Updated: Mar 21, 2019
Remember when you were a kid and you'd draw for hours on end? Nothing seemed more pleasing than the interaction between you and your piece of paper.
Those days can sometimes feel long gone.
Instead, I may find myself during a figure drawing session, hyper-aware of the clumsiness of my process. The marks I'm laying down don't feel right, the material behaves in a cumbersome way, or I simply cannot seem to find the harmonies and rhythms within the model's body. Noticing these kinds of things, of course only enhances my feeling self-conscious, and often spins me further into a graceless drawing experience.
But then there are also those days when I sit down and everything falls into place. I have just the right kind of paper and charcoal, my mind is alert, the model is as elegant and inspiring as they come, and my marks just pour out of me effortlessly.
Why can't we have more of those days?
So what factors into having a "good day" at the drawing board, to begin with?
You’ve probably heard the term "flow" before, right? It was coined by the psychologist
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and references
"the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time." (Flow- Psychology, Wikipedia).
Flow is essentially the state we want to get to when we draw.
Like most things in life, flow isn't entirely free though. Before you can enter you have to pay your dues to the following four gatekeepers of the flow-state. (And trust me, they are all equally fierce in their demands.)
Build up sufficient skill levels. Do you know what elements you need to draw and how to do so? No?! Go take some more classes, learn the terms and principles, and keep practicing until you “get them”! And when you practice remind yourself that practice isn’t performance. It’s not supposed to look flashy, it’s supposed to help you understand.
Establish favorable circumstances for your drawing session. Are you reasonably well-rested and well-nourished? Do you have a good set-up where you can see well and draw comfortably with a set of well-prepared tools? Do you have a diligent model who is working as hard as you are? Is your mind drama-free so you can focus on the task at hand? Are there people competing for your attention? All of these things are in your control to a certain extent, so take charge of them.
Choose an exciting challenge. The level of difficulty you set for yourself determines your experience. You want to be fired up about this endeavor. If it is spinning you into anxiety attacks or boring you out of your mind it’s either too much or too little.
Trust yourself and the creative process. If you have done the necessary skill-building work then doubting yourself, or trying to control your drawing won’t help you. Remember: You are adept at this and the creative process is your ally. Instead of forcing a certain outcome by over-controlling your marks, remain open to finding out where the drawing will take you. To put differently, be curious about what the drawing will look like once you are done, instead of expecting it to look a certain way right at the onset. This demands a willingness to try out new things and risk potential failures (aka ugly drawings). What happens if you do X? What does it look like when you do Y? Nurture this kind of thinking!
So next time when you sit down to draw, don’t just mindlessly jump in. Alternatively, use a simple ritual, such as sharpening your pencils, as a chance to check in with the gate-keepers.
"What am I setting out to do? Is this a grunt-work, exercise sort of a day, or is it an exploratory session?"
"Am I set-up in a comfortable and work-conducive place?"
"Am I excited about the task?"
"Am I willing to trust myself and the process?"
Returning to our initial question about why we can’t have more of those flow-days, the answer is, YOU CAN! And now you know how to get there. Which, of course, leads you to a new question: Have you paid your dues and are you willing to do so?