bit counter-productive to everything else, doesn’t it?
While there are the few saints, doctors, or others who are really good at putting off instant gratification for something better, or willing to work hard for a reward that will not come after a number of years, that’s definitely not me, and chances are not you either.
The rest of us are lazy pieces of trash. We don’t like to do anything unless there’s something in it for us (working a job we hate so we can make money to live) or if it’s fun, gives an artificial sense of accomplishment and progress and doesn’t take a lot of energy (World of Warcraft).
My solution is, when you’re going to draw, try to think of how you can do so in the laziest way possible. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. This might involve some self reflection.
For me, there’s this really comfy couch in the living room. I would much rather go there than in my art studio, which is a lot colder than the cozy living room.
So, do I fight myself every morning to go into the art studio instead? Most assuredly, unabashedly NOT! Instead, I put a small cardboard box with some pencils, a sharpener, my sketchbook, and my binder of references. I wake up, make coffee, eat some yogurt, go to the couch, and draw for 30 minutes.
Having trigger helps (If, then). For me, that trigger is, sitting on the couch. I sit on the couch then, I draw.
However, when I have paintings I want to make, which require going into the cold art studio, I do something different. The Sunday night before, I put a laundry basket of five sets of clothes into the art studio. Why? Simple. Since I have to get dressed before going to work, I force myself to do it in the art studio.
This makes my brain go, “Eh, I’m already here. Might as well paint.” Again, path of least resistance.
And yes, I get dressed AFTER painting, and yes, I keep the laundry basket safe in a corner of the studio free from inevitable oil paint splash zone.
5. Have a binder of references.
The reason why it’s difficult for me to draw every day is because all to often, when I open up my sketchbook and take my pencil to it, my mind comes to a blank. This especially so during my appointed time for drawing since even though I’m slightly more creative in the morning, I’m still very groggy and have no idea what to draw.
Having a binder that I can open up without staring at a screen gives me something to draw. Whether these references be something that can help me draw, or just having images to inspire me to draw my own thing really helps. I know some artists like to take “inspiration walks”, but it’s usually dark outside when I first wake up, so that doesn’t help me.
6. Download the Forest app
No, they don’t endorse me, I just really like this app. For those of you who don’t know, “Forest” is an app that helps with phone addiction.
How it works is when you want to be away from your phone to concentrate on other things, you plant a tree for a set timeframe. Every time you try to check your phone, the app pretty much locks you out anything else, instead, showing you your cute little tree that’s growing. If you absolutely NEED to check your phone for something, you have to kill your tree like the heartless murderer you are deep down in your heart.
I’ve only killed three trees out of the dozens I’ve planted (maybe more) and those were because of emergencies (like my husband texting me an important time-sensitive question).
There is something satisfying about planting a tree, and after having already spent twenty minutes accomplishing your daily art exercise, coming back to find a full grown tree.
7. Renew your Motivation for drawing every day every few months or so.
Like I said, these are all strategies that help me when I feel motivated to draw every day. Right now, I’m at a “low” point, where I’m not drawing every single day (but I’m drawing 3-5 times a week, so still better than what I used to do).
Once in a while, you need to light that fire under your ass again. If you get into a habit, especially a good one, you can find it monotonous and a bit of a drag. So, it’s important to keep your habit maintained. You wouldn’t just drive your car forever until it explodes, you have to keep putting gas in it, getting oil changes, and little bits of maintenance here and there to keep going. Your art is no different.
To me, watching a video helps.
Even writing this blog post is helping rekindle my motivation.