I realise looking back over the last few months that there were signs that things were going awry and that all the pressures of the last couple of years had begun to take their toll.
Art had always been my place of comfort, but somehow the solace it had given me had slipped away. So rather than trying to push through, I decided to take a break, reassess and wait, hoping that the spark would return. And slowly it did.
I spent weeks away from it, uncertain what to do next. I knew I loved drawing in the landscape, focusing on what was in front of me, absorbed in trying to capture a sense of where I was and what I saw. I had relished the encounters with wildlife sitting out on the field margins, and by hedgerows, as I sat on my stool sketching, absorbed in drawing and so still that creatures seemed to ignore my presence.
But in recent months, I had begun to feel uncomfortable showing this new process. I had experienced a growing sense of pressure in producing work for social media almost daily and realised that this was beginning to impact on how I felt about the process. I took fewer risks with materials, very often having my eye on the result that I would post, rather than focusing on trying something new or simply enjoying the experience of drawing.
However, taking a break from social media, albeit an unintended one, helped me review my process of drawing. I looked back over my old sketchbooks, pre-social media and the internet, where I would play and try out ideas in a private space. I would experiment with different media and subjects, and if it failed, I would simply turn the page and start again. These pages were a place of both thrilling discoveries in trying new media and there too was the comfort of drawing the familiar.
And so I knew I had to recapture my love of drawing in this way. I was very rusty at first, but I told myself that making bad drawings was better than making none at all, and that the fluidity would return.
Focus was also difficult and I had to retrain my mind to concentrate on the process and not worry about what the outcome might be. It is a wonderful way to cultivate mindfulness: you have to look and retain that focus, bringing the mind back to the present if it wanders. A sure sign of a drawing going awry is when I realise I have stopped looking and have begun to ‘make it up’. “The likeness is in the looking”, as the painter Patrick George said.
I also looked back at some of my older sketchbooks. Viewing each page, I was taken immediately back to the feelings and circumstances in which they were made. You can forget the instance a photograph was taken, but never a drawing. They become embedded in your consciousness and really make you see, notice and attend to what is in front of you.
The outcome really doesn’t matter, it is the experience of making the drawing that counts.
Thank you for bearing with me here, your support and messages are hugely appreciated. I have new projects on the horizon and look forward to sharing them with you in the coming months.
A short sketchbook tour of almost 30 years of sketchbooks
Finally, I wanted to share with you a talk by Danny Gregory of Sketchbook Skool, a wonderful advocate of the importance of keeping a sketchbook and how it can enrich your life.