During my six-week Sketchbook Skool (SBS) drawing class, I kept recognizing that things I know about writing also apply to drawing. Are they universal creative process rules? Maybe. That these two activities I love have so much in common surprises me. Here’s what I’ve learned about writing and drawing:
1) Lock the Inner Critic in the closet when it’s time to create. The Inner Critic’s job is to edit or evaluate finished work. If you let her weigh-in while you are making something new, expect trouble, loads of it. I’ve learned to write a shitty first draft (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p. 21 ff.) as fast as I can to get something down while my Inner Critic is looking the other way. Otherwise, I stumble over my words and spend more time fixing things than writing. It turns out that I need to ignore my inner critic when I’m drawing as well. During the first week of class, I kept freezing and felt anxious all the time. A note from the teacher helped me let go of my expectations and just draw.
Maybe it will suck, maybe it won’t. Maybe you will master it, maybe you won’t. Let’s suspend these sorts of judgments and just explore… I think that’s the only reliable path to making art that fits you. And making art that fits you is the only art making that matters. — Danny Gregory
2) Stop worrying about quality and focus on quantity. Lots and lots of written pages lead to some that are worth polishing and sharing. The same is true for drawing. I gave myself permission to “accumulate pages, not judgments” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p. xv), and it suddenly got easier to draw. I stopped hoping for a masterpiece and just tried to get something on the paper. Without practice, I can’t improve. I have to be willing to make messes. I have to write to write and I have to draw to draw.
3) Warming up helps. A few paragraphs in my journal or a quick gesture drawing before I start can help me to shift my head into the proper space for creating. Taking time to warm up may improve the quality of the work that follows. It definitely makes it easier to do.
4) Daily practice helps. Writing or drawing daily keeps the machinery well-oiled. It’s a sort of extended warm-up. Too many days without a pen in my hand, and suddenly I find my task seems impossible. I’ve forgotten how to put words together or how to translate what I see into lines. I must struggle through a rocky period of starting again in order to get the flow back. Better to do a little whenever I can and stay in shape to create.
5) Trying something new helps. Applying someone else’s rules to my creative work can strengthen and broaden my skill set. This is harder for me to do with writing than drawing, but it works in both cases. Being willing to experiment allows me to see in a new way and to learn. I may learn that I don’t want to do it that way ever again, but even that is useful information.
6) Stop worrying about how long it takes. Writing novels takes me a long time, something I fret about constantly, though I try hard to accept that it takes what it takes. If I persevere, I will eventually be done. (Or dead. But I’m hoping for done.) In the last Beginnings class, Tommy Kane challenged us to take a long time on a single, very detailed drawing. This was a huge challenge for me because my fear that “it will take too long” has kept me from drawing for years.
My kitchen drawing took four hours. Before the SBS class, I wouldn’t have dreamt of spending that much time on just one drawing. But as a student, I’m willing to try something new (see #5) and I benefited from it. I noticed things I’d never seen before and I learned a lot about shadows. Sure, I made mistakes, but I was able to produce an interesting drawing despite that. It gives me hope that the time I’ve spent on Rapunzel will translate into a rich and detailed book, even if it isn’t a perfect one.
7) Work on things you love and are drawn to. In my college creative writing class, I was told that science fiction was not serious literature and that I needed to write about real life. From that point on, my stories for class were horrific. I hated the modern settings and wound up hating my stories. (My professors hated them, too.) Now I write fantasy: fairy tale adaptations, stories with magic in them somewhere, alternate realities. I deal with real life problems in unreal worlds. Filling my stories with what I love keeps it fun for me. Our drawing assignments had us drawing things I wasn’t at all interested in, like buildings, but I treated them as experiments. When I go back to re-visit the exercises that intrigue me, you can bet the subjects will be things I love: animals, plants, and the toys I keep on my writing desk. The things I love make the best material because I want to spend time with them. I enjoy doing the work, even when it goes wrong.
The similarities between my drawing and writing processes have me thinking that creativity is creativity is creativity. While the creative process can vary from person to person, there are some aspects that may be universal.
What do you think?