Lessons from my drawing pad

This last Tuesday, I spent most of the afternoon tidying up my writing-slash-drawing desk because I found it difficult to be creative in such a mess.

You could say it was an excuse because in truth, I wasn’t feeling particularly creative on Tuesday.

You might also give me a side-eye because – let’s get real here – have creatives ever been known for their tidiness?


And if we’re being completely honest, this need of mine for tidiness and order has always led me to doubt whether I truly am creative. (Again. Excuses.)

In any case, while I was tidying up I found a few things. For instance, I came across some sketches I made a few years ago, after we moved to Minnesota and I realized I couldn’t bribe Daughter into providing my blog illustrations anymore.

I had checked out a library book on drawing cartoons and followed their tips. Here’s a few I did:

face sketchesmore face sketches

You’ll notice they focused on faces, in particular how to draw them looking in different directions. You’ll also notice I greatly favored the looking-to-the-right pose. (Still do.)

Overall I didn’t do too bad, only the book left me cold. Basically it was about copying their drawings. Once I tried creating my own, I was back at square one.

And then I figured if I was going to copy someone, why not copy a style I like? So I looked up some New Yorker comics and tried my hand at copying them…


This was more fun, but I was no more closer to developing my own style.

Another item I found buried on my desk was a small book I had picked up at a museum gift shop: Steal like an Artist, by Austin Kleon.

Which, now that my desk is tidy, I can easily find.

steal like an artist

I highly recommend this little book. It’s chock full of great quotes and tips to get you off your duff and creating. As he puts it, don’t worry about being an original because in truth, all artists steal (Picasso said, “Art is theft”).

They study the masters, sketch pieces they admire, collect things that inspire them, over and over and over again. Eventually, their own style emerges.

And you know, I think he’s onto something. For right there on my drawing pad were some of my past illustrations, including one I was rather proud of.

It was for a Bad Joke Monday a few weeks ago. The one where a chocolate rabbit is seeking therapy because he feels hollow inside…

easter bunny on couch

Look, I know no one is going to confuse this with a New Yorker comic, but it’s kinda close right? Especially the psychiatrist. And I wasn’t even copying any one! That’s the amazing thing.

I was just drawing, over and over and over again. Never quite sure I was doing it right, just doing it anyway. Somehow in the process, my style emerged.

So after this monumental discovery, I decided to see what other marvels I could create. Because another point Austin Kleon makes: you are creative if you choose to be so.

You can’t wait for someone to give permission and you should never wait until you’ve learned how, because it’s in the doing that you learn how to do it.

And you never stop learning. Ever.

So here I am, learning how to draw (and write, play clarinet, etc.).

Since most artists do a self-portrait at some point, I decided it was time for mine. A picture where I would show the real me. Let my inner self be exposed for all to see.

As well as a few grey hairs.

self portrait

And now that I think about it, maybe it’s totally fine I like my outer world tidy. It allows me to keep a more messy world in my head.

One more thing I’ll share before I go — this is a piece that came as a result of wanting to create something from nothing, so to speak. Not looking at anything for a reference point. Just keep drawing until something comes of it. (FYI: this often describes my writing process, too.)

So I was scribbling away and having fun when it started looking like flowers. And then I noticed that one of the stems curved like a profile.

After about six more revisions, I finally finished the picture.

I call it, “At-Home Hair Color: Results May Vary”

hair color

Quirky? Sure.
Fun to create? You betcha.

And maybe that’s the real lesson to all of this. The more we create, the more creative we become. The more creative we become, the more fun we’ll have.

Just as long as my desk stays tidy. That’s all I ask.

tidy desk

23 thoughts on “Lessons from my drawing pad

  1. You did it again. What appears to be a surface-level stream of consciousness is actually a wonderfully thoughtful piece. You are just the bee’s knees, Sister. (And you know I was instantly enraptured by the photo with your helpful arrow showing just where your reference source was located. Those little things. They get me, they do.)

  2. “And now that I think about it, maybe it’s totally fine I like my outer world tidy. It allows me to keep a more messy world in my head.”

    How perfect is this thought?! So like me. If things start trending toward messy, you can bet I’ll be tidying up soon. But it doesn’t mean my thoughts are tidy – not one bit!

    I love, love, love your haircolor piece. And yes, your psychiatrist is so New Yorker.😊

    1. You too?! So nice to hear I’m not alone. When the house is messy, I honestly feel like I can’t think straight. The only solution to start cleaning!

      That haircolor piece was so much fun to draw, once I figured out what I was drawing. I actually framed it — my first to be so distinguished! 😀

  3. Practice Practice Practice! Always has been the only route to getting better at anything, right!?
    Congrats on sticking to it – and appreciating all that you have done already.

    1. Thanks, Margy!
      It’s funny, we know practice is required for any new skill, but when it comes to creative pursuits we think we have to be born with it. Which lets us off the hook, practice-wise…. oh, maybe that’s the point?

  4. Fun stuff. I’ve always despaired at the idea of creating something from nothing, and admired those who can. Maybe that’s why I use a camera, it lets me cheat.

    And if Picasso had grandkids, they may be wanting you as a model…

    1. I think I’m gaining an understanding of why artists can go nuts. One stray mark and all is ruined. Hence, why I had 6 revisions.

      I’ll have to see if Picasso’s grandkids want a picture. I’m sure he had several, maybe even legitimate ones! 😉

  5. Love it. I need tidy surrounds otherwise i just can’t function, creatively or normally. Its like an irritating itch, it must be fixed. I like just getting on with it and not thinking too much about what i am creating, it seems to work better for me that way.

    1. Exactly! Glad to hear I’m not alone. Sometimes clutter can actually give me a bit of a headache. Even just a 10 minute tidy-up does a world of good!

  6. I love these lessons from your writing pad as they seem to fit others as well (like me) Right now I need to get a desk first and foremost since Starbucks can’t be used as my office anymore… jc

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