Keeping your drawing muscles fit - how to stay disciplined

In judo, there’s a saying – ‘take a training session off, you’ll feel it at the next session. Take a week off, your opponent will feel it. Take a month off, everyone in the dojo will see it’. And it was true, if you took a month off, you’d end up huffing and puffing and begging for a break. Time away from training was correlated closely to how much of a beating you took. This was always pretty good motivation to attend consistently.

There generally is a low risk of being thrown around at a life drawing class and there’s no opponent to punish any laziness. This is both a blessing and a curse – I’ve just learned the hard way that a little time off practice can be equally devastating to your skills when it comes to life drawing. Without regular practice, your skills can take steps backwards, which is a great shame considering how hard it is to take steps forward.

Keeping practice consistent also will speed you towards the 10,000 hours that, according to Malcolm Gladwell at least, are needed to become a master of something.

So how can we keep ourselves disciplined to consistently train our drawing muscle? Now, the obvious answer here is that life drawing is enjoyable in a variety of ways, and this is motivation enough. However, there are always times when you feel a little too busy, too tired, or perhaps a little lazy. The following are some suggestions – these will be great for some and awful for others:

This painting was done over 5 days. And yet notice that it has retained its energy and vibrance. That's because it is large, and that required bold arm movements and sweeping strokes.

Is there anything more satisfying than doing a picture you are proud of? The rewards of disciplined practice are big. Painting by Mayko Fry

Make your drawings visible to others

One possible source of motivation is visibility on your progress. The type and extent of visibility will depend on you. It may help to simply show your drawings to your family and friends regularly, or promise that you’ll show them in a few months. A step further would be a blog where you post your drawings. This is a great way to encourage yourself to improve your drawings and also to regularly produce new work. You can create an account at deviant art or a similar art website and start putting drawings up. And perhaps the ultimate is to aim for some sort of open house or an art exhibition. Working on lovelifedrawing has certainly helped me stay disciplined in terms of practice.


    The big mistake that led to all my other mistakes

Keep track of progress

Drawing practice pays big dividends. You may not notice, but over time your drawings will improve impressively. It’s a good idea to look back on the drawings you did a year ago, and realise just much of an impact all that practice has had. The time was well spent, and knowing that is really strong encouragement. When I looked back, I was pretty amazed at the change, and that made me want to maintain what I had achieved, and see how far I could go.

Challenge yourself

Some people love a challenge, and it’ll be a great motivator for some of us. For example, trying a new medium and realising that it’s very difficult can light a fire under you, to the point you won’t stop until you’ve mastered it.

For some of us, of course, life drawing is about relaxing so having a challenge is kryptonite!

Make practice routine

For some of us, a routine is a powerful thing. It almost seems wrong to break a routine once it’s established. So it can be useful to make drawing practice part of your routine. You may find that you’ll be able to make drawing practice part of the day, like eating lunch or having tea.

Make practice convenient

Sometimes we want to practise but only have a few minutes to spare. A sketchbook that’s always in your bag, by your desk or on the coffee table can help make those minutes productive sketching time. Something that’s made a difference for me is that my new computer, a Surface Pro, comes with a stylus and is actually great for drawing on. So if I bring my computer on a work trip, I’m also inadvertently bringing something I can draw with. So I’m getting more drawing practice in (and doing less work).

Make life drawing the antidote to day-to-day stresses

I once read a study which investigated why some people don’t want to quit smoking. It wasn’t about why quitting is hard, but why some people didn’t want to quit at all. And the reason was that they had stressful lives, and a cigarette represented a five minute break from it all. It’s hard to just sit down and stop for no reason, but a cigarette would justify it. And that was so important to them that they never wanted to let it go. Watching TV is another way.

For me, life drawing became a positive version of that. Work was stressful and overloaded my delicate brain everyday to the point that after work hours, I still couldn’t switch off. At life drawing, though, you have to switch off those parts of the brain. You have a task and you need to focus. It’s a great way to pause all the stresses, turn off the parts of the brain you’ve been using too much, and do something fun. That doesn’t work though if you put a lot of pressure on yourself to draw better. If your job is stressful, then relaxing during life drawing, and not pressuring yourself, may be the key to keeping you looking forward to your next class and therefore practising consistently. And ironically, that’s what will make you draw better.

To build a solid foundation of life drawing skills, have a look at our online course First Steps.

How do you make sure you get in regular practice? Let us know in the comments below! And if you want some regular life drawing tips and bits of motivation in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter.




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