It’s cold, really cold. So cold the air is hard. The puddles are frozen solid. I’ve just got shorts on, trainers, a t-shirt and a light jacket. It’s 6 in the morning, it’s still dark and I’m running down the high street.
I must be mad.
There’s one thing I keep telling myself over and over: “This will be over in a few minutes.”
Have you made any new years resolutions for your art practice?
Maybe you’ve decided to do a certain amount of paintings in a certain time frame. Or maybe to draw every day this year.
Or maybe just something more vague than that, you just want to commit to making some real progress on your drawing or painting this year.
I’m not a psychologist and I’m not an expert on this stuff either, but I have spent a lot of time testing out how to get habits going and keep them going. Because I know it’s the best way to make progress on over the long term.
Actually, I think it’s the only way.
It’s how I learned to draw, and how I learned to paint, and also how I make sure I keep making progress and don’t stagnate.
How to make your resolutions stick
There are two things that will really help you with this.
Actually, there are lots of things, and you can probably read about them all over the web at the moment. But in my experience, there are two things that will really make a difference, and if you get these right you can forget all the other advice.
1. Know exactly what you’re going to do
Just saying “I want to improve my drawing” won’t help you. Even “I’m going to draw for 15 minutes every day” won’t help you much either. Very quickly, you’ll find yourself sitting down and not knowing what to draw, and that day you’ll miss. That increases the chance of missing the next day, and the next.
So decide what you’re going to draw ahead of time, and it will be much easier. I can’t do that bit for you, it depends on where your interest lies. But you could get hold of a book with drawing exercises in it (here are three) and set yourself to do something on one of them every day.
I’m currently working through the Language of Drawing program from Anthony Waichulis of Ani Art Academies. It’s fantastic. You get a bunch of DVDs with a carefully thought out progression of drawing exercises that I guarantee you will develop your drawing skills (assuming you do them, of course). If you’re the kind of person that can keep yourself going on your own, I’d strongly recommend you have a look at that. It would be a great way to have something ready to draw every day without having to think about it.
You could also have a look at Sadie Valerie’s online atelier. It’s excellent. I’ve heard from quite a few people who are on it and have nothing but good things to say about it. Sadie is a superb teacher and there’s even a facebook group where you can get her personal feedback. That should help to keep you going, too.
(Full disclosure: both those people are my friends. But I wouldn’t be recommending them to you if they weren’t excellent.)
I’m blowing my own trumpet here, but if you’re the kind of person that prefers to do things with the support of others, you might want to look at my online drawing program. It also has a bunch of exercises designed to develop your skills, and also has a community aspect to it, an online forum, and advice on how to start and sustain a daily drawing habit.
The point is, just know what you’re going to do and you’ve removed the biggest barrier to starting.
2. Make it really easy
This one is even more important. Saying “I’m going to draw every day for one hour” is almost guaranteed to fail, because, unless you already draw every day and you’re just increasing it a little, you won’t be able to sustain that every day. “I’m going to draw for 5 minutes every day” is much more like it, but see point 1.
What will be very likely to work is to say “I’m going to work on one of these drawing exercises for 5 minutes every day”.
I know, 5 minutes is nothing.
I know, 5 minutes a day is not enough for you to make any real progress.
But think about this.
My new year’s resolution is to try to run 5 days a week. During my illness and attendant inactivity, compounded by the steroids I take now for treatment of my disease, I’ve put on over one and a half stones over the last year. I used to be lean. Now I’m really not.
I’m also nowhere near as strong as I was before. I have much less stamina, and when I’m in the park, playing with the kids, I quickly get to the point when I have to stop out of tiredness. I don’t like that one bit.
So running 5 days a week is my first step to regaining my fitness this year.
I know I won’t make every one of those days because I have days (like today) when I’m in too much pain and to make myself do it would be silly.
But for the days I can do it, I only run for 3 minutes.
I know! 3 minutes will not be enough to get me fit. In fact, you could say that it’s a waste of time.
Except that it isn’t.
No, running 3 minutes a day won’t get me fit. But neither will running for 30 minutes for two days running, and then never running again.
Running for 3 minutes actually will get me fit, because in a month’s time it’ll be 10 or 15 minutes. In two months it’ll be 20 minutes. In three, four, maybe in six months it’ll be 30 minutes, and I’ll be doing it every day – or at least as often as I can.
So there you go, my two recommendations for making your new year’s resolutions stick.
Know what you’re going to do. Make it really easy.
I know running isn’t art, but the same mechanisms apply to starting and sustaining any habit. Art is no different.
I know that most people reading this won’t put it into practice, because it’s counter-intuitive, and it doesn’t sound like much fun. You actually have to rein in your initial enthusiasm and be sensible.
But it is the best way to make sure that you succeed this year. It keeps you going when your initial enthusiasm wears off, which it inevitably will.
It’s not fun but it works. I sincerely hope it helps you.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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