The Year of Drawing Project

drawing project

Learning to Love Drawing


Drawing your Way to a Better Life


Why Everyone Should Draw More

I still don't know what to call this project. All I know is that I want it to happen. I want to spend a year drawing as much as possible, learning to improve my skills, but more importantly, learning to calm the critical voices in my head that make drawing so unpleasant. I want to find a way back to childhood, back to when drawing was FUN. 

Why spend a year drawing?

People who love drawing really love it. I've been reading a lot of books and blog articles by artist Danny Gregory and he talks about how drawing basically saved his life. It helped him to slow down and recognize the detail and beauty of his life. It brought him out of depression and showed him how to really live.

On the other hand, people who hate drawing really hate it. It can inspire so much anxiety, resistance, fear, and self-loathing that it's no wonder that most people don't even bother trying it. "I can't draw," is what many people will tell you when you bring it up.

We all drew at one point. As children we all felt the joy of making our mark. But once it became clear that childish lines were no longer acceptable, we stopped. Some of us keep trying, and keep coming up against fearsome mental and emotional obstacles. I have a love-hate relationship with drawing: I love the way it feels when it's going well and I lose track of time. I hate the frustration and negative self-talk that attacks me when it's not. To illustrate my relationship with drawing, and to help explain why I want to spend a year facing my biggest creative challenge head-on, here are three stories.

Drawing story #1

When I was in grade two, our teacher asked us to draw self portraits on large pieces of paper. I decided to draw myself riding my bicycle, since that was one of my favourite activities at the time. Drawing a bicycle (especially from memory) is challenging for most people, and for my eight-year-old self, it was nearly impossible. I did the best I could, and though it was not remotely accurate, it was good enough for me. My teacher, however, disagreed. She told me that it didn't look right and asked me to fix it. So I erased the lines on the wheels, and tried again. But they still weren't right. So I tried again. And again, and again, and again, until I was in tears and had to be taken out of the class. I had the drawing hanging on the back of my door for years, and there was a worn spot barely hiding angry pencil marks, where I almost erased the paper right away, as I went back and forth trying to make it look perfect.

drawing project

Drawing story #2

Recently I was working on some exercises in my Draw Paint Print book. What I had enjoyed most was that I had incredibly low expectations for all of the exercises. I decided from the beginning that I wasn't looking for perfection or good quality work. I was just playing, and gave myself permission to make a mess. Until I got to the exercises that involved drawing self portraits, that is. I sat there, with pencil in hand, trying to figure out where to start. I drew carefully, but none of my lines seemed to be in the right place. I felt my muscles tightening and the heat of frustration and embarrassment coming over me. "I can't do this," I kept saying to myself over and over. I struggled through 2 portraits and then gave up. I didn't want to fight. I walked away feeling angry and scared and truly aware of what a formidable opponent my inner critic was.

Drawing story #3

I took a workshop where we all had to draw a person from our lives that interested us. We were all going to put our characters on a large woodblock and carve it out to make a giant block to make giant prints. I took the class to try woodblock printmaking for the first time, but was very afraid of the idea of having to draw something. I thought I could use a reference book, but she wanted it to be from our imaginations. I thought of a person and tried to capture his likeness but it looked awkward and nothing like him. I tried again, and the instructor gave me some tips on how to make it more clear. I tried again, and again, and again, each time using a different sheet of paper, and each time getting closer to what the person actually looked like. Whenever I started feeling anxious, started feeling that familiar "I can't do this," voice tickling the back of my neck, I took a deep breath and responded with, "Yes. I can." Finally, I got it. It was cartoonish, but I thought it perfectly captured the personality and movement of the person and I was absolutely elated. I jumped up to start transfering the image to the woodblock, full of satisfaction.

Through these experiences, it has become clear to me that drawing is currently my biggest creative obstacle. It's the one that brings up the most negative feelings and thoughts. But I don't think it has to be that way. I would like to enjoy drawing, to draw regularly, and to incorporate it into my regular creative practice. It was clear that in order to properly conquer this enemy, I would need to spend a lot of time on it. I've done one-month challenges before and I felt like I only barely scraped the surface. I decided to devote an entire year to making friends with my inner critic and learning to love drawing.

Why I want to do this project:

- I'm envious of people who draw regularly.  I want to be a person who draws. I want to carry a sketchbook around with me and doodle on the bus or in coffee shops. I want to slow down enough to record the minutiae of my life and capture otherwise unnoticed detail. I want to draw when I travel and see the world in a new way.

- I've experienced the feeling of flow that can come from drawing without inhibitions or self-criticism. I want to tap into that feeling on a regular basis and leave time and space behind.

- One of my words for this year is 'unstoppable.' I feel like my fear of drawing is holding me back. I want to understand where the fear and resistance come from and overcome them. If I overcome them in this area, maybe they will be weakened in other areas of my life.

- I want a creative practice that feels fun. I want to express myself joyfully. I want to truly live the idea of Everyday Artistry.

- I want to help you realize that ANYONE can draw, that drawing can be fun, that your inner critic is a stupid-head and that YOU control your creative destiny.

drawing project

What will this project look like?

This is going to be an experiment. I have some ideas about how I will organize it and put it out, but these might change at any time. I definitely would love your feedback on what works or doesn't work for you. For the moment, this is how the project will be structured:

- It starts September 1st, 2015. Next Tuesday!

- Every month there will be a theme. Some of the themes are: Animals, People, Food, Buildings... etc.

- Every week there will be assignments. Sometimes just one, sometimes a few. Some will be to practice drawing from real life, some to just play. I will try to incorporate as many different techniques and subjects and materials as possible. There is no requirement to do 'a drawing' every day. But some kind of drawing should happen most days.

- There will be some larger scale 'project' ideas to work on. Maybe one every month, maybe one every 2 or 3 months.

- I will do whatever I can to find ways to make drawing fun. But part of this whole process is doing something that is difficult and stressful so there will be some un-fun moments too. Hopefully we can support each other through those!

- I will be journalling my experiences, posting on Instagram, and blogging periodically, so even if you don't sign up, you can still get an idea of how it's going for me.

- The only way to join is to sign up via email. I'll send out the assignments every week, along with inspiration and information that I'm collecting as I go. There might be a private Facebook group for participants.

- It will be completely free. If it goes well I might turn it into a paid product, but for this year all you need to do is sign up.

- I will only send out each email once, so if you miss it, you miss it. I might package them and make them available for purchase later. I might not.

- You will have the option of doing as much or as little as you want. Only do the themes and assignments that interest you, or do them all. It's entirely up to you. I know that a year is a loooooong time to work on something. I'm committing to a year because I think I need that long to break through the walls I've built up over the years. But you don't have to do that much. Dip your toes in and out as you please.

- There will be some sort of contest each month for people who sign up and participate by sharing their work.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? I will be asking for feedback all year long on how this is working for you and what you're getting out of it. Feel free to start by leaving a comment below!