This is originally a post on my art tumblr. See the original post there for pictures and links. Thank you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about drawing, depression, and motivation. This is going to be kind of a long post, but I want to talk about how I went from being ready to give up to drawing every day, and I hope I can help other people who are dealing with the same thing, or really anyone who struggles with a lack of motivation.
I’ve been dealing with depression for many years now, and in the past, it has made finding the motivation to draw very difficult. I would go days, weeks, sometimes even months without drawing, and I would beat myself up about it. Why couldn’t I find the passion to do what I loved to do? Like if this was what I wanted to do with my life, why couldn’t I just put the work in? I was so ready to give up hope. I thought I could never build up the motivation to be as serious about art as I wanted to be. There was a point at which I pretty much did give up.
Here’s the thing, though. Now I draw every day. Some days, it’s for hours, and some days it’s for 45 minutes, but I draw every day. I still have depression, and I still struggle with motivation, but there are things I’ve learnt over the years that make it easier for me. I realise now that I’ve never really talked about it, and I thought that maybe sharing my experience might help other artists who are dealing with depression.
There’s no one fix. It’s a lot of little things that add up to getting the most out of what motivation you do have. Part of it is learning to work even when you’re not motivated, which doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds.
Give yourself permission to suck.
I think a lot of what makes working without much or any motivation possible is being okay with making horrible, ugly drawings and giving yourself credit for doing them. Those bad drawings DO count to making you a better artist. You’re putting the time and effort in, you’re learning, and you’re getting into the habit of drawing even when things don’t come out well. I help keep myself in this mindset by doing most of my warmups in very cheap sketchbooks so I don’t worry about wasting good paper. I buy these sketchbooks at the department store for about 98 yen (around a dollar each).
Best of all, your drawings become less precious to you. Not everything has to be a finished product, and not everything has to be something you show the world. I used to post my warmup sketches every day. Now I only post them often enough to update my progress.
Keep track of your progress.
Another thing that helps me is using a timer. Distraction is a problem for everyone, especially when you’re dealing with a mental illness, and a small kitchen timer helps me stay on track. I set it to run while I’m drawing, and if I want to do anything else, I have to pause it. That pressures me to work nonstop and to be very aware of when I do take breaks.
But wait. There are more benefits to the timer! You can keep track of how much time you spend drawing every day and over all. I like to make it into a game. I have a ‘best time’, currently 5 hours and 38 minutes, and if I have a day off where I’m feeling good, I can decide to challenge that time. Since I’ve started keeping track of how much time I spend drawing, at the end of March, I’ve drawn a total of 67 hours and 4 minutes. That’s a good thing to know, especially if you’re a fan of Malcolm Gladwell.
The other cool thing about the timer is you figure out how long it takes you to do things. Now I know that it takes me about 8-15 minutes to lay out a solid character pose and add some details. It takes me 2 and a half hours to fill a page in my moleskine and colour it with markers. It takes me 20 minutes to an hour to do a warmup page in my sketchbook. And it takes me 20 hours to do a full digital illustration because digital is one of my weaknessesXD. But now I really KNOW how much of a disparity there is between my traditional and digital work.
Have a plan.
One more thing. I’ve been talking a lot about warmup drawings. I never really have a shortage of ideas. If anything, I have too many, which I think can be equally daunting. I have methods for keeping myself on track and having kind of scheduled things to practice/draw, so when I get started for the day, I know what I’m supposed to be working on.
Most days, I will do a page of warmup gestures based on the stock of some very cool models on dA, senshistock, pyjama-cake, null-entity, and kxhara. (If you have a stock model you like to use, let me know! Finding a good stock model is a great thing, and my list does not include very much diversity in race or body type, which is kind of a bummer for someone learning how to draw). Maybe you don’t know much about doing gestures yet, and that’s okay. Check out this video and many of sycra’s other videos for guidance. Also, my friend tygerr recommended a great book for understanding figure drawing, Figure Drawing: Design and Invention, which you can use as a source for ‘assignments’ as well as understanding gesture drawing and anatomy.
Beyond that, I have a blog where I reblog things that give me ideas, including tutorials, and I can always look at that for ideas of ‘assignments’ for myself. You’re welcome to use mine, too, or look at it for ideas of starting your own. Mine is corgwnshire, but there are loads of great art reference tumblrs out there, and I reblog from many of them on that tumblr.
I could say so much more about this, like how I’ve tackled aspects of art that were just incredibly daunting to me, like backgrounds, but I think I’ll save that for another post. I REALLY hope this helps someone because this is all stuff I had to figure out on my own, and I want to help other people benefit from my experiences if they can. I was ready to give up. I DID give up, and it’s okay to do that—you CAN come back from it.