It always takes more

When I try new things, like art materials or techniques, I often get discouraged soon after I’ve started. Do you? There's a common pattern.

 This drawing seems simple. And it is, once it's done :)

This drawing seems simple. And it is, once it's done :)

Part of the reason is I assume there’s magic in a new pencil or brush type that I’ve just bought. Hopefully, this one will make things effortless! (It usually won’t.) But even when the material works as advertised, there’s something else. Things just seem to be a bit harder, and take a bit slower, and generally more fussy than I had hoped. Every. Single. Time. Why?

This video by Ira Glass seems to have the answer. We’re getting the wrong expectations because we’re looking at other people’s highlight reels and thinking our outtakes should look like them. The people you admire have done a lot of not-so-great work, and you need to do the same. The only way to get to the good stuff is through the not-so-good stuff.

 Before I arrived at the simple drawing featured above, I tried the same drawing idea eight times (just at this size) and a couple more times in a different sketchbook at a larger scale. 

Before I arrived at the simple drawing featured above, I tried the same drawing idea eight times (just at this size) and a couple more times in a different sketchbook at a larger scale. 

I'm an art enthusiast in my free time, and I've survived art school. I've tried many different materials and techniques. And by now, I've tested enough things to know for sure: it always takes more. There’s always more mess than we see on the curated Instagram studio shots. There's always an unsuccessful attempt (or eight) before you get to the thing you might want to show anyone else. Even with a fairly compact medium like pencils, I need space to spread out, a messy secondary sketchbook to try things. Not every page turns out great, but the only way to get to better things is to keep making just-okay or even ugly things, and not give up.

And of course, comparing your every effort to someone else's select highlight is discouraging. Because it's not a fair comparison!

  Here are nine sketches of the same idea, with the same materials. I think one or two of them are pretty good! You can even see how I gave myself feedback along the way.  I also tried other combinations of pencils, made a cut-out template for nine same-size drawings, and used other tools and materials. It's OK to spread out!

Here are nine sketches of the same idea, with the same materials. I think one or two of them are pretty good! You can even see how I gave myself feedback along the way. I also tried other combinations of pencils, made a cut-out template for nine same-size drawings, and used other tools and materials. It's OK to spread out!

I like the lightness, energy and simplicity in the drawing at the top of this post. But I made many of them before I got one I was happy with, and a couple more after that before it looked just right. I've learned to enjoy the process of how I get to things (nine same-size sketches, plus two larger ones in other notebooks) and the mess I have to create and then clean up.

Remember: whenever you’re feeling that the new thing you’re trying to do is just not worth the effort - you’re probably at the 20% mark. Keep going, and you’ll see what works and what doesn’t. Make a few more attempts, keeping the qualities that seemed more successful. Then, take a break, step back and enjoy. The process is long and messy, but you’ll get there!

 All of the things I actually need to keep around to make stuff like the tiny little pencil drawing featured above. Not shown - a camera to document this mess, a stool I'm standing on to get the full picture, and a curtain I use to separate the room in two and pretend I have a dedicated art studio :)

All of the things I actually need to keep around to make stuff like the tiny little pencil drawing featured above. Not shown - a camera to document this mess, a stool I'm standing on to get the full picture, and a curtain I use to separate the room in two and pretend I have a dedicated art studio :)