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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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