Category: Work in Progress

The Problem with Perfectionism

I read a quote the other day by Kim Collins: ‘Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection’.

As a self-confessed left brain creative, I admit that ‘perfection’ is something always on my mind.  I watch endless hours of youtube art channels by amazing artists who have, in my opinion anyway, attained that hallowed place where perfection meets art.  I watch how they effortlessly seem to simply put pencil to paper and create pieces of art imitating life in a way I have rarely seen. I analyse each moment, the way they hold the pencils, the direction they draw in, the colours they use.  On my screen the dogs and horses of the world come to life, the big cats seem ready to pounce and the birds ready to fly away.

With each drawing I focus on something that I want to be better in, whether it be a more realistic anatomically correct drawing, or maybe better contrast and shading, or simply using colour in a smarter way.  I spend eons staring at the reference image (yes – I work from reference images!) trying to recreate it.  I want it to be perfect, but I never seem to actually get to perfect.  Looking at the finished piece I concentrate on the flaws and when someone asks me to try a human face or an eagle I cringe away, too afraid that I won’t do it justice.

Right there perfectionism becomes my enemy.  When wanting to attain a level of perfection to such a degree that you shy away from even trying, perfectionism is no longer your friend.  And yes – guilty as charged!!

Then a funny thing happened.  Andre – the amazing human behind, sent me a few tester pencils to review.  Included were two pastel pencils.  I have been a little hesitant to try pastel pencils as I know they can be messy, but I tried them and was immediately in love with the rich pigment.  Two pencils and I suddenly wanted more!  My mom, who has been slowly acquiring her own selection of pencils had purchased a set that proved difficult to colour with for the same reason – messy.  So, I swopped two sets of colouring pencils that I don’t use anymore for her pastel pencils, ordered a couple of my favourites from the other brand, patiently waited for the Pastelmat and there I was, ready to do it.  But of course, wanting to be perfect, I was afraid to do something big.  I decided on a Lilac-breasted Roller – smallish, bright and hey, I’ve done one before right?  So how hard could it be?

It ended up being more fun than I ever anticipated and I even used some of my other coloured pencils in between and it became a lovely experiment with no intention of being perfect.  I had no expectation and could enjoy the process of creating free from the burden of chasing perfection.

As I mentioned I had done a Lilac-Breasted Roller before, and that is where the biggest aha-moment happened.  I could directly compare the images and even I am able to admit the difference between the version I did late in 2016 and this one is big.  It might not be perfect, but there is a definite improvement and isn’t that what the pursuit of perfection is actually about?

So here I am making a midweek May 30th resolution – I am unfriending Perfect.  I am letting it go and focusing on the fun, and hopefully in another year-and-a-half I can draw another Lilac-Breasted Roller.

Would you like to see the difference?  I am cringing at the prospect of sharing this, but here goes.  Practice might not make perfect, but it does fuel improvement!

As a sidenote to this – notice the funny-looking white stuff on the 2016 image?  That is because I wasn’t using artist-quality archival mediums as I am now, but at that point I was just starting my drawing journey.  That however is a blogpost all on its own!

Now go out and create something that scares you silly!

A Note on Making Time

This morning I was driving to Kaapsehoop for an early shoot, pondering the things I intended to accomplish today – a public holiday I might add.  And again it dawned on me: Life just gets in the way some days.

Aside from the art I have a photography business to run, the kids have schoolwork and activities, there is dinner to prepare and school lunches and errands to be run, not to mention the house that needs to be kept more or less presentable.  The fact is that life demands more time than I seem to be able to produce during any given day.

I chat to so many people with demanding jobs and schedules who wish to spend more time doing something for themselves – whether it be going to the gym or pursuing a hobby or maybe just getting out of the house.  As I was driving along, listening to cello music on my phone and admiring the lovely hillside clothed in green plantations with mist hanging low over the treetops the day felt so promising – just like every other beautiful morning.

But then Life happens and your intention of spending an hour drawing before tackling business emails slips away as the groom informs you he forgot to mention the horsefeed is finished. Yesterday.  And now pony needs to eat but has no food.  You dash off to the feedstore.  Crisis averted.  The clock chimes 10 and you jump into the emails, telling yourself you will grab an hour for drawing when the kids do homework.  With some work done you fetch them, watching the last moments of rugby practice and then as soon as your son gets in the car he hands over the notice – a school project due in two days.  The hour is spent trying to find sources on some interesting old thingy for history.  Then you rummage through the freezer trying to find something to cook because you had every intention of defrosting it, but its bursting out of its seems with bits and pieces of meat you were still going to prepare, and now you stubbornly refuse to buy anything before cleaning it out.  The stove’s gas lets you down about halfway through preparing dinner and then your child brings a letter from school reminding you of the swimming gala he needs a new swimcap for and you realise you only have tomorrow 7am to do it because its tomorrow and that is when the school clothing shop is open.

Believe me – even when this is something you decided to take seriously and do as a business, life still gets in the way.

So I made another resolution.  A middle-of-the-week-middle-of-the-day-nothing-special-at-all resolution.  The kind that you don’t write down, you just do it.

I stopped and told myself that being a better mom and better creative means that sometimes I have to allow the kids to mess the whole kitchen while preparing their own lunch, or that hubby-to-be needs to make his own coffee, or the horse needs to just eat the huge bale of grass obstructing my view of the dam for one more hour – so I can draw, or practice cello.  So I can find that peace in me that allows me to be the person I am.

So I can allow Life to not get in the way, but be lived.

I will not try and tell you this is easy, or even possible every day.  But I will tell you that its a decision and not something that happens by itself.  To put time into the thing that keeps you passionate and happy about Life, you sometimes have to put Life aside for a moment.

So draw.  Or run.  Or play cello. For yourself.  Now – while you have a moment.

And me?  I am busy drawing this little waterbuck duo – they’ve been shouting my name for a while.  The reference photo comes from a dear friend who has been kind enough to send me a heap of reference photos for drawing.

And when I am not drawing?  I am trying to learn to play the cello, and horse-permitting I might spend an hour or so practicing this week.  It really calms me and its great to just do something that occupies my mind fully.

Watch out for another post on tips and tricks soon.

Thank you for reading my musings…

Much love

Drawing Tips: Pencil Facts | Part 1

I have had a few enquiries from people on Facebook requesting drawing tips.  So I decided to start a series of posts sharing some things I have learned.  Let me just state that there are much smarter people out there in the world than I, but I love what I do and I don’t mind sharing some knowledge.  So here goes!

It is no secret that not all pencils are created equal, and while most people don’t realise this – there are a myriad of different types of pencils.  Walk into any local art store and you are bound to see a vast array of sets of variable sizes.  You can buy anything from watercolour pencils to pastel pencils, ink-based pencils, wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils.  Some are coloured, others graphite, some in bright colours, others muted – the range is endless it seems.

I won’t pretend to know everything there is, but I can share my experience with brands I have tried and am using – therefor I will mainly discuss some wax- and oil-based sets.

Classifying them as oil- or wax-based is actually a bit of a misnomer as all oil-based pencils are a combination of wax and oil.  This obviously refers to their core and classification merely depends on the ratio wax to oil.  The more wax, the softer the lead and the easier the pencil will lay down colour.  The negative side is that a lot of wax means that layering ability is affected by the wax bloom a pencil will give off as it lays down colour – after a while its simply not possible to layer more colour on top.  Oil-based pencils tend to have a harder lead, is better for detail as they sharpen to a finer point and doesn’t wax bloom so quickly, but they might not lay down as easily as wax-based pencils.

So what do you choose then?

It really depends on your subject.  With a fine point an oil-based pencil is great for finer details, but with colour laying down vividly a wax-based pencil might be great for layering to achieve bright patches of colour.

At the moment I am working on a commission for a client of some ducklings, and I am actually using a combination of wax- and oil-based pencils.  The great thing is that you can use them together to achieve exactly the look you want.

Pencil quality also depends on a lot of factors aside from the type of lead.  Ideally you want a pencil that is manufactured well, doesn’t break easily and that blends and layers well.  If you are only drawing for yourself and not aiming to sell, you can settle for a less lightfast brand, but a professional artist will need professional tools.  Lightfastness refers to the colour being fade resistant and basically means that the image will last a lifetime instead of fading to a light miscoloured version.  Most pencils do come with a lightfastness rating and I for one only purchase brands that are renowned for this trait.  Sometimes this means purchasing pencils individually or cutting certain individual colours from a set.

I hope this quick introduction to pencils helped a bit – watch out for more posts discussing the specific sets I’ve tried, and covering other topics such as paper, solvents, tools etc.

In the meantime – just keep drawing!