Uley Bury, an iron age hill fort, behind Uley village
We’re in the car, taking the kids to school. As we drive up the steep, narrow, twisty road out of the Uley valley and on to the edge of the Cotswolds escarpment I catch my breath at the natural splendour of this place, as I do every morning.
There are two very distinct landscapes here. In the valleys, it is wooded, dappled on sunny days and quiet. We don’t even have phone reception at home (which I rather like, actually).
Bowcott wood, with the last of the autumn leaves
On the top, it’s all standing trees and copses against dramatic, sweeping skies. On clear days you can see incredible vistas in all directions. Except it’s not often clear – being in west we get a lot of rain 🙂
I love those days too, though. In fact, every day this place is different.
9:30 AM. We’ve dropped the kids off at school and are driving home again. Michelle is coming back to driving after 20 years so she drives the Mini, I sit in the passenger seat for moral support and helpful driving tips – although I spend most of the time gazing out of the window, dreaming of landscape paintings.
10 AM. I’ve just made my coffee (which takes a while because I’m a bit of a coffee geek) and come into the new studio. It’s so new, it still feels odd to call it the studio since, in this house, it’s technically the living room.
The first thing that happens is that I sit. Just sit. Listen to the sounds, feel the peace and quiet, feel grateful for this moment. This is a habit I’ve evolved carefully since I became ill and then recovered. It’s the most important part of my day.
Then, once I feel ready, I sit down and write my journal for the day. Sometimes this is just a line or two. Sometimes, when the ideas are flowing, it’s a few pages. This also is an important habit I’ve carefully cultivated. It centres me, and helps me to concentrate on the things that matter.
Once that’s done, it’s time for drawing practice.
This shouldn’t be hard
Funny thing: I love to draw. I love everything about drawing. I like doing it, I like looking at my own drawings and I like looking at other peoples’ drawings too. I even like sharpening the charcoal pencil and setting up the easel.
But still, when it’s time to start my daily practice, there’s this little twinge of resistance. I don’t want to do it. It’s hard to get started.
Why should this be?
I think there are a couple of reasons:
- It matters to me – so it’s work, something is being put on the line. Computer games are fun because there are no consequences. But there are very real consequences at the easel. Apart from my family, very little matters more to me than this.
- I know it’s going to be difficult. As much as I enjoy drawing, when I’m practising I have a very specific goal in mind – to develop my skills. So like exercise, it’s a little daunting. I’m not drawing for fun, I’m drawing to grow. And that means work.
I’m just rebuilding a lapsed drawing habit at the moment. The most important time when you’re getting a new habit established is the beginning. You have to make sure you don’t miss more than a day in a row, because your habit isn’t established yet. It’s fragile, weak.
So I’ve put some simple things in place to help me get started.
- Trello. This is a great app. It’s really a productivity tool, a way to manage to-do lists intuitively and easily. It’s based on the kanban idea, so it also helps you focus on one thing at a time instead of jumping around unproductively. Seriously, I love it. And it’s free. Every day I write a to do list, and “journal” and then “drawing practice” are always the first and second items.
- My materials are ready. I don’t have to find anything, it’s already laid out where I need it. I think that’s the single most important thing to do to take away the resistance to getting started.
- I know exactly what I’m going to do. I have a practice plan. I start with some breathing lines, then I do some line accuracy and fluency practice, then I do some shape replication practice.
- I start really small. The only thing I require of myself is that I write the date on my practice sheet. If I do that, inevitably I’ll end up doing an hour or so’s practice.
As easy as that, I find I’ve been drawing for an hour.
It sounds simple, but actually, getting positive habits established is anything but easy. I’ve spent a lot of time practising how to practise and get habits going, so I’m quite used to it now. I have a few strategies that I know will help me get started.
Because getting started is really the only thing you have to worry about. Once that part’s taken care of, the momentum will keep you going, I find.
So the main thing is to remove the resistance as much as you can. Just start.
Next week I’ll show you in detail what I’m doing in these daily practice sessions at the moment, and give you a drawing exercise or two to try. I intend to chronicle as much as I can about what I’m doing in my new life as a Cotswolds painter in the hope that some of it will be useful to you. I’m hoping to be making a lot more video, too, now that I have a dedicated space to work. Watch this space 🙂
Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, the key to progress will almost always be to do one simple, small thing to get started. The rest will flow by itself, more often than not. This approach is helping me come out of the maelstrom of moving house and get my life back into some sort of order, to get moving forward again.
It’s not as much fun as the big, grand plans (I have a few of those brewing too!) but it’s the part that really makes the difference.
Best wishes and as ever, thanks for reading,
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