Just Say No

Most of the time I’m an advocate for pushing ourselves a bit in art. From the start, I believed it was good for me to occasionally take on a drawing assignment that I knew would challenge me. Over and over again, I saw incredible things happen when I took that approach. We never know what we’re really capable of doing until we try.

Now, after five years of teaching myself about art and learning to draw with the help of a few good online instructors — such as Matt Fussell at The Virtual Instructor — I’m still a believer in pushing forward, but I’m also inclined to think that there are times when maybe it’s best to say “No, I’m not going to do that.”

Drawing, of course, is a very personal experience, and just because we draw something, that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to show it to anyone. Well, unless we’re students in an actual art class and we’re required to turn in our assignments. That’s certainly not the case for me. Even when I see myself as a student of an online instructor, there’s still a world of cyberspace between us. So, at last night’s Gettin’ Sketchy session, for instance, I could sit here at my computer and draw or not draw. The choice was mine, and no one on the other side of the screen would know what I chose to do. And if I did choose to follow along, no one on the other side would see my drawing. No one would judge it, critique it, or complement it.

Obviously, I chose to do the drawing. It’s a Cape Buffalo, which I knew would be a very challenging subject for me. My only hope was that — please, Lord — let it turn out better than the poor possum-faced cow I painted a while back.

My Cape Buffalo — Ballpoint Pen Drawing

Honestly, I should have just said “No.” It’s not a bad image, and yes, — thank you, Lord — it does look better than my sorrowful cow did, but the plain and simple truth is that this Cape Buffalo deserved better.

I logged on Wednesday evening shortly before Gettin’ Sketchy began. In case you’ve only started following this blog recently and aren’t familiar with the program, it’s a regular timed-drawing session hosted weekly by Matt Fussell and Ashley Bane Hurst. You can find it at The Virtual Instructor’s YouTube Channel.

I’d had a long day. I was tired, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t in much of a mood for drawing. I was curious, though, about the subject for the evening’s episode, so I logged on and took a look at the title for the upcoming session.

A Cape Buffalo? No.

That was my immediate thought. I didn’t want to draw a Cape Buffalo. And this was no simple Cape Buffalo, I should note. This was a Cape Buffalo that we would be sketching with a ballpoint pen. No. Thanks, but, no. Just no.

I nearly shrugged it off. I wanted to skip Gettin’ Sketchy. So, why not? I don’t know. There was some perverse part of me that was nudging me on, reminding me that it’s good to try things and giving me a top-of-the-line pep talk that would have made any teacher proud.

So, yes, at the appointed time I was there in my chair with my sketchbook and pen. Do I really want to do this? I asked myself that question several times, and each time the answer was, “No, I don’t want to draw this Cape Buffalo.” But each time, I countered with all those encouraging words about doing my best, and giving it a good try, and maybe I’ll surprise myself… and so on and so on.

And so… on I went. I took time to measure out the basic shape of the Cape Buffalo’s head, following Matt’s guidance, and I was getting along all right. Except for one thing. I truly had no real interest whatsoever in drawing a Cape Buffalo.

Nevertheless, I persisted, but I gave it only a cursory effort. I made a few marks here and there, put the drawing aside, and spent the better part of those forty-five minutes doodling while listening to Matt talk about seeing the values in the reference and creating those values in our drawing.

When it was all over, Matt, of course, had a nice-looking ink drawing of a Cape Buffalo. I had a half-hearted sketch that was really a waste of time. It wasn’t until this morning, though, that I fully understood why I’d wasted my time and realized that this was an occasion when I should have just said “No.”

I was pushing myself to do the drawing for all the wrong reasons. I was telling myself how much benefit I might gain from completing what seemed at first glance to be a fairly difficult drawing. I was building artistic discipline, I told myself. I was challenging myself. It all sounded good.

Actually, though, that wasn’t what was really happening. In looking more at the drawing today, I can say that drawing the head of a Cape Buffalo really isn’t all that challenging. Just get the essential shapes right, and half the battle is won. So, all I was doing was:

  • Pushing myself to complete a drawing that I had absolutely no interest in
  • Pushing myself to do a drawing using a medium I don’t enjoy working with
  • Pushing myself to spend time on art when I had other things I wanted to be doing

As I look back to the drawing session last night from today’s vantage point, I can see clearly that I should have turned off the computer and put my drawing supplies away. I wasn’t obligated to take part in Gettin’ Sketchy. I wasn’t going to lose out on anything by not participating in the drawing session.

All in all, the drawing isn’t bad — as far as drawing goes. It’s bad though in the sense of being a waste. I grew tired of the drawing within minutes. I didn’t make any effort to really capture the essence of any Cape Buffalo. So what was the point?

Again, in looking back at those forty-five minutes, I can see the truth. Sometimes it’s all right to shrug off a drawing challenge and say, “You know… I could probably do this if I wanted to… but, you know what? I don’t really want to.”

Saying “No” is all right at times. I cheated myself more by doing something I didn’t want to do than I would have by simply skipping out on the drawing session. So, in a round-about way, I suppose I did learn a good lesson from this Cape Buffalo. Mostly, I feel like I owe him an apology. He’s a magnificent, shaggy-headed beast, and he deserved to be carefully drawn. I’m sorry, truly sorry. I should have said “No,” and walked away instead of making a meaningless sketch that did nothing to improve my skills.

Oh, well. Live and learn… and remember that it is all right to say “No.”


  1. Your buffalo is marvelous! Saying no is a kindness we do for ourselves. Remember it’s not just about the outcome rather as much about the creative flow you’re in. In this case saying no may have taken some of the fun out of that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My creative flow was definitely ebbing on Wednesday night. I was fortunate that I was able to turn out any drawing at all — but I felt bad because I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. 😦 My heart just wasn’t in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I went through this with the sketchaday app prompts. I am easing back into it doing the #inktober prompts, but I am giving myself permission to skip days this time.

    I think we all need to acknowledge that our heads and hearts are in uncharted territory this year because of the pandemic on top of any other stressors. No need to turn our art, which is healthy stress relief, into a soul sapping chore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well said! It’s so easy to pressure ourselves, and that really spoils the joy of drawing and painting or whatever art we create. I think I learned a good lesson from this experience. Good luck to you with Inktober!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your Cape Buffalo very much, but sympathise completely with your views on drawing him. I went through a similar experience a while ago with a painting on canvas… I was bored, tired and frustrated with the painting. Like you, I was using a medium I haven’t used for ages (oil paint) on a surface I don’t like (canvas) and it was dreadful! I slogged away for some time and then one day, woke up and realised that I was miserable! So, I gessoed over the image, turned the canvas to the wall and returned to my pens and watercolours on paper… What a joy! The great thing is though, that it was a great lesson learned, so not a waste of time. There are times when we have to say no, as you say 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like the poor fellow… he’s all right, but not what he could have been. Lesson learned, for sure. All the same, it’s really nice to know that someone understands my feelings. We’re always encouraged to “push through” and “keep going”, but definitely there are times when there’s no point in making ourselves miserable doing something we don’t want to do! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure! There’s an old English phrase about ‘choosing your battles’ and realising which ones are worth fighting. ‘Pushing through’ isn’t always the right course of action! Enjoy your art! 👍

        Liked by 1 person

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