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

  1. The actual beginning
  • My artistic background/lack thereof.
  1. Pallet Town
  • Getting back into drawing after 15+ years of no practice.
  1. The challenge
  • Why I decided to do this in the first place.
  1. Frequently asked questions
  • Questions I’ve answered over the course of the year.
  1. Highlights, lowlights, midtones
  • A selection of some of my favorite, least favorite, and most middling pieces from the year.
  1. What’s next?
  • Conclusions.

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.

Pallet Town

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.

The challenge

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.

—Ira Glass

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.

January 13

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.

February 02

I had just finished setting up my Wacom tablet and was trying to figure it out. I barely understood traditional painting, much less digital, and I disliked this piece so much but was too tired to make anything else. I explicitly recall this and one other piece to be my most personally disliked of the year.

March 20

I painted this for a Narrative Illustration assignment: concept sketches of our final project settings. This was my first ever environment paint!

April 03

Was so pleased with this keyframe for Narrative Illustration. My final project was to illustrate the story of Izanami and Izanagi. This panel portrays Izanami transformed and crawling out of hell.

At this point I still didn't really understand how to paint people, so I got away with thick lines and flat colors instead.

April 22

This paint doesn't look like much, but I clearly recall creating this and having something click re: how to paint skin to look like it contains a volume, rather than just lying flat.

May 02

Putting learnings from the month prior to the test w/ a photo reference. Totally copped out on the outfit, but the face is where it's at. One thought I had while painting this: "oh my god, I am actually becoming good."

June 17

Around this time I had the opportunity to talk with an amazing concept artist, Alex Neonakis. She gave me some advice that I have kept in mind since: to make a great illustration, one should set a mood, hint at a location, and sell the character as a person and not just a design.

July 06

Ever since my "Benedict Cumberbatch epiphany," my go-to references for daily paints were headshots of friends and loved ones. This paint of my SO demonstrates the portraiture skills that I had developed in late spring/early summer.

August 05

One of the main reasons I got back into art was because of my dream to design & illustrate my own video game. Dabbling with pixels made sense to me, and I couldn't have been happier with this bad girl.

August 26

A couple friends and I had started a D&D campaign, and I drew my character during one of our sessions. I felt like this piece was a good result of applying Alex's advice. No more (or at least fewer) floating heads!

October 25

I never thought I would be as into portraiture as I am now. Here's Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians fame.

November 04

This paint of one of my friends arrived hot on the heels of a belated Halloween party. I recall texting this to another friend who realized a few days later that it was a paint and not a photo. He apologized profusely, but the mistake was a compliment in itself :)

November 05

Along with pixel art, I also experimented with voxel art this year. I worked on this little cafe over the course of a few days. Really pleased with how cozy it turned out.

November 23

From the beginning I have struggled with composition, so I sometimes use movie stills as reference. For this paint I liked how the flat brushes gave it an interesting, stylized appearance.

December 22

In 2017 I took an oil painting class with Catherine Kehoe. She had a mantra of "less is more," and encouraged us to reduce complex forms into simple shapes. This paint of the drag queen Sonique Love was my attempt to re-apply those ideas.

December 27

Revisited the very first sketch of the year on this day.

December 29

Fanart has its place in the world and for me the place was December 29. Having doodled this character back in 2015, this piece proved to me that I'd developed several technical skills since then: sketching, lineart, coloring, composition. Dec 29 was one of many days where I thought: "I might not make anything better this year."

December 31

I made something better.

What’s next?

I’m going to continue drawing. Rushing home to start a paint and toting the sketchbook around has become a significant part of my daily life. Not to mention I have so much more room to improve—why stop now?

On the flip side, I likely won’t be posting as often on Instagram anymore. For accountability, I’ll probably go with a mix of occasional posting, showing a few close friends, and keeping track on my own.

365 days ago I didn’t really have an idea of how good I would be or how I would feel at the end of the year. Was it going to feel like finishing a marathon? Was I going to feel relieved? Maybe some tears would be shed?

Turns out, what I feel is the motivation to continue. On January 1, 2018, I probably thought something like, “I’ll just do this for a year and be done.” But now it’s 365 days later, and I’ve gotten more than what I asked for: a habit. A commitment to making art a consistent & significant part of my life.

To those of you who helped encourage my progress throughout the year, thank you. To those of you who turned on notifications for my posts and liked it on your smartwatches before even looking, thank you. And to the people who gracefully said nothing every time I complained, “aw shit, I gotta go home and do my drawin,” (i.e. every day), extra thanks and also sorry I’m a whiner.

I will continue to create artwork throughout life and hope to share my progress with you now and again. This post and my last paint of 2018 are just the beginning—I’ll talk to you all again soon.