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Exercise 1: Just Open Your Sketch Pad

This is the first exercise on what I hope will become your new journey -a journey to get a regular practice habit established.

Behind that goal is the true meaning of these exercises and what this journey is really about: A journey back to your true self, to the artist you have within you.

It all starts with opening your sketch pad.

It’s a small act. In itself it doesn’t make us better artists. But committing to the journey and showing up every day is the prerequisite for everything else we do.

So that’s where we’ll start

You’ll have heard the proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. We’re about to put that into action in a very practical way.

If you already draw every day – and I mean every day –  then you can skip this exercise. But make very sure you’re being very honest with yourself before you do. The method of artistic growth that you’ll be putting into practice here is based entirely on regular, focused practice in bite-sized, enjoyable chunks. If you don’t manage to get into a regular, daily practice routine, this way of learning will not work for you. To be honest, neither will any other.

There are two main elements to getting a daily habit established.

  1. Make it really, really easy to begin with.
  2. Anchor it into your daily routine by connecting it to a very specific act you already do. This act will be your trigger.

So your first job is to pick your trigger.

The Trigger

Your trigger is something you already do every day, preferably once a day.

Morning is best. It can be evening, but in my experience it’s a little harder to get a habit established in the evening; we’re more tired at the end of the day.

Here’s some examples:

  • Washing your face when you get up
  • Putting the morning coffee on
  • Cleaning your teeth in the morning
  • Getting dressed after your morning shower
  • Clearing up after finishing breakfast

Make sure it’s a specific action, not something vague like ‘finish breakfast’. That’s not an action. I’ve bolded the action parts of the triggers above.

The Habit

You’ll do your habit immediately after your trigger. With enough repetitions, the two will become inextricably linked in your mind. You won’t be able to do one without thinking of the other. The trigger anchors your habit into your daily routine.

Get yourself a new sketchpad specifically for this challenge. This is a new start we’re making so let’s make it feel like one.

How to do it:

Step One: List your daily routine

Write down your usual morning routine, one step at a time. Mine looks like this:

  • Get up
  • Wash my face
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Take some vitamin C
  • Exercise
  • Go for a run
  • Shower
  • Put the coffee on
  • Open the laptop, do my accounts and plan the day

At this point, at least one of the kids gets up so everything go awry whilst we go through our chaotic morning routine until the eldest goes of to school, then:

  • I spend 10 – 15 minutes meditating
  • I start drawing

That may seem pretty regimented. It may seem to you that it’s lacking in spontaneity. But it means I show up everyday do all those things – including drawing – and that’s what makes the difference over the long term. If you want to grow, you need to put the effort in and show up.

I use this routine on weekdays and take weekends off for rest and purely family time. That feels like a good balance to me. Yours, of course, will be different. But the point here is that if you leave it to chance whether you show up or not to do your practice, most of the time you won’t.

If you’re not sure what your morning routine is, or perhaps think you don’t have one, I’d recommend taking a notepad around with you whilst you go through your morning. Make a note of each thing as you do it. I think you’ll find that actually, you do have a routine. You just may not be aware of it. Habits, after al, are largely unconscious.

I’d recommend you start with just one trigger and habit to begin with though – your drawing habit.

Step Two: Choose a trigger

Now go over your list of actions and look for a likely trigger. It’s best if you can choose something that you have a little spare, uninterrupted time after.

Choose carefully. Make sure it’s something that you do every day. you can always change it later if you find you’re struggling with it. Sometimes it takes people a few goes to find the right trigger.

Once you think you have a good trigger, pop over to the facebook group and tell us what it is by replying to this thread:

Step Three: Put it into action!

Now, immediately after your trigger happens every day, sit down, open your sketch pad, pick up a pencil and write: “Habit completed”, followed by the date.

Take a moment to feel good about the fact that you just kept your appointment with yourself. Smile if you like. Smiling helps a lot. The positive feelings reinforce the habit.

You can draw something if you want to, but there’s no requirement to do that. The only requirement is that you show up and make a note that you’ve done so. We’re just trying to get that first stage really established – sitting down and getting ready to start. That’s your biggest hurdle, right there. If you can get over that, then the rest is considerably easier.

Prepare your materials

It will help you if you have your sketch pad and pencil set up ready. If you have to spend half an hour finding a pencil, the moment will be gone and you won’t make the mental connection between your trigger and your new daily drawing habit. That’s a great habit to get into and will help you when you move onto the drawing exercises.

Do this every day for a week. You’ll move on to your first drawing exercise in week two.

I’d recommend that every day, as you do your habit, pop over to the facebook group and post to let everyone know how your practice went. Why? Because it holds you accountable. Because it makes you feel good about it when you post that you’ve done it. Because it’s a kick up the rear to do it when you have to post that you missed a day.

This is optional of course. But increases the likelihood of you sticking to your daily habit many times over. It’s really powerful.

All done? Here’s what to do next:

The next step is to start getting your materials together for when the exercises begin in earnest in week two.

Here’s the materials list.

Good luck! See you in the forum.