The expectation of linear progression

Art is hard

By Jesse Mostipak in blog

April 5, 2023

Note: this was originally published in Weighted Tangents, my Substack newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

I have word vomited all over this post every day for the last week and am still struggling to get this written in time because I haven’t yet been able to articulate what I’m feeling. But deadlines are deadlines and I’ve told myself I can’t leave this chair until I manage to pin these emotions onto the page.

As a sprout I loved to draw. I’d spend hours every day with a paper and pencil, working my way through project after project. By the time I was in high school I had developed a respectable level of skill, but along the way had also been heavily discouraged from pursuing the arts as anything other than a hobby. Drawing wasn’t seen as valuable or productive, and it definitely wasn’t seen as a good way to make a living, so it quickly fell by the wayside as I went off to college and began the business of being and adult.

Now in my 40s and with a surfeit of time I’ve decided to focus on leveling up my drawing skills. Yet despite the deep-seated desire to draw, any time I sit down to do it a wave of resistance washes over me and I would rather be doing literally anything else. Returning emails and Slack are suddenly the most interesting ways to spend my time, and I’ve even found myself tackling long-neglected household chores in an effort to avoid my own intermediacy.

I’m in a place with drawing where there is no immediate return on my investment and I hate it. When I was a beginner any time spent drawing led to immediate improvements with a linear trajectory. But these days I wander the wastelands of being beyond beginner-level materials and yet tragically out of reach of a professional skill set. In my heart of hearts I know that any time I spend drawing is helping me get better, even if that’s not translating to what I see on the page, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

The primary way I’ve dealt with this has been indulging in educational procrastination. Over the last 18 months I’ve read books and articles and watched all the YouTube tutorials and thought “ah, yes! I see now. The next time I sit down to draw I will have internalized all of this and the result will be a breathtaking work of art!” And these last 18 months have been a heady time for building up my expectations, because while I didn’t realize it, I know that you already know what happens next. I sat down to draw something and created a pile of garbage that no amount of cursing at my hand to do its job better can fix.

In a last ditch effort to improve I enrolled in a live online class where we can submit our drawings to the instructor for critique, and made the solemn promise to myself to submit every single week. I spent days absolutely tormented by my first assignment: 15 gesture drawings of nude figures. I’d work and rework my sketches, the entire time telling myself that the instructor would get to my work, and unable hold back a face of absolute disgust, politely suggest I unenroll from the class.

None of that happened when he looked at my work, although I do have a healthy side-eye for my classmates who are turning in sketches that could have been created by Raphael himself. Armed with feedback on how to improve, I’ve spent time reflecting on where this resistance to improvement is coming from:

  • I live in a society that devalues artistic endeavors, and so investing in drawing feels self-indulgent and sets off alarm bells screaming that this is a colossal waste of time
  • Drawing is really challenging, and I have a penchant for sticking to things that I’m naturally good at and that don’t require a ton of effort
  • Improvement requires a mix of discipline and faith along with a healthy detachment from the final product which is hard, because personally I like to look at beautiful things

I don’t have a good ending to this reflection because I’m still in the throes of it, but one change that I’ve put into place is to spend time each day drawing a minimum of 10 structural sketches. I can spend as much (or as little) time on them as I want, but they have to be completed every day. And while I haven’t noticed any improvements in my drawings yet, I have started to enjoy the process again, and that’s something.

Posted on:
April 5, 2023
4 minute read, 778 words
weighted tangents newsletter drawing art
See Also:
Somebody Somewhere
Death just feels very, one size fits all
I can ride my bike with no handlebars