Tag: billwatterson

Finding Motivation

I used to be really great at sticking to a schedule. Lately, this hasn’t worked as well. My days keep throwing me curve balls. I have too much to do and not enough day to do it all, and so often I’m just tired.

On bad days, I sometimes hear a whiny voice in my head saying “But I don’t want to!” How do you keep going when you just don’t feel like doing anything?

Different things work on different days. Some days, I can offer myself a reward for getting started. As I’ve said before, peanut butter sandwiches, naps, phone calls… whatever works. Once I get started, it’s fun enough that I can keep going.

Other days, I make the tasks to do smaller. I only copy a corner of the painting or do a thumbnail to expand on later. Maybe I cut out some of the tasks altogether on really bad days.

Remembering my goals and dreams is motivating. I imagine writing and illustrating a book that I want to read over and over. I imagine creating a world that seems like it really should exist somewhere. I imagine painting a picture of my children that I want to hang on my wall and make prints of to send to all my family and friends.

On bad days, I tell myself my growth spurt theory over and over. “It’s hard today because I’m just about to hit a growth spurt,” I tell myself. “If I push through and keep going, my work is going to get so much better. I can’t give up before then.”
I remind myself that the times in the past where I stopped practicing I didn’t feel any better. Quitting didn’t help. In fact, it made things worse because the guilt didn’t go away. Once I whip through the practice for the day, the burden lifts, and I can move forward with confidence. And maybe the momentum of finishing something will help me get even more things done.

I set a time and a small task. At 10:00, I’ll do this small exercise. I set everything out on the bed in little piles and set a time for each pile. When the time comes, I try to talk myself into doing the first pile. Just really quickly. It doesn’t have to be my best work. If I just manage to do something, that’s enough. And, if the first task goes well, sometimes I can tack on a second or third and readjust my schedule.

There are some things that I want to add to my schedule that haven’t happened yet. I think of them often and try to talk myself into them. Right now, things are busy and my motivation is just barely covering what I’m already doing.

But, I’m biding my time. Certain times of year are great for schedule building. Everyone else is starting new things too and there just seems to be extra motivation in the air. There is a feeling that the time is right now. The start of the school year or the new year or the summer. The first day of spring or fall or winter. Birthdays, anniversaries, small holidays.

I once read an article that said that people are more likely to quit smoking if they set a date. If it works for something that difficult, surely it can work for something small. And I think it works better if there is some meaning attached to the date. And if it doesn’t work the first time, I’ll keep trying. You don’t fail until you quit trying.

I like to write a date next to my practice work. Having a long chain of unbroken days is motivating. I don’t want to break the chain. But then, occasionally, I do. That’s really demotivating. So, as soon as possible, I make up for the missed days and date them as though I had done them on time. “It didn’t happen,” I tell myself. “See? No missed days.” And then I’m motivated again. Looking back, I have no idea which days I missed. It didn’t happen.

Having a website like this is motivating because of the accountability. Even though not many people check it, the idea of disappointing the people who do is motivating. It’s like breaking the chain of unbroken days, but in a public setting where I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. I can’t fool the site stats by back-dating my posts.

Sometimes, after looking at work I admire, I feel like giving up. “I’ll never be that good. Why am I even trying?” I remind myself I’ll never know if I give up. I remind myself that they are them and I am me and it isn’t a competition. And then I try to trick myself into practicing anyway.

In “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones, the wizard Howl says, “I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!” Sometimes this works for me, too. I set everything out, and when I have a moment where I’m not doing something else, I’ll tell myself, “Well, I guess I might as well do this, just for right now.”

Perhaps this seems strange to read about. I don’t know. It works for me. Sometimes. Some of my friends admire my self-discipline. I feel a little like an impostor, because it’s not really self-discipline. It doesn’t feel like it anyways. It feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, frantically trying to figure out what will work this time before the day is over, in between all the other things I need to do each day.

Maybe I’ll get that regular schedule back someday. I’d like to. I’m not going to wait to practice writing and painting and drawing for that day. And so, I’ll just keep doing my best each day.

Do you have a hard time motivating yourself to get things done? What works for you? How do you add new things to your day? How do you stick to a schedule?

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My DIY Art School

I like to draw and paint, and I want to improve my technical skills. I cannot go to art school right now, and I’m not getting any younger. So, rather than waste precious time, I am trying to do what I can here and now.

I am lucky. I have access to lovely, helpful books and people to guide me in my studies. This year, each Saturday, I will share some of the work I’m doing and the things that have been helpful. If anyone has any advice or suggestions, please add them to the comments.

I’ll begin with two different activities that I believe have really accelerated my growth as an artist:

My first drawing teacher was probably the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I did all the exercises in the book many times over the years, challenging myself to complete them again every five years or so. Each time I get to the end of the book, I can see the improvements I’ve made. It requires an investment of time, but I think it’s worth the effort. You can check out Betty’s website at http://www.drawright.com/.

Second, I see a lot of growth through consistent drawing practice. Right now, I draw a face a day from life and one from a magazine.

Sketches of two of my kids, 10-17-18 and 10-18-18

Sketches of people going to General Conference from the November 2017 Ensign Magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sketched on 8-31-18 and 9-1-18. You can access this magazine at https://www.lds.org/ensign/2017/11?lang=eng. Bonus points if you can tell me which page of the magazine these two sketches come from!

I also draw something from the yard. Sometimes I do gesture drawings of kids running around and playing. Those almost always turn out terrible, but I think it’s good practice.

Sketches of various plants found in my backyard between 6-25-18 and 7-13-18

All of the above are easy to do and take maybe a half hour total. I draw in pen so that I don’t obsess and give in to my perfectionist tendencies. I draw what I see, and when I make a mistake, I just move forward. Even if the drawing won’t end up perfect, I learn something from drawing it, so I finish anyway.

I also do a study from artwork by an artist I admire, trying to copy it as best as I can. Some I always do a pencil sketch first, others I just dive in and see how it goes. This takes about a half hour to an hour. When I finish, usually all I can see are the mistakes. A few days later, if I look back, I usually think it turned out okay. Some of the artists I consistently study are Chris Riddell, Stephen Cartwright, Bill Watterson, Skottie Young and Quentin Blake. Often, I’ll just copy a piece of an illustration.

When I do a study from a published illustrator or draw a person from a magazine, I always write down the reference next to the picture. That way, I always know what is mine and what is not. Right now, that’s mostly pretty obvious, but I want to make sure I’m honest.

Any questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you. What has helped you as an artist? Who are your favorite artists? What do you wish you had the resources and time to do, and what’s stopping you from doing it?

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