Sometimes It’s Just Hard

“Bowl of Apples”

I started this blog in March 2016, about 9 months after I first started learning to draw.  This was nothing I planned. Like so many other things in my life, it was a totally spur-of-the-moment act. I was excited about a colored pencil drawing I’d just completed. I wanted to share it. I think, too, at that moment, I wanted to bask in the feeling of what it might be like to actually be an artist. I definitely wasn’t an artist at the time, but for that moment as I published my first post here, I was able to pretend, to imagine what it would feel like to be able to draw and paint and proudly say, “Yes, I really am an artist.”

I’d no sooner published that first post when I blinked, returned to reality, and said, “What am I doing? I’m not an artist! I can’t have an art blog.” I nearly panicked then. I’d made my first post, sure, but what would I do for my second, my third? Where did I think I was going with this blog?

Actually, it didn’t take long for me to figure it out. This was an art blog, yes, but a rather atypical one. This blog wasn’t going to be a place for me to show off my beautiful works of art — although I’m thrilled when I can actually do that. It happens now and then. Instead, this blog was going to be the story of my aspirations, a blog of my hopes, my dreams, and my determined efforts to learn how to draw. That meant sharing a  lot of bad drawings. It meant exposing my artistic weaknesses. It meant admitting, “No, I’m not an artist yet.”

Gradually my perception of myself and my art began to change. From “I’m not an artist”, I came to say, “I’m an aspiring artist.” Soon I acknowledged my own efforts and called myself “a beginning artist”. As I continued my studies, I learned, I grew, and I’ve come to a point now where I think of myself as “an intermediate artist.” To me, that means that i know the basics of drawing — for me, drawing remains the single most important foundational skill an artist must have. My personal definition of an artist has always been someone who can draw. That’s the standard by which I measure my progress as a student of the visual arts.

What, exactly, is an intermediate artist? As I adopted that classification for myself, I began to wonder if it accurately reflected who I was and where I was with my art studies. So, I went online to do a bit of searching. I was a bit surprised to find that this is an oft-asked question. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s curious about whether or not I can call myself an intermediate-level artist.

I found a Deviant Art forum with a lot of discussion on the topic, including these thoughts from a user named “Lady Kuki”. She says, “I am the prime example of intermediate. I’ve got the simplistic shading down, simple anatomy and all of that, but I have a long way to go before I consider myself “expert”. A person who’s intermediate in my opinion is good at drawing, but not fantastic at it. Mainly due to problems with proportions and shading. Also, there’s the whole perspective and foreshortening stuff. Again, I can do SOME of those things, but most of the times, I end up with something… rather crap. So yeah. Intermediate meaning GOOD but not VERY good. Very good means the person knows focal point, value, shape, negative space, anatomy, and all of that stuff, hence why their drawings come out looking so awesome; because they know how to apply those lessons and use them in their artwork.”

Oh, I can so completely agree with Lady Kuki. I think I’m in that same place where she was when she wrote those words. I’m reasonably good at basic drawing. I have an elemental understanding of simple drawing techniques, and like Lady Kuki, I can do some of the more difficult things some of the time, and while I’m familiar with elements of value, shape, negative space, and other drawing concepts, I can’t always apply the knowledge.

In posting to this blog, yes, I share good works and bad works — a fact that tends to surprise readers on occasion. Why do I show my bad drawings and paintings? Why not post only my very best work? Well, for one, if I only posted my most successful drawings and paintings, there wouldn’t be too many posts here. Yes, I have done a few drawings I’m proud of, and I’m delighted that I’ve got a collection of ribbons and awards for my oil painting. Again, yes. I do now and then turn out a work of art that’s really worth showing off. But it doesn’t happen too often.

In my day to day art practices, I’m much more apt to turn out mediocre drawings than good ones, not to mention ones that are downright awful. Occasionally a drawing or painting I do is too awful to share even here. I do now and then spare myself a bit of embarrassment, so if you think you’ve seen the worst of my art, think again. Believe me, there’s an another whole level of BAD to my art. Consider yourself lucky you haven’t been subjected to it.

Again, though, the question arises: Why post bad art?

Why? Because bad art is part of the process. We can’t learn to draw without creating bad art, and anyone who says otherwise is mistaken or misguided. We learn to make good art by making bad art first.

This blog is about sharing my experiences. It’s about encouraging others to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush. It’s about, hopefully, inspiring those who want to learn to draw or paint but who have been hesitant. I know that feeling. I’ve been there. If that’s where you are, please realize that yes, you can learn to draw or paint or create other forms of art. Go ahead. Give it a try.

In sharing my experiences, I try to be honest. While I want to be encouraging and inspiring, I also want to share my frustrations because even though art should be fun, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes art is disappointing. Sometimes it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s just hard.

I’m at that place now where as often as not, art feels hard. I want to move forward. I want to develop more skills. I want to improve my drawing abilities. In writing this blog, it would be wrong for me to make learning art out to be all sunshine and happy days. It’s not. Some days are cloudy. Some days are dark. Some days are even a bit depressing. I share those days not in hopes of getting sympathy or reassurances, but because this is an essential truth about art.

SOMETIMES IT’S JUST HARD.

That’s especially true for those of us who don’t have natural abilities, those who, like me, have had to practice patiently, repeating drawing exercises over and over, struggling to develop each new skill.

It was easier as a beginning artist. Now, as an intermediate artist, it’s not always easy. I’ll say it again: Sometimes it’s just hard.

That was where I was with this morning’s drawing practice. The assignment was “an expanse of water.” In recent days, I’ve done several practices with water, drawing individual water drops, water spilled on a table, and then moving on to larger puddles. I wasn’t too pleased with any of my drawings, and I certainly wasn’t happy with today’s graphite drawing, a copy of an illustration from Barrington Barber’s “Learn to Draw” book.

I tried. I really tried. This was my graphite drawing:

It’s not a good drawing. The best I can say is “Well, I couldn’t have drawn this a few years ago,” so I recognize that this represents progress. Still, I wish it were better. As an intermediate artist I’m at that uncomfortable place where I know the only way to improve is through consistent practice, but oh, how I want to be better now. I’ve been at this place before, as I moved from being an absolute beginner to knowing the basics. I remember dealing with many of these same feelings, seeing myself “standing at the edge” and thinking, ” Oh, how I wish I were better than I am. I know I’m getting better, but if only I could be there now!”

Worse still are those moments when I wonder if I’m getting worse instead of better. There are days when it feels that way. Today, I guess, is one of those days. It seems that even my best efforts fall far short of my hopes.

Here, for instance, I thought maybe I could improve upon my “expanse of water” drawing by adding color with my gansai. Nope. if anything, it only made it worse.

On days like this when art is just hard, I look for whatever good I can find, wherever I can find it. In the graphite version of this scene, I can look at the house and say, “I drew a house that isn’t too wonky-looking.” In the gansai painting, I can smile and say “Oh, I really like the way I blended in a bit of lavender with the blue sky.” Finding even the slightest good in a bad drawing or painting encourages me to hang in there, keep drawing, keep painting, and keep learning.

Yes, I’d like to be better now, but that’s not how it works. Like anything else, improvement requires effort, and progress only comes about through practice. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s fun. I cherish those times. But, let’s be honest here. Sometimes it’s not easy.

Through this blog I hope to encourage others. But I always want to be realistic. Learning to draw — or learning to draw better — can be a challenging thing. Sometimes, it’s just hard. But even then, it’s worth it, so don’t get discouraged, and don’t ever give up.

20 Comments

    1. I’m glad you find my posts helpful. I don’t want to sound discouraging about art, but I know there can be frustrations along the way as we learn. I hope others can be better prepared for those moments of disappointment by reading my posts and knowing that the hard times are part of the process, too. I’ve always found that once I get through a “hard time”, I start seeing a lot of improvement in my drawing and painting.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. I’m glad you liked my “bad art”. I’m doing a lot of “bad art” this summer, and while it can be disheartening at times, it’s also helping me re-shape a lot of my attitudes. I’m getting looser with my art, more accepting about what art is, and more willing to try new things. The results are sometimes painful — as with my recent plein air outing. You’ll be seeing a post about that coming up in a few days. Even so, it’s important for me to try things, to push myself now and then, and to really look at who I am and how I can become a better artist.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You see, that’s a great goal to have in life – to become a ”better artist”. I often watch YouTube videos of artists who compare their initial ”immature” art to the masterpieces they make now. I am positive that you are going through the same journey at the moment!
        Then again, there are some artists who do stunning work and still feel like they didn’t do enough (even though others truly enjoyed it).
        So, for me, your bad art wasn’t a bad art. 😀 Hehe! I guess it’s all about perceptions!
        Anyways, I hope you blossom into the kind of artist that you wanna become.
        Good luck! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

    1. This “crash course” in hurry-up-and-draw things has been rough. I’ve had to deal with a lot of questions, such as “have I reached my limits” when it comes to art? I’m going through a lot of artistic frustration right now (as if you couldn’t tell) but usually that leads to a lot of improvement for me once I get past this rough spot.

      My plein air experience this morning was especially rough, but it was helpful overall. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll post one of my more recent plein air paintings in a couple of days (I need to find all of the images first). The specific one I had in mind I took photos of throughout the process, so you can see what I actually do.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I really love your narrative here; art as a process. Claiming the space to be an artist. Being by doing. Thank you for these encouraging words, and for being a person who inspires others by working on what you love!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, art is a process, and it’s not always easy. I’ve been going through a lot of frustrations with my art lately, pushing myself in different directions, and challenging myself. It’s led to a lot of failures and disappointments, but in the end it will help me become a better artist. It’s an up and down process, never a single straight line.

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