Above: Practice sketches in a 6 x 8 inch journal using a thick, soft, solid, fiber-tipped black brush pen and Montana Marker (background) as well as a large, fat-leaded Lyra metallic pencil. I'm feeling around to sense the nuance in the pose, the angle of the eyes, the negative space that first attracted me, to see which tool gets me where I want to go. This is what I'm talking about in points 1 and 2 below. What I found in this experience was a sense of fluidity in the pencil that sent me off on an exploration of pencil sketching that lasted the entire summer. Fruitful, not frustrating. (Remember it doesn't have to look like anything—see item 5 below.) Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Experiencing some frustration may be good because it pushes us to try harder and to move ourselves to the next stage. Wallowing in frustration is never good. Wallowing happens when you listen to your internal critic telling you that you can’t do something, or will never be able to do it.
I suggest you try something else when frustration builds and few of your drawings or paintings look the way you had hoped.
1. Make more drawing of the same subject, often in the same position.
2. Stop working with a tool that doesn’t seem right, right now—either because your hand feels unable to move it about or the paper doesn’t seem right, or the alignment of the planets is off. Pick up a different tool and try the same subject, even in the same position.
With both those approaches you accept that you are working hard, paying attention. You are not simply going through the motions. You are instead looking carefully. You are invested. Though you may elect to work fast, you are not simply speedily filling pages without actually looking. You are not thinking about 2 hours from now when you have to make a 12-course meal for six people. (Or is that a six-course meal for 12—you get the idea, you are present.)
Above: Pen sketches in a 9 x 12 inch, smooth-papered book. I began with a firm-tipped solid felt-tipped pen to do a contour drawing and it didn't feel "right" (see eye and noes started at the far left). I felt I needed something softer, but still wanted to work with the starkness of ink alone. I picked up the Pentel Duo Point Brush Pen with the synthetic hair brush tip and immediately felt strokes working. This is steps 1, 2, and 5 as well. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
3. You may even return to basics and do a series of contour drawings. The goal then is not to make the perfect drawing, but to snap yourself back into awareness of where this space and that space meet, or a shape of light ends.
Left: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch of contours on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of Fabriano Tiziano yellow. I'm just looking for shapes as I mention in item 3 above. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
If you have tried these three things and you are still frustrated I recommend that you take a look through your journal for a piece that you remember made you feel good when you made it. It is close but not quite what you had hoped to get for a result. Maybe if you aren’t confident in your art at all yet you’ll have to look for an image in which some small part of it was what you enjoyed. We all have pieces where something went well and felt good, however small that something in that piece was.
Above: Find pieces of sketches that didn't work the way you had hoped and celebrate what did work within those segments of the image. It might be as small as some detail or drip of paint, or whole passages that worked well. (Above portion of a 9 x 12 inch sketch of Dick in the TV room, while I tried to focus on those eyebrows—water-soluble ink in a Hahnemühle Nostalgie journal. See items 4 and 5 below. Yes this is another Eyebrow Update, they are still on his face threatening to expand and take over the world. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
4. Look carefully at that piece. Point out to yourself the part you liked, the part that worked. Celebrate that while the measurement of space between the eyes might not have worked, the tonality worked, or the line quality, or the shadow shapes, or the color you mixed. Celebrate that little bit anywhere you find it.
5. Let go of perfect. Accept your drawings for what they are—a step in the journey to developing the connection between your eye, hand, and brain.
If you can do these five things, then the next time you’re frustrated your first action will be one of positive response that pushes you to action, pushes you to more practice, and will leave your internal critic in the dust while you work on toward your goals.
You will be changing your drawing practice so that frustration can be acknowledged as a factor for pushing onward, instead of a agent of obstruction. You will be celebrating your drawing practice.
Make it your Project Friday (and Saturday and Sunday) to have a great weekend sketching!