Author, illustrator and founder of Sketchbook Skool Danny Gregory believes everyone’s daily to-do checklist, no matter how busy or hectic (and it tends to get more busy and hectic by the second, doesn’t it?), needs to include one more box to check: making art.
That’s because a more creative you is a more happy you. A saner you! And this “making art” isn’t about having talent or skill. It’s simply about finding a few minutes to let your creative juices flow. Danny gives us 11 ways to do just that. Enjoy!
#1 Get Yourself a Wingman
To make art, you have to give yourself the opportunity to make art — and a place to make it in or on. A Sketchbook Skool rule of thumb is always carry your sketchbook around with you everywhere and use it, put coffee rings on its cover and dog-ear its pages. Use its margins for shopping lists, driving directions, phone numbers, ideas. Make it your constant companion, your wingman.
Then you can start letting your day and the things you see — like a doctor’s office waiting room — become your creative muse.
“My watercolors don’t hang on walls,” says Danny. “They’re just a diary — a sketchbook filled with the things of everyday life. My living room. My lunch. My dirty laundry. Painting my boring old life reminds me that beauty can be found everywhere! I made this sketch with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Radiant Concentrated watercolors. Vivid, intense — but not lightfast. Perfect for the dark safety of my sketchbook.”
#2 Be a Two-Minute Genius
For the severely time-challenged, a page filled with lots of (even lousy) drawings somehow looks pretty dang good.
Divide a page in your sketchbook into a dozen or more squares. Take just two minutes a day to draw anything you see in one of these squares.
In a week or two, you’ll have a gorgeous page filled with a variety of tiny drawn moments. So gorgeous, it’s infectious. It’ll make you want to fill more and more squares every day. Or just draw each day on a Post-it and stick the whole collection in your book.
#3 Make a Bad Drawing … Or At Least Don’t Fear Them
Every drawing has one great part, maybe just a line or a curve, a record of a moment when we were fully engaged. But we are not looking for perfection; we are seeking mistakes. If you somehow did knock out a perfect, near-photographic drawing, then what? What would it teach you, that hole in one? Would the journey be over?
No, it’s the runts, the freaks, the misfits that are our teachers. They let us see how not to see, the price of rushing, the work we still have ahead. And often, our disappointment stems from the fact that we didn’t get what we expected. But maybe we got something else just as valuable and we just can’t see it yet.
Embrace the drawings that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped. Don’t rip them out of your sketchbook or write disparaging comments in their margins. Keep them in a special place and look at them later, much later. One day, you will see their beauty and their truth.
#4 Make a Top Ten List
Danny credits David Letterman with this exercise. Divide your page into a bunch of boxes and think of a subject that matters to you. Favorite sandwiches. Christmas. Your family. Your car. Or your home. Your body. Now, either from observation or your imagination, draw 10 things you like on this topic.
And if sunsets are one of your favorite things, be sure to join Johannes Vloothuis for the Essentials of Painting Sunsets Paint Along. Register now!
#5 Make It the First Thing You Do
“I drew this in my L.A. kitchen, early in the morning, as I waited for the kettle to boil,” says Danny. “The dawn light was low, the colors were muted, so I painted it in Payne’s grey with just a hit of sepia tea. I was half asleep as I painted, my pen and brush moving quickly and sloppily. It’s the type of image I really like, with most of my brain still shut down and my senses unfiltered.”
Being creative can happen anytime, so draw before you wake up, or as you wake up. Try making it the first thing you do in the morning and see what happens.
#6 Capture a Pet Personality
“My dog Tim is smart and timid and evil,” Danny says. “I tried to capture those qualities in my drawing. And I tried to differentiate his tousled fur from the varied textures of the swirling blankets around him. I painted this with a fairly limited palette and sprinkled some salt into the water puddles.”
Your pets are living, breathing models and they spend all day just striking poses and waiting to be drawn…
#7 Make It a Groundhog Kind of Day
Pick something you see every morning and usually look past. The street through your kitchen window, a neighbor’s roof, an arrangement of jars on a shelf, a lineup of pots. Spend five minutes drawing it. Tomorrow morning, draw the same thing.
Do it every day for a week, filling several pages in your journal or just different parts of a single page for more easy comparison. Did you discover more and more each time? Did each day’s observations somehow reflect your current state of mind?
“This is the view out of one of my bedroom windows,” says Danny. “I pass it every day but this time I decided to really look at it. I forced my usually impatient mind to concentrate on this view for an hour or two. Drawing and watercolor-painting help me to see and appreciate the world around me. I drew it in ink, then added watercolor, and finally added details, brick by brick by branch, with colored pencils.”
#8 Indulge in a Week of Selfies
The most super compliant, super available model every artist has is himself. That’s why artists make so many self-portraits. Rembrandt didn’t paint himself over and again because he was a narcissist who thought he was devastatingly handsome, but because his moon face and lumpy nose were always on call.
So if you want to learn how to draw people, start with yourself. Just sit down in front of the mirror and draw what you see. It can be scary. It can drive you to a plastic surgeon. But it will teach you more about who you are and how to draw anyone.
Pick a medium that suits your mood, then put down the big shapes and keep working and measuring your way to more detail. Try yourself from different angles, reflected in distorting mirrors and shiny objects, whatever captures who you are today.
#9 Host a Post-it Party
Pick a photo of a celebrity or someone everyone knows well. Blow it up really large on the copier. Make two of these big copies.
Tile Post-its across the picture, and cut the pieces into pieces, in sequence, so you end up with a stack of Post-its attached to small squares of the picture. Label each one with a row and column so you can reassemble the picture later.
Don’t show the original picture or even the subject to the Post-it partiers. Not yet. Ask everyone to copy the abstract bit of photo onto their Post-it.
After five to 10 minutes, gather up all the squares and use your second copy as guide to rebuild the picture out of all the little drawings. Do a big reveal.
This exercise is a great way to inspire people to draw. Point out to your guests that if they could draw any random square of the image, they could draw all of them. And believe it yourself, too.
#10 Rework It…
Take a drawing you did a few weeks ago, one that could use a second look. Add some watercolor washes, or color in some sections with a pencil or two. Expand the caption you wrote. Draw something else around or behind your original drawing. Keep it alive!
…And Live with Your Mistakes
Can you really not live with the “mistake” you just made in your sketchbook? The one line that seems slightly wrong, the drip of ink, the smudge? Think about it this way: Mistakes are lessons in disguise and accurate reflections of your true state.
Maybe you need to slow down.
Maybe your initial expectation was actually what was wrong.
Or maybe you need to draw more often.
If you really can’t live with it, fix it artistically. Paint over it with some opaque gouache. Or redraw something on top, like someone correcting a bad tattoo.
Take a glue stick and cover it with some ephemera that tells a story, a bus ticket, a credit card bill, a map of the neighborhood.
Last resort: Tape the offending pages together along the edges. Later you (or a museum archivist) can open it up again and learn from your “mistake,” which may actually turn out to be charming and great.
#11 Have a Brad Moment
Here’s a good way to gain confidence in your line. Crack open a magazine or a catalog and look for a strong, appealing image. With a big, indelible marker like a Sharpie, trace around the edges and outline the major shapes.
Highlight the defining features of the person, the shape of their nose, of their eyes, their hair. Use a pencil eraser to remove the printed ink to add highlights. Don’t add a mustache and glasses. It’s doodling, but it’s also a lesson.
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This article contains excerpted material from Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are by Danny Gregory, published by Chronicle Books 2015.