Monkey Mind, Healing Art and the Power of Supportive Kommunity

The past few weeks have been a difficult time for me. My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the first few weeks after her diagnosis I was finding that I was hating much of what I was drawing. In Sketchbook Skool (SBS) we call these critical thoughts our monkey, a term coined by Danny Gregory, one of the Skool’s founders (To find out more about the monkey visit Danny’s blog here). I call this state of mind “monkey mind” and after a few days of monkey mind I turned to the SBS kommunity for help, posting on our Facebook page asking for tips and ideas to get me out of this state of mind.  The response was immediate, creative, hugely supportive and felt like an enormous virtual hug. So, for those of you who might also suffer bouts of monkey mind, here are some of the suggestions students made:

  • Draw the gorilla that has you in his grip
  • Go through your sketchbooks and do different versions of specific drawings that you enjoyed
  • Draw/write/decorate quotes
  • Suspend judgement and just keep drawing
  • Pick something difficult to draw and just draw it repeatedly as an exercise; or paint something simple (e.g. a square) repeatedly
  • Create colour swatches
  • Practice lettering
  • Sketch and scribble things that are less precious – maybe on scraps of paper or post-it notes
  • Draw with your opposite hand
  • Sketch your mum or for your mum or things she loves

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I was also challenged by another student to take part in an ongoing 5 day challenge, which involved posting pictures of old or new work for 5 days.  I decided that rather than posting old work I would try to post new work for 5 days. The sketch above was one I drew on the second day. That challenge probably helped me more than anything, because I felt like some SBS friends were looking out especially for my daily posts and being so supportive and encouraging in their responses to them! And if it hadn’t been for that challenge I might not have drawn at all that week – so thanks Karla Stevens for nominating me keeping me drawing when I might have given up. The sketch below was made on day 4 in the car at 70mph (I wasn’t driving) while we were travelling to visit my parents.

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The following Monday, after a very emotional weekend with my parents, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to draw at all when I received that week’s SBS challenge (in between kourses we have been receiving a weekly email with new challenges set by a different kourse tutor each Monday) because I was just too upset. But by mid-afternoon I was cried out and decided to have a go. The challenge was to draw on some kind of tinted paper with watercolour and white gouache. I’d never used gouache before but I had, by chance, bought some a few weeks before thinking it might be useful and I found some brown wrapping paper to paint on. Within ten minutes I was totally focused on drawing and then painting and in what I can only call “my happy place”.  I was drawing and painting for perhaps two hours and for those two hours all my worries were forgotten and my spirit was calm.  Now, a day later even looking at this painting makes me feel calm. And I can honestly say, since I don’t paint very much at all, that it’s probably the best painting I’ve ever done!

I’m not at all religious and I don’t believe in fate, but I can’t help thinking that that decision to join SBS last July was meant to be because right now I have art and SBS and this very powerful supportive kommunity just when I need them most.


Learning from mistakes

It’s the last week of Seeing kourse in Sketchbook Skool and I’ve been reflecting on all that I’ve that learned this past six weeks. Once again I’m amazed at how much progress I’ve made – my biggest achievement this semester has been to end it having lost my fear of using watercolour, as this sketch I made this week for Liz Steel’s klass shows.

It’s great to finish off with such a successful sketch, but some of the best lessons I’ve had this semester have come from mistakes. Danny Gregory, founder of Sketchbook Skool, insists that bad drawings are the best teachers, while SBS teacher Tommy Kane insists that a mistake never equals disaster; both he, Danny and other SBS teachers encourage students never to give up on a drawing because of a mistake. I’ve tried to take their advice on board and keep going with all my sketches no matter what, and have often been amazed at how well my sketches turn out in the end. The “mistakes”, which usually happen in the early stages of a drawing and are usually because I’m not “seeing” properly, I’m just not focusing on what I’m doing, often almost disappear into the drawing if I just rectify the line and keep going.

Take the example above. There’s a slightly thicker black line in the shadow on the left side of the lampshade. That was my first line, intended to be the edge of the lampshade. As soon as I’d drawn it I knew it was wrong – if I’d continued with that the line the whole drawing would have been wrong. So I drew the line again and carried on. And the drawing works. The line’s there, it’s visible but you don’t really notice it unless you look for it, but it’s a good reminder to pay attention when I place that first line!


A whole week of drawing selfies

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This week we’ve been drawing selfies in Sketchbook Skool’s Seeing kourse. I wasn’t looking forward to this particular week. I don’t like haven’t my photo taken; that’s one of the reasons why I first took an interest in photography – if you’re on the other side of the camera you don’t have to be in the photos! And I avoid mirrors as much as possible, so much so that I had to go shopping last Friday to buy a large portable dressing table mirror so that I could draw mirror selfies this week. And I very rarely draw people for all sorts of reasons – lack of models, lack of confidence, lack of practice.

But this week has been an absolute revelation – much to my surprise I’ve loved drawing selfies. I’ve not really got to grips with contour line drawings yet, my mirror selfies age me by 20 years but are enjoyable to do and once I’m in my comfort zone of pen and ink drawings from a photograph I’ve been having a ball!

Homework for the week was to do 2 mirror selfies, 2 selfies from photographs, 2 contour line selfies, and 1 selfie from memory of the imagination. I did many more (some far too awful to share!) but below are my 7 homework selfies.IMG_1299
I have used a few tricks to get the best out of these photo selfies. As I already mentioned I hate been photographed so rather than get someone else to take pictures of me I’ve taken photos myself (on my iPod touch) when I’ve been alone in a room using a selfie stick. That way I’ve felt comfortable enough to play around and make silly expressions and take lots and lots of pictures. I’ve then used the Snapseed app to turn the photos into a high contrast black and white photo to emphasise the shadows and I’ve used that photo as the basis for my drawing.

And here is my final selfie, which I drew after I’d published my homework… having so much fun with these I’m going to carry on and fill a whole selfie sketchbook!

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Sometimes, when it comes to drawing, ignorance is bliss

One of the key lessons I’ve learned in Sketchbook Skool (SBS) is that, when drawing, it’s important to focus on what you actually see, rather than what you think something should look like. So, if you’re drawing an orange, it’s important to look at the orange you’re drawing and draw the shape of the orange as you’re looking at it, rather than simply drawing a circle because you think oranges are round. I’ve tried hard when drawing not to name things but simply draw lines and shapes but then I find myself subconsciously falling back into old habits and drawing my dog’s nose and his eyes and realising that I’m relying on my memory of them as much as I am on actually looking at them.

This week I drew what is probably one of my most successful drawings to date and it was only when I posted it on the SBS Facebook page and read on of the comments that I realised why that might be.

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The drawing is of my daughter’s vintage typewriter. I’ve never used a traditional typewriter; I bought this on eBay as a gift for her a couple of years ago. Because I’ve never used one I’m not familiar with the parts, beyond the basic housing and the keys. It was only when I saw a comment from another SBS student referring to the “platen roller” that it occurred to me that I didn’t know what any of the parts were and, because they were so unfamiliar to me , when I was drawing it I was focusing very hard on what line connected to which other line. I was drawing what I saw because, although I had a vague idea of what a typewriter looked like, I wasn’t sufficiently familiar with it’s workings to be able to draw it without really looking as I worked.

I want to try some more drawings now of similarly unfamiliar objects to see if it is their unfamiliarity that is helping me to focus and produce better drawings. Or perhaps this was just a one-off, we’ll see. But I do know that this one drawing has increased my confidence enormously, not least because Tommy Kane commented on it with a “Pretty Awesome” – thanks Tommy, you made my year!


The Tommy Kane Rule

imageSince finishing the first semester of Sketchbook Skool I’ve been trying to stick to the Tommy Kane rule, which is never to give up on a sketch. This is something I’ve never been good at. I draw in pen, not pencil, so I don’t erase, but one of the consequences of that is that I often make truly awful mistakes – and I have been known to tear pages out of my sketchbook (often)!

That’s one reason for using a cheap sketchbook. And if I’m using a more expensive sketchbook (as I am right now – I’m using a Moleskine) then I generally just give up on the sketch and move on. But I’m in SBS to learn and the Tommy Kane rule says never give up on a sketch so I haven’t given up on a single sketch in the past few weeks since my first SBS semester finished.

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I’m sharing this with you today because I just had my first real sketching disaster that I would usually have given up on but I turned it around into an OK drawing. I began with a contour drawing of my Sennheiser Momentum headphones. I still haven’t got to grips with contour drawings; the left side never matches the right and it certainly didn’t this time! Once it was clear that the contour was all wrong I wanted to give up and start again but I remembered the Tommy Kane rule and persevered and somehow managed to rescue my sketch. The shape is wrong, the left and right sides don’t match, but as a drawing it’s OK and I learned a lot. So thank you for your rule Tommy Kane!

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Skool’s Out!

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So it’s the last week of “Beginnings”, my first Sketchbook Skool kourse.  I’ve done my homework and posted it in the klassroom, I’ve given my feedback on the last week of skool and I’m feeling kind of sad that it’s over.  But I’m looking forward to having some time to build on everything I’ve learned (and that’s a HUGE amount) and practice, practice, practice and develop some of those skills over the the next months or so.  And I’m also excited about moving on to doing another kourse in the new year – because one thing I do know is that now I’ve started I have no plans on stopping. I hope to be in Sketchbook Skool until I’m 100 or dead, which ever comes first!

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So what have I learned from my first six week SBS semester?

1. That it’s much easier to draw every day (well, nearly every day, haven’t quite managed very day) when you’re doing it in company.  As well as an online classroom SBS has a vibrant community on social media, which makes it easy to see what people in other klasses as well your own, are doing – and the Facebook page in particular is a good place to ask questions. It took me a few week to build up the confidence to join in discussions there where some students clearly knew each other very well but once I did I was made very welcome very quickly. Sharing the experience of drawing, rather than doing it all alone, makes it much easier to establish as a habit.

2. It’s great fun to push your boundaries and experiment outside your comfort zone. I’ve learned that I actually like doing things that previously terrified me and I would never have tried without that push.

Optimized-kitchen3. I don’t like drawing with a pencil – it turns me timid!  I’m much more confident when I start out with a pen. My drawings may be less accurate but I think they’re better.

4. I need to work (hard!) on improving my handwriting and lettering skills

5. Practice really does improve everything. So does confidence.

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I’ve been pushed in every direction in these past six weeks but I’ve found, much to my surprise, that I’ve been able to respond to every challenge, even the time challenge, which was the challenge I was most worried about before I started it.  The more time I’ve needed to meet more demanding homework exercises, the more time I’ve somehow managed to find.  As for next semester, bring it on because I simply can’t wait!

If you’re interested in taking a Sketchbook Skool kourse you can find out more on their website at http://www.sketchbookskool.com

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Sketchbook Skool!

Once again it’s been a very long time  since I’ve posted on this blog but I hope that that is about to change for good.  There’s a reason for that and the reason is Sketchbook Skool, co-founded last year by my drawing hero Danny Gregory and Dutch artist Koosje Koene.  I’m guessing that some of you will have heard about Sketchbook Skool (SBS for short) already but for those who haven’t, its both what the name suggests – a series of (online) sketchbook klasses – but also so much more.  The klasses aren’t like traditional “how to” classes but more an insight into how different sketchbook artists work, although each klass does include “homework” (but without deadlines or grading – you just upload it if and when and you choose for critique from fellow students). But what is extra special about SBS is the online community of artists (students and teachers – some students are also teachers, many students are also practising artists but also many students are absolute beginners – it really doesn’t matter, everyone is an artist in SBS) who support and encourage each other, chat on social media and in the classroom and, when possible, even meet up in real life!

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My life had become so busy these last 2 years that I had more or less stopped drawing and I was missing it but struggling to find the time  to draw.  And then when I had the time to pick up my sketchbook I almost didn’t know what to do with it.  I knew about SBS as soon as it was created because I follow Danny Gregory on social media, so I knew that lots of people were having fun in what looked like a great new online sketching playground, but I just didn’t think I had the time for it.  But early in the summer, for a whole variety of reasons that I won’t go into here, I realised that I was really missing drawing and I gave myself a serious talking to. I knew that I need something to give me a kick up the behind to get me drawing again and I thought that SBS might be just what I needed.  I just missed the start of the July semester so I began pestering the SBS office to know when the next semester would begin. It was a long summer but….

In October I started my first SBS klass, “Beginnings”.  Four weeks into the kourse (yes, all ‘c’s get replaced with ‘k’s, I don’t now why), I’ve never had so much fun drawing, sharing my drawings, learning, talking about sketching with others, etc.  I’ve also done more sketching in 4 weeks than in the past 2 years and I’ve not once had that “What do I draw today?” feeling.  I hadn’t really though of sharing any of this on this blog until I was chatting in the classroom a couple of days ago with another student (thank you Gloria Zucaro) and she asked if I had a blog she could look at.  I was embarrassed to refer her to my very neglected blog, but it’s not going to be neglected any more because I’m going to have so many Sketchbook Skool stories to tell and somewhere to put my very best sketches that aren’t just SBS homework.  For today, I’m posting some of the very quick Day of the Dead and Hallowe’en sketches I’ve been doing simply because Gloria asked to see some of them!

Pumpkin1If you’re interested in finding out more about Sketchbook Skool then you can visit their website at http://www.sketchbookskool.com

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