365 days of drawing
January 01, 2019
Hi all, my name is Pattra. I am a software engineer by day and amateur artist by night. For a long time I’ve doodled and a dabbled, but until now I never really spent much time creating artwork.
On January 1, 2018, I decided that in order to seriously improve, I needed to commit to more practice. 10,000 hours to become a master and all that. So I made a goal: draw everyday for 365 days and post the results daily on social media. This post is a summary of my experience and includes some selected works that I thought were worth sharing.
Disclaimer: it’s been a whole year, so I wrote a whole lot. If you want just the summary-by-pictures, check out the highlights section!
Table of Contents
- The actual beginning
- My artistic background/lack thereof.
- Pallet Town
- Getting back into drawing after 15+ years of no practice.
- The challenge
- Why I decided to do this in the first place.
- Frequently asked questions
- Questions I’ve answered over the course of the year.
- ⭐ Highlights, lowlights, midtones ⭐
- A selection of some of my favorite, least favorite, and most middling pieces from the year.
- What’s next?
The actual beginning
When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be an artist. Whatever that really entailed, I had no idea, but my mother’s complaints about me bringing home pictures of rainbows everyday from kindergarten weren’t going to stop me. Puberty-induced self-consciousness certainly would, though.
At some point around 6th or 7th grade, I noticed (and/or realized?) that a couple of my classmates were way better at drawing than I was. When comparing skill, I wasn’t even close to their ballpark. I wasn’t even in the bleachers; I was busy faffing around at the kiddie pool across town wondering where everyone else was.
Upon seeing their work and their continued improvement, some part of my lazy pre-teen brain got set off and I thought to myself, fine. I guess I’m not as good an artist as I thought I was. In fact, maybe art and drawing aren’t my thing. Were never my thing. I’ll just leave that to people who are actually talented.
I was convinced that these kids had hit some kind of genetic jackpot, and just had something that I couldn’t control or have—innate, A grade, all-natural talent. And that discouraged me. So I gave up, and resigned myself to margin-of-the-notebook doodles for the rest of my pre-college art career.
Well, one of the ~1,000,000,000 things I didn’t realize when I was 13 is that these kids maybe started out pretty good, but they didn’t become amazing just because they were lucky enough to be “blessed” with talent or whatever. We all made roughly the same quality scribbles when we were 4 or 5—but the reason our skills had diverged so much since then was because they actually applied themselves and practiced often, whereas I just took out a chunk of printer paper every other weekend, dabbled around, and then somehow expected to be just as good. I didn’t see the work that went into their skill—I just saw the results.
Fast forward to around 2015, I was living in Seattle and hadn’t really thought much about art since taking a single introductory drawing class in college. I guess I had a bougie Moleskine that I doodled in sometimes, and that was about it. But of all of the god-knows-how-embarrassing things that could set me off, it was this: I attended PAX Prime that year and played a demo of none other than Pokémon Art Academy for Nintendo 3DS.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the title, Pokémon Art Academy is a game where you are literally given a bunch of step-by-step tutorials on how to draw and color Pokémon. They give you a bunch of different brushes, have you try out different styles, and you can do it all just with the stylus and the secondary screen of the 3DS.
Oh, they got me hook, line, and sinker at that demo booth.
I went straight home, got on Amazon, saw that the game wasn’t even out yet, complained to my roommate loudly for about 5 minutes, then pre-ordered and waited for however many weeks.
My hype was unspeakable. Once it arrived, I dove right in.
I was a grown, employed, bill-paying adult and fully enthralled. Loved that game. And I was really impressed with some of the things I churned out from it! In fact, I started to think to myself: damn. Not trying to get too crazy here. But maybe I should consider drawing more than just Pokémon.
"Art Academy" aftermath. Here's a snap including some of my sketchbooks from 2015-2018. You may notice that around February 2017 I ceased to pay the fancy-pants premium.
In 2017 I decided that I wanted to be more serious about getting good, so I started taking night classes through MassArt’s Continuing Education program.
Every class I took was amazing. The professors were supportive, I learned and practiced a lot of fundamentals, and most importantly I got to talk with and learn from my classmates—all artists with different styles, backgrounds, and several who were just astronomically better than I am. The proverbial fire-under-ass was lit.
Nearing the end of the year, however, I became frustrated with my progress (or perceived lackthereof). I was doing alright, but I was nowhere nearly as good as I wanted to be. Was this as good as I was gonna get? How was I supposed to catch up with those 16 year old artistic prodigies on Instagram? How can I challenge myself to be better?
Classes were a good start, but I still didn’t draw or paint every day. Maybe almost—but not every. Plus I was good at finding excuses. Oh, I need to hang out with so-and-so today. Oh, I’m so tired from work today. Oh, I’m just going to scroll through this Instagram posts for an hour instead today. Rarely did I produce something that I would be proud enough to show to people.
I decided that my problem was lack of commitment. So I set a goal: for the next 365 days, I would force myself to draw or paint something everyday, and post it on Instagram to keep me accountable. Even if it was a crappy sketch or a doodle on a napkin—at some point, I would engage the right side of the brain and put the pen to paper.
Somewhat conveniently, but by no means intentionally, my first day was January 1 of last year. And the last was yesterday, December 31, 2018.
Frequently asked questions
What did you use?
Traditional media: pencil, paper, microns, watercolors, copic markers.
Digital media: iPad Pro (2016 model), Apple Pencil, Procreate (for sketch/paint), Goxel (for voxels), Pixaki (for pixels), sometimes Wacom tablet + Photoshop.
How did you find the time?
I am a young, legally single person with a normal full-time job and no dependents. For me it was a matter of prioritizing art over other activities—that said, I am privileged and lucky to have the time that I do to devote to artwork.
How much time do you spend drawing every day?
When I first started, I spent maybe an hour or two drawing a day tops. Once I started to figure out how to paint digitally with some success and became more devoted, it was more like 4-6 hours a day.
How did you like using Instagram to track progress?
Instagram’s use as an accountability measure was invaluable. I also love following and talking with other artists. That said, the main problem I had with IG is how it inevitably sucked me into the unfortunate popularity contest that is social media.
Spending time thinking about like counts and judging the quality of my work based on “engagement” got old fast & stressful faster. Pretty early on I turned off Instagram notifications, and I am still glad for that.
I want to do something similar. How should I get started?
This is what worked for me. None of this is gospel or anything (except for #2 probably).
1. Just start.
Don’t wait for a particular time or place to get going just because it comes off as poetic. The sooner and more seriously you begin, the better.
2. Be quantitative.
Instead of saying, “I want to draw more,” say “I’m going to draw 3 times a week,” or “I’m going to draw for at least 15 minutes everyday.” Assigning quantity to the goal makes it easier to keep yourself accountable and harder for you to make excuses.
Keep in mind that the number you set should also be be realistically achieveable. For example, if you have lots of other commitments, a goal to practice 2 times a week instead of daily may be more reasonable, less stressful, and still nets you a ton of benefit.
For me, the daily drawing was OK because I set no quality(?) or time minimum per day. A quick scribble on scrap paper would check the box for me, whereas committing to a full daily paint would’ve sent me packing on day 4.
3. Stay accountable.
Some people have a personal checklist; I posted on social media. A neat middle ground might just be showing what you’ve done to 1 or 2 close friends.
In other words: no cheat days. Keeping the goal realistic helps with this significantly, but the going will still sometimes get tough. That said, sometimes you have to be tough on yourself if you want to achieve something.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Toughness without love is just rude. I experienced “art block” for most of this year, but beating myself up mentally wasn’t going to do me any favors.
I just reminded myself: I am working to better myself. I don’t need to pump out a masterpiece everyday. Some days you will just churn out whatever, and that’s fine as long as you tried. Every day is progress, and remember to enjoy the process on the way.
I think this quote by Ira Glass sums it up nicely:
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
[…] It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Highlights, lowlights, midtones
If you’ve made it through the above wall of text, I want to thank and commend you. And if you’re here for the picture summary of this year’s experience, that’s cool too!
In this section I’ll share some of my pieces from this year—some good, some bad—and talk a bit about their significance to me.
January 01 (2018)
Milestone number one. The first two scribbles of the year.
A lot of my early winter pieces were sketches of "floating heads" like this one--meaning not very many bodies or full settings.
I had done the black & white lines for this a few days prior and was too scared to touch it again. Upon finding out, my friend Anna told me "nothing in art is sacred!!", so I pumped out the watercolors that evening.