Drawing was my first love. It came even before Jimmy Clark, the tow-headed boy down the street who kissed me in the first grade. When I was very small, I would make my mom draw me princesses with vast gowns, so that I could decorate them with crayon bows and flowers. As I got older, I always had a sketchbook. I was constantly doodling. It was a way for me to explore my imagination. I loved fairy tales, and drew many, many princesses (in ever more elaborate gowns). In high school it became an outlet for my angst and a refuge from the feeling that I did not fit in. I always took art, and became more focused on the technical details of proficient drawing: perspective, line weight, movement, and light and shadow. I drew my hands. I drew my cat. I copied images out of National Geographic.
In college, despite a vague idea that I should pursue something more practical, I declared an art major so that I could take art classes. I also kept a rigorous academic schedule, but every margin of every notebook was covered with sketches. Sitting down on a studio bench with newsprint before me, hands smeared with charcoal, was like going to church. It kept me feeling grounded, whole, and grateful to be alive. Once I found figure drawing, the love affair was full blown. I was a goner.
After college, and a more practical degree in visual communication design, my drawing practice began to fall off. There was a living to earn and adventures to be had. There was no studio space, no dedicated time, and no more mentors. Drawing and I drifted apart, as old lovers do. Pretty soon we barely spoke to each other. Then, in the year before my first daughter was born, I had one final burst of creative energy, and painted enough pieces for a single show. When baby arrived, I was done. I walked out of that church. I haven’t visited much since.
I cannot really explain why this is so, except to say that becoming a mother is more demanding of one’s time and energy than can really be imagined beforehand. I was tired, and over time the practice I once loved became another thing on the “should” list. Another thing not done. Another thing ignored and set aside. I would become frustrated with my lack of skill as I made clumsy sketches for a design project. I stopped seeing drawing as a source of joy and began to judge myself harshly for every feeble, wobbly line. Yet I also missed what it did for me. When I was younger, drawing made me feel the way I imagine a musician feels when they are playing a beloved piece of music. I felt the rare beauty of being alive when my pencil moved over the paper. Time fell away. It did not matter if the end product was clever or meaningful. It was the making that mattered, and it felt right.
Recently I ran across an interview of a fellow designer. This designer mentioned her practice of doing 100-day creative challenges – and I thought yes. I can do that. I can make space for that. Make one drawing a day for 100 days. I set forth these rules:
I will let the day dictate the drawing.
I will not judge the end product.
Some will be more elaborate than others.
I will strive to experiment and explore many approaches.
I will use a variety of media without limitation.
This challenge is my love letter to myself, but I invite you to read it. I’ll be posting my drawings on Instagram. You can follow my progress at @littlebirddesignstudio.
These days, my youngest is the one who always has a pencil in hand. She sees when a blue is more gray or more green. She makes my heart swell. I have been drawing her princesses. I think she might come to church.