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For me, 2022 has been a rollercoaster ride with incredible highs and devastating personal lows. I celebrated the publication of my first illustrated book, which was a professional highlight for me, but tragically a loss in my family eclipsed our lives, leaving me to feel nothing but grief. As I tried to make sense of life afterwards, I struggled creatively and mentally - I resisted my emotions and tried to knuckle my way through. This, of course, bit me in the bum around mid November, when I had no choice but to finally give in. What followed was a period of softening. I need rest and to just be present. Now I’m ready to pick up my pencil again, and head back into the studio. I want to share 8 things with you that helped me this year.


  1. Slow Growth “I think its really useful to see progression and the importance of slow growth and how its essential to keep showing up and drawing - even if you're not making the progression you think you *should* be making. Don't give up, don't make big jumps and don't throw anything away! Like I mention in the video the drawings which feel bad' now will feel so so good when you get to look back over past work :)” After watching Emma Carlisle’s Patreon video ‘Sketchbook Tour - Comparing 2017 to Now' I felt something shift and soften in me. I realised how hard I had been pushing myself, constantly comparing myself to others online and not seeing the overall progress I have been making in the last few years. This year I want to focus on slow growth and keeping a wider perspective of my practice.

  2. Learning and making through doing British artist Mark Hearld :“I don’t always have a fully formed idea. At art school, the idea is put on a pedestal in such a way that if somebody feels they haven’t got one they’re paralysed. However I think it’s important to find the idea in the making and the doing.” Sometimes I can get paralysed by thinking I need the perfect idea in order to start creating. Maybe I think I’m most efficient this way and save time somehow, when in fact the opposite is true. Tightly holding on to an idea for me is a guaranteed way to kill it. Instead of trying to create from a sense of control and intellect, I know get my best ideas when I follow my curiosity and let my intuition guide me. Thinking about drawing is just procrastination.

  3. Don’t aim at success Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: ‘Don’t aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss is. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.’ That is to say, if you do something that you are fitted for, that you love and are good at, succes may (or may not) follow. But if you do that, you have succeeded in the most important respects anyway.” From ‘Spring Cannot be Cancelled - David Hockney in Normandy’ by Martin Gayford. When ambition and drive take over from joy and curiosity it’s not long before the burnout symptoms begin to pile up. I realise that I need to keep an eye on what is actually driving me. Is it my intuition and curiosity? Or is it an eagerness for external validation because I’ve been on social media a bit too long? When I get caught up with how many followers or likes I get, I now know it’s time to get out of my head and studio, and go for a walk in nature. Being outside in the local park always calms me down and reignites my curiosity. This year I learned about so many different types of mushrooms. A zombi fungus? Absolutely wild.

  4. Sketchbooks are Vital “For many illustrators, the sketchbook is the place where the personal visual vocabulary begins to assert itself, a private place where drawing from direct observation can mix freely with flights of visual fancy, doodles, notes, uninhibited mark-making, shopping lists and bus tickets. (…) This process of ‘unconscious and unselfconscious mark-making can play an important role in underpinning the illustrator’s emerging visual language.” From ‘Drawing for Illustration’ by Martin Salisbury. I really struggled with my sketchbook practice this year. I had short bursts of energy and motivation, but then got really self-conscious and critical. I now realise that my process is cyclical, I go through periods of high energy and creative lulls, and that’s okay. This year I will try and let go of the idea of creating a ‘beautiful sketchbook’ filled with beautiful drawings. Let my sketchbook be a beautiful disaster.

  5. Stay in Shape “I think it’s important to maintains form of practise outside of work, in a sketchbook for example, to exercise what I have learned and explore new avenues. It’s like staying training in between marathons. If you’re not good shape, it becomes much more difficult to perform.” Isabelle Arsenault in ‘Drawing for Illustration’ by Martin Salisbury. After not drawing for more than a month, getting back into it is incredibly hard. Just like I keep my body and brain fit by going for walks everyday, I need to keep my drawing muscles and stamina fit as well. That is why I want to have another go at a daily practice, a daily doodle, a daily something. As long as I’m creating. If you’re interested in a slow start of the year whilst maintaining your creative practice, head over to Frances Ives’ Patreon, where she is doing Slow January and look for the hashtag #dedslow on instagram.

  6. Action comes before motivation I loved this video by Struthless, in which he shares the drawing advice that he claims changed his life, drawing the same thing every day. This is a great exercise because it takes away the decision of what to draw and, as Struthless says in the video, at some point he got bored and started to add things that he was actually interested in. The key point being here to just start and if you do it long enough, interesting things will start to happen. To beat my inner critic and help to stick to a daily creative practice I have decided to go back to basics and start drawing what I absolutely love, which are of course, cats. I will draw 365 cats this year, in any way, shape or form and in every possible material.

  7. Comparison traps and Creative Blocks “I see a lot of my creative friends who are going through creative blocks, ands it’s usually more from them being worried about how the world perceives them and not about actually putting out the work. Social media can destroy your creativity. When I do any social media, it’s very limited, which is probably the best way for me not to burn out at this point. I don’t ever feel burnt out from the actual work. It’s more the physical thing or the mental stability. The mental stability is usually tied to social drainage, which usually comes from social media.” Yumna Al-Arashi on the Creative Independent “Any pillar of your life will constantly be cycling through ebbs and flows. Comparing yourself with your peers is futile because you’re bound to be in different parts of the cycle at different times. When you’re down and your friend is up, inevitably that will invert at some pont. Focussing on getting through your own process is much more useful.” Haley Nahman on the Creative Independent. I don’t want this to turn onto a rant about instagram and the algorithm, but I will say this. I’m not loving the platform like I used to. Every two to three regular posts are followed by ads and I’m not seeing all the content of the people I follow. In the beginning of Folktale week I was excited to share my story about Elin and the Troll, but when I noticed my posts didn’t even reach my own followers I got disappointed. I started to fall into comparison traps left, right and centre. Everyone else seemed to be doing ‘better’ than me. I went from loving my story and my drawings to disliking them. I’m embarrassed to write this, but I was still in a fragile place. Being a artist requires you to be vulnerable and to open yourself up, but this can also backfire if you’re not completely grounded in your practice like I was. So for 2023 I will be focusing more on writing about practice here on the blog and on substack, something that I enjoy immensely. I will be posting things on instagram, but in my own slow way.

  8. You are enough & you have enough “Finding joy in the process, will mean you will continue to do it and, as in all things, the more you actually draw, the more you WILL automatically improve - your finished drawings will become better and better. There are no shortcuts. No expensive materials or expert tuition will get you there. Just draw. Draw constantly. Draw everything, all the time. Drawing is all about looking and a regular drawing practice will later your view of the world.” Kerry Lemon in ‘Drawing for Illustration’ by Martin Salisbury. Yes, buying art supplies is fun and exciting but it won’t make you a better artist. (And with you I mean me.) I am so easily influenced watching my favourite artists on Pateon and seeing them work so freely and playfully. The next thing I know all the materials they are using are in my shopping cart, checked out and on their way to me. I’ve bought so many materials I haven’t actually used yet. I tend to do this more when I’m not feeling great about my art. Buying materials doesn’t cure my art block (which is actually me comparing myself to others). For me buying materials is most fun when I am in a good place, so I need to check in with myself before I buy a €50 Japanese brass nib, no matter how gorgeous. Now, whenever I feel the urge to buy something, I try to check in with myself and see what lies beneath it. If I’m excited to try something or need something specific, it’s a go, but if there’s a feeling of lack or insecurity about my art I know I need to work on that first.

That wraps up my 8 best pieces of advice from 2022. I hope you enjoyed them and that there was something in there for you to take with into 2023. Thanks for being here.


X Maris




Links:

Emma Carlisle’s Patreon video ‘Sketchbook Tour - Comparing 2017 to Now' Mark Hearld on making through doing

Martin Salisbury's Drawing for Illustration Spring Cannot be Cancelled by Martin Gayford and David Hockney Frances Ives Patreon Struthless on the drawing advice that changed his life Yumna Al-Arashi on the Creative Independent Haley Nahman on the Creative Independent

Kerry Lemon



(Online) shops in The Netherlands


Splendith

Judith from Splendith sells a delicious and impressive collection of art supplies, ranging from gouache, to acrylic inks to crafting materials like embroidery thread.


Splendiht is one of the few shops in NL who sell brands like Holbein, Dr Ph. Martins and Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. My favourites from Splendith are my Holbein Gouache palette, the Rebecca Green Holbein Acrylic Gouache set (unfortunately out of stock) and the Royal Talent Art Creation sketchbooks, which Splendith stocks in all the juicy new colours (lilac is my favourite). Receiving a parcel from Splendith is like getting a gift, as Judith wraps everything in beautiful paper. So lovely and thoughtful!

Free shipping from €50 in NL.



Everycolor

This is a relatively new find for me, but I love the range they have at Everycolor. I ordered something from them last night and it was already out for shipping this morning, so quick!

Everycolor sells Holbein pencils and paints as well, which is lovely. Other brands I love are Panpastel, Unison and Tombow. I have my eye on the Unison half stick mini sets, on which Sarah Dyer wrote a great article on the Jacksons blog.

Everycolor also have great aanbiedingen (sales) page, which I know will make many a Dutch heart beat a little faster. (I know mine did when I saw the epic panpastel set offer.) Sign up for their monthly newsletter to receive the occosional discount code, the November newsletter contains a discount code for the Unison half stick mini sets!

Free shipping from €60 in NL.



Gerstaecker

A good all round shop where I get most of my printmaking materials like Cranfield Caligo Safewash. They have a massive collection, lots of coloured pencils, crayons, inks, brushes, you name it. Free shipping from €100 in NL.




Miscellaneous

This lovely shop in Amsterdam is not really an art supply shop, but they stock a lot of beautiful brands like Midori, Kakimori and le typographe. If you love stationary definitely have a look at their website. I recently managed to get my hands on the Kakimori brass nib, it's on the way and I'm so excited to use it.


Art supply shops in the U.K.

Even though I don’t shop online anymore from NL because of Brexit, I do have a nosey whenever I’m in the U.K.



Choosing Keeping (London)

Gorgeous little shop in London. They sell stationary and art supplies like these gorgeous watercolour sets by Kuretake, with colours that were selected specially for Choosing Keeping.

I love the Japanese scissors that I bought there, designed for cutting out small details. They are a dream to work with. If you love working in collage I can highly recommend getting a pair.



Jackson’s Art

Massive collection, fast delivery (when in the U.K.). Need I say more.


Happy shopping everyone!


x,

Maris


I love being my own boss, but sometimes I find it hard to start the day when my head is full of ideas, worries and/or plans for the future. I feel an urgency do to all of the things (make new portfolio work! get an agent!) but then feel too overwhelmed to actually start. Where to begin? What to do first? In my mind there are so many things that I think I should do in order to be a ‘good’ illustrator, like observational drawing, creating everyday, be active on social media, experiment with new materials, being playful, find new work… The list goes on. When I don’t have a plan for the day I can easily get distracted by these ‘shoulds’. I then do a little bit of everything but without a real focus and at the end of the day I’m disappointed with myself for not doing any ‘real work’ or not getting anywhere.


Rituals & Routine

I know I thrive when I have a solid routine, but for some reason I have to keep learning this lesson again and again. After finishing a big project, like after graduating from the MA or finishing my first illustrated book, I tend to creatively flounder for a while. When a deadline has been met, the daily routine that was part of making that deadline falls away and if I don’t create a new one I will find myself getting overwhelmed with all the options of what to do as I mentioned before.

Rituals and routine help me a lot with getting on track. One of my favourite rituals to start the day is lighting a scented candle (my favourites are FIK candles, made in the Netherlands), having my cup of tea ready and coaxing my cat Umi into her bed on my desk after her usual zoomies in my studio. I then either write my morning pages (a journaling method to clear the head) or I will warm up with a creative play exercise like making a collage, or using playful materials to make a quick drawing, or I do both. Having a ritual to start the day is like a Pavlov reaction tricking my brain into the right frame of mind. In ‘The Creative Habit’ Twyla Tharp writes:

“It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. (…) The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.)”


When I’m out of ideas

When I’m not working on a commissioned project, I can find it hard to structure my day. I’m either full of ideas and don’t know what to prioritise or my brain is like creative desert where tumbleweeds lazily roam about the landscape. This was the case for a while after finishing my last client project. Even in these periods of creative drought, I find it important to keep showing up at my desk every day and do something, no matter how small. This is how I started my Dog ABC. I figured if I did something small each day, like make one collage, it would eventually accumulate into something bigger. I also use 'Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way' by Jennifer Orkin Lewis, a book full of drawing prompts. By making a collage following one of the prompts I can tick off many of my creative routine boxes, like warming up, being playful and experimenting.


Collages from the book "Draw Ever Day, Draw Every Way" by Jennifer Orkin Lewis


When I don’t have a solid project idea to work on I try not to freak out (what if I have used up all my ideas!) and try a method called thinking through making. By just starting something, anything, an idea can come to you. British artist Mark Hearld puts it perfectly: “I don’t always have a fully formed idea. At art school, the idea is put on a pedestal in such a way that if somebody feels they haven’t got one they’re paralysed. However I think it’s important to find the idea in the making and the doing.


Daily dog collage project: B is for Bichon Frisé


Small daily acts of creativity help me ward off imposter syndrome when I’m in between project ideas and it helps me stick to my creative practice. I find that if I don’t do anything creative for a while, it gets harder and harder to get back into the flow of it. Better to stick to it for at least a small amount a day than to not do anything whilst waiting for an idea.


Page from the book "Draw Ever Day, Draw Every Way" by Jennifer Orkin Lewis


Planning: Long term and short term

When a project idea does come to me, I start with making long term plan by breaking the project up into smaller, more manageable bits and by setting myself a deadline. Presently I have a new picture book idea and I would love to have a dummy ready to show at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March next year. To realise this project I started planning backwards from the deadline in March. Two weeks before the fair I want to have the dummy printed, so I put that in my calendar. I do the same for all the other bits, like finishing at least 5 spreads of artwork, making several dummies in order to determine the sequence, developing convincing characters, organising crit groups with my MA friends and planning tutorials with industry professionals. In order to make my deadline, I’ve made a monthly calendar up until March so I can keep track of what I need to do. This long term plan makes it easier for me to fill in my working days and working towards a goal like this gives me a feeling of purpose.


Mindful productivity

When I’m all fired up and ready to go, I have a habit of completely overestimating what I can accomplish in a day and can easily get disappointed with myself when I don’t reach my (rather unrealistic) goals. I have since learned to plan more reasonably. It’s more manageable for me to plan less and be happy when I achieve more, than when I push myself to go above and beyond. This was hard a first, especially when I compared my productivity and process to that of my friends (some of whom are true beasts of productivity), but then I stumbled upon a theory of mindful productivity by Anne-Laure Le Cunff:


There is research that shows us we can only do about 4 hours of very focussed creative work per day. Everything else is fine to do, like emails, or something else that doesn’t require as much mental power. But true creative work, we only have 4 hours a day. Mindful productivity embraces this and doesn’t see this as a limit we can push through.”


I no longer feel bad about not being able to do creative work for a solid 8 hours a day. This gave me so much breathing space that I now plan my days around this. I know that I’m at my best in the morning, so mornings are reserved for focussed creative work like sketching out a composition or creating artwork. After lunch I’m usually less sharp, so afternoons are for experimenting, working on my website and online shop or admin jobs. Taking proper breaks is also important, as rest is a big part of productivity. This might feel counterintuitive in our current hustle culture but as Julia Cameron writes in ‘The Artists Way’, we have to ‘fill the well’, we have to replenish what we use up, either energy wise by taking a break and having a nap, or creatively by going out of the studio bubble and getting inspired by things that aren’t just illustration. I also found that a creative practise doesn’t solely consists of being productive and making things. Research and reading are also part of my creative practise, as are visiting a museum and getting inspired, walking in nature, watching a film or documentary, eating well and even taking a nap.


Page from the book "Draw Ever Day, Draw Every Way" by Jennifer Orkin Lewis


Bad days

But then there are the days in which nothing will get me going. Not my routine, not my plans, not all the scented candles in the world. Nothing. Sometimes there are days that just don’t work out, and that’s okay. I try to catch this early on and make peace with the fact that that day is not the day and do something else instead, like going on an artist date (another technique mentioned in The Artist Way, highly recommend) or read a book and recharge myself, and try again tomorrow.


Twyla Tharp writes:

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit forming.


Thanks again for being here with me and my musings. Would love to hear your about your creative rituals and routines in the comments.

Lots of love,

Maris


Links:

Fik Candles

Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way by Jennifer Orkin Lewis (aka August Wren)

Twyla Tharp - The Creative Habit or read it on scribd

Mindful productivity by Anne-Laure Le Cunff

Mark Hearld - On Making a Collage

The Artist Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist Way in three minutes (video)

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