For some time now, I’ve been keeping a daily drawing habit going. Without doubt, it’s been one of the most positive things I’ve done.
Some of the benefits of it aren’t so obvious. One of the most valuable things that this habit gives me is peace of mind. When I don’t paint or draw for a long period of time, I get tetchy. I get frustrated. I don’t sleep well. Sometimes I can’t put my finger on the source of my frustration, until I draw again and it goes away.
Does that sound familiar?
I wonder if we’re somehow naturally disposed towards creativity – all of us – and if we don’t do something creative every now and then, we feel that something’s missing.
The power of habit
Establishing a habit is the most effective way to keep anything going over time – exercise, writing, daily drawing, anything. And most of the time it works really well.
But inevitably, there will be times of change in your life. It might be a small change (like going on holiday for a couple of weeks) that throws your routine out. It’s very difficult to keep a regular habit going in that situation like that. Habits depend very much on routine, in my experience.
There are also much bigger life changes. These changes can force you to rewire your brain, to reassess your idea of who you are and how you relate to the world.
I’ve just had one of those changes (being made redundant last August from a job I’d had for five years) and a daily drawing habit that I’ve been pretty successful with for a couple of years fell apart.
This habit, along with others (daily meditation, running) was a habit that had taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to build up. And it was all wiped out by one change.
So, just recently, I’ve been making an effort to rebuild my habits.
All our habits are simply patterns in our brains.
They are collections of neurons that fire together. Mental maps. Each time a neuron fires and sends a signal down a connection to another neuron, the connection gets stronger. That’s how habits get stronger over time, through repetition. (It’s also how we develop skills).
So to get my drawing habit going again, I’ve had to begin establishing a new pattern. My daily routine has changed out of all recognition. So now I need to start again, from scratch.
Here’s what I’ve done:
- Found something to inspire me. In this case, it’s the new drawing project for Creative Triggers members, which we’re calling Autumn Leaves. We’re drawing little pieces of autumnal nature, and then taking colour notes from them. Then we’ll make designs based on the drawings and the colour palettes, and make our own bookmarks with our original designs on them. We get to develop our drawing skills, keep our practice habit going and make something cool to give as Christmas presents 🙂
- I decided at what point in my day I’ll do my drawing. This point is important. It doesn’t have to be a specific time, but it does need to be done at the same point of your routine each day. This is brain science at work again. By connecting my habit to something I already do, I have more chance of getting it established.
- I’m starting very small. This is perhaps the most important point. All I have to do is set up my subject and get my materials out, and make a mark. I don’t have to produce a major piece of work. Just a little sketch.
- I’m keeping a spreadsheet of my progress. This is really simple, but surprisingly effective, because it gives you feedback on how you’re doing over time. I just add the days at the start of each week in the left hand column, and put a block of colour in when I draw. It gives me a little kick to see the blocks adding up (4 so far this week!) and helps me to see exactly how many I’ve done, and how many I’ve missed over time. It lets me know if I’m missing too many, in which case I may need to rethink when I do my habit.
You can take those steps as a blueprint for starting a regular drawing habit of your own, if you like. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping going if you follow them.
If you fall, don’t make it worse by punishing yourself
If your habit fails due to external things happening, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s natural, it happens sometimes. It will happen to you. It’s how you cope with it that counts.
Rather than berating yourself and throwing yourself back in straight away, take a little time to recover from the change if you need to (I did) and then take a careful, measured approach to getting started again.
Instead of worrying about the days you missed, think only about this day, today. Make sure you do it today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. If you do your habit today, tomorrow will be that much easier.
The most knowledgeable person I know on this topic is Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. I interviewed him a little while ago when he was about to launch his book on habit change. Since then, he’s published the book and I’d recommend it without hesitation. The first edition has sold out, but he’s writing the second edition now.
The power of practice
There’s no better way to make progress than regular practice. If you want to really commit to regular drawing practice, then you might want to have a look at Creative Triggers, my drawing practice community. It’s designed to help you practice regularly and includes:
- Advice on how to get a regular practice habit established and keep it going
- Carefully designed drawing exercises to build core skills and develop creativity
- Regular projects to inspire you and keep you busy in your sketchpad
- A community of people doing the same as you: committing to a regular practice habit and helping each other along the way
By the way, here’s one of my colour notes from our Creative Triggers “Autumn Leaves” project. I’m planning a blog post on accurate colour mixing soon!
Here’s a leaf drawing from the same project:
And here’s an example of a design based on a simple drawing of rose-hips. It’s bookmark-shaped. The tall, thin format is a bit awkward to work with, and makes you think more creatively to find a composition that works. That’s one of the “creative triggers” for this project. I’ll perhaps post more on this when the project is a little further through.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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