Despondent to Dynamic! Getting out of a downward drawing spiral.

Have you even gotten stuck while sketching? Or has that annoying inner voice that is critiquing your drawing skills –or perceived lack of skills sucked you into believing it??

That happened to me recently– and this is what got me out and begin to rewire a new brain response. Perhaps it may help you.

On this particular day I was sketching live owls during John Muir Laws’ workshop. I was aware that I was having a hard time getting sketches that I was happy with. I have not liked my past owl drawings so I never practiced drawing owls, therefore they never improved.

I struggled for a while. Not being happy with the head, or the beak or the eye. Oh why did my owl look so crazed?? Increasingly I began to feel more and more disheartened, believing more and more the inner narrative:

“You suck at drawing owls.”

No, my higher self definitely knows that is not true. But this inner critic can be so persistent sometimes. I knew that I needed to do something different because I felt myself gradually disconnecting with the class, disconnecting with the present moment with this amazing owl.

So I took action and I shifted gears.

I put my pen down and stopped for a couple minutes to just watch the owl without trying to draw it. Then I picked up my pen and did a blind contour drawing* and another quick blind contour and another until the page began filling up. During blind contours I am not looking at the page while i draw the owl– keeping my eye on the owl 100% of the time.

Blind Contour drawings. Draw without looking at your paper. Your eye follows the subject and trains your hand to follow. I like to use a continuous line drawing- keeping the pen on the paper and not lifting– so drawing in one continuous line.

Then I did a modified contour, and it looked pretty good! Great! So I did a series of quick modified contour drawings- filling up the page— and three pages later, wow!

That quieted that inner critic so that I could sketch this owl. —and it looked quite owly! The modified contour drawings captured the moving owl! I added color and it felt so good to get those pencil miles in!

Pushing through the first few minutes and not giving up to do blind contours saved this session for me. In blind contour drawings the inner critic doesn’t compare the finished drawing to the real thing. I can also tell myself “I’m just scribbling, not drawing”– that helps sometimes.

Perhaps this is something you can try to shake loose the hold of the critical voice that begins to make unhelpful comments.

Nature journaling is about observing nature with deeper sense of awareness and record our observations on the page with words and visuals. The goal is not a pretty picture— although the by product of observational drawing might end up capturing the beauty of the subject.

This was my second page of sketches- After a handful of blind contours, I started to feel more relaxed. Almost meditative. I moved very rapidly since I was eager to shake the hold of the inner critic!

The Nature journal is a place to capture my experience rather than a perfect picture. Because otherwise I can take a photograph. By noticing, wondering, and sketching, I etch this experience into my memory– and the pencil miles improve my drawing skills, day by day.

2 thoughts on “Despondent to Dynamic! Getting out of a downward drawing spiral.”

  • Fantastic post! I have been using blind contour in the same way- snaps me right out of “art block”. My motto is “Make Bad Art” but that’s easier said than done. Even now after years of this approach I still find the fear of mistakes stops me dead in my tracks far too often. When I find myself doubting my abilities I remind myself to “just try it blind.” And a lot of the time I even really like the results, wonkiness and all!

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