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Smithereens, Post No. 1: Daily Drawing Exercise

Posted on by Rebecca Green


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Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

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How important is a personal daily drawing practice? 

Somehow in the midst of becoming an illustrator, my willingness to indulge in drawing for fun just sort of left me. Why waste powerful creative energy on something that might not be of use when I could be spending that energy on my current client project, or planning for something that I know would benefit me later? Drawing for the sake of drawing can fill us with guilt, this is too fun, we think to ourselves, work cannot be this fun. And while I do think illustrators, though essential, are lucky in that we get to do what we love for a living, our work should feel indulgent. That intuitive making, that flow, that creative playfulness is the source of all the good stuff and it builds the foundation for what I hope is a long life of curiosity and artistic fulfillment. 

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Now comes the actual 'doing' part: taking the time to practice outside of a client or expected project. One of my favorite practices has been to draw in the book, Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way by Jennifer Orkin Lewis (you may know her as August Wren!). It shares 365 prompts for daily drawings and I love the way the book is divided into months - each containing its own theme, and suggested materials. Themes range from flowers to food, home to world travel, and the materials suggested include cut paper, markers, watercolor, and white gel pens (to go on the black paper!) I recommend this book all the time and am happy sharing it here - not because this is a sponsored post, I just honestly love it. I'm a stickler for order so I don't skip, but instead I do the book one prompt at a time. In a perfect world, I would commit to doing these drawings everyday without question. In reality, I go through phases. Some weeks, I make it a point to commit 30 minutes of drawing time to myself. Some weeks, I sweep it aside, and disregard its importance entirely. In fact, when I planned to write this post, I found that I hadn't even completed two month's worth in almost three years! WHO AM I? 

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The great thing about jumping in and out of this practice is that I'm essentially my own control group! I can see a clear difference when I'm practicing and when I'm not. (Scientists out there - does that count as an experiment?) While I might conceive that these daily drawings drain my creative energy, the fact is that they significantly boost creative thinking and reconnect me to that ever elusive source, that artistic well. When I fall out of the habit, my work can feel stuck or plateaued. The lessons I have learned from daily drawing practices should be a good reminder to myself that the time spent playing is the best investment. Here's what I've discovered: 

+ Daily practices are where the happy accidents happen.
Since I'm not drawing for a specific project or client, I am free to experiment, and often use colors, shapes or marks that stretch my comfort level.  

+ I'm challenged to make the best of each prompt.
I'll admit it: I hate drawing flowers (which is the first month's theme!). I had to dig deep to find inspiration in a prompt like 'petunias'. The word even now makes me shutter, so I had to come up with a way to turn that into art. Another example was the 'daisy' prompt. I don't like daisies really (sorry daisy lovers!) and I had to dig into the scientific realm, learning that daisies are named Bellis Perennis. Now, if you've read How To Make Friends With A Ghost, you might recall that the girl's name is Bellis - this is where it came from! It's for this reason that I made her a florist in the book. All from a simple drawing that I otherwise would have never sought out.  

+ Daily drawings reveal what I love most about creating.
In seeking playfulness in these drawings, I've come to understand myself better. I don't care to just draw objects, rather, I like to build a context, story or character around that object. This often includes researching the history or the science behind the prompt and playing off of that research. Or I'll add a face to the object, write a poem, or a short story! 

+ Putting a limit on the exercise increases spontaneity.
When you've only 30 minutes to create a drawing, it frees you from overthinking and overcomplicating the process. What results is sometimes a hurried mess, but other times, it's a fresh and simple result. 

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So there we have it: I daresay daily drawing practices are vital. I look forward to carving out time every day, to draw every way, and to keep the creative flow a'churning. How about you, do you have a daily drawing practice? Is there a book or prompt or system you have to make art a part of everyday? 

*** This is the first of many weekly blog posts, where I share my thoughts on materials, process, the illustration world and more. Look for a new post each Friday, and if you'd like to stay in the loop, you can sign up for my newsletter by filling out the form on my site! 

Cheers guys, and happy drawing!