The Point

I am not an urban sketcher. Although I love seeing what other artists do, I know it’s just not for me. Yes, there have been times when I’ve wished I had the ability to do urban sketching, and I’m willing to think that if I truly wanted to, I could develop some abilities there, but here’s the simple truth: I don’t want to do that. It would require a considerable amount of patience and a great deal of practice. I lack the first and don’t want to invest in the latter.

And so it was when I turned to today’s drawing assignments in the 10-week drawing course I’m following along with over the summer, I found myself dreading my morning sketching time. The assignments were all about urban sketching. No! Please! Anything but urban sketching!

What’s the point in doing this?

That was the first question that came to mind. I’m not good at it. I’ll never be good at it unless I spend a lot of time practicing, and I don’t want to do that… so, what’s the point?

Well, for this morning, the point was that I’m quickly working my way through this drawing book, and I’m committed to following along with all the assignments. So, like it or not, today that meant urban sketching. With a sigh, I picked up my sketchbook, reached for a pencil, and settled in at the kitchen table.

The first task was sketching a doorway with iron fretwork. This was followed by a few sketches of rooflines. I did the sketches in a somewhat half-hearted fashion — after all, this isn’t something I’m really interested in — and shrugged, surprised to see that my doorway resembled a doorway and my rooflines were recognizable for what they were supposed to be. It didn’t really matter, you see, what my results were. I was just following along, doing what I was supposed to do, and all the while asking that question again.

What’s the point here?

Next came a larger assignment — an urban street scene. I sighed again. Sure, I love seeing urban sketches. I marvel over what other artists can do with a street scene, but that’s not who I am. It’s not what I want to do, so, again, what’s the point?

The point was that I’d set a goal for myself. Maybe I didn’t like all the assignments, but I’d committed to doing them, so I shut up and I drew. From the first mark I made — sketching a rough copy of an illustration in the book — I was tensing up. Negative thoughts screamed through my head as I reminded myself how much I hated urban sketching, how impossible it was for me to do even a simple street scene, and how ridiculous my drawing would look.


It wasn’t long before I reached a point — the point at which I began deliberately attempting to sabotage my drawing. It’s a defense mechanism. When I can’t do something, I stop trying. I ruin it — on purpose. It helps me get rid of some of my frustrations and helps to ease the sting of failure somewhat. Yep, I scribbled. I made wild marks going this way and that. Since I couldn’t accurately draw what I was supposed to be drawing, I just said, “I don’t care. There’s no point in this,” and scribbled some more.

But then I noticed something. Now, I realize this is a bad drawing — which, in my state of mind became the point — but despite all my efforts at ruining the sketch, the truth is it still shows a street scene.


So, I scribbled more. I tried even harder to ruin this, to make it so awful that I had no choice but to call it an utter failure and berate myself for even trying. Yet no matter how hard I tried to ruin this, it was still a street scene. I could still see that man walking down the street. I could still tell that there were cars parked there, that some buildings had windows, and how was that happening?

It was eye-opening to realize that I could not completely sabotage myself here. Even drawing fast and furiously, even scribbling as much as I could, even trying to make a very bad drawing, I still… still… after all of that, still ended up with a recognizable scene.  No matter how much I tried to ruin this, I could not ruin it completely.

Now, what’s my point here? It’s this. It’s amazing for me to see that my worst drawings now are better than my best drawings from the past. I’m dumb-founded to think that in a few minutes I can quickly sketch a scene that — despite my attempts to ruin it — is still better than anything I could have drawn a few years ago.

I then began to understand that there is a point in what I’m doing, that even if I don’t like urban sketching, I’m still learning from each attempt I make. I might not ever want to draw or paint a scene such as this, but even so, sketching scenes out will help me improve my drawing skills overall.

Then came time for the next assignment. This was another “urban” drawing, but one which included “an expanse of water”, as well. I found a reference photo, took a deep breath, and I did the drawing, this time without quite so much fussing and complaining. I’d had a realization, you see. Instead of immediately saying, “I can’t do this!”, my reaction was “Well, maybe I can’t do this very well, but I can do it.”

Now, folks, that is a major change in attitude for me. It’s mind-boggling, actually. Yes, I can draw a street scene. Yes, I can draw a bridge with an expanse of water. Nobody said it had to be good, right?

I couldn’t resist adding gansai to this quick sketch. Look! It’s a bridge, a real bridge. Not the greatest drawing ever, but who cares? Knowing that I can sketch a scene like this in a matter of minutes helps me see how much I actually have learned about art. Even this summer as I fill my sketchbooks with bad drawings, I’m still learning. Quick sketches. Scribbled drawings. Splotchy ink and gansai paintings. They all have something to teach me.

So many mornings I’ve looked at my art for the day and have wondered if I’m really wasting my time. “Is there really a point in any of this?” I’ve often asked. Maybe I was just fooling myself, I thought, just pretending that all my scribbled drawings were helping me become a better artist.

This morning’s urban sketching assignments helped me see my progress in surprising ways. It helped me understand that there’s a huge difference between saying “I can’t do this,” and saying “Well, yes, I can. It might not be very good, but yes, I can do this.” And that’s the point in all my art practice, all those bad drawings, all those laughable attempts at drawing animals or trucks or whatever.

I am learning. Yes. I am. That’s the point.

But, wait… there’s more to come on this whole topic of “Yes, I can, or no, I can’t.” Check back tomorrow for a run-in with my really bad attitude as I attempt plein air painting with a new set of oil pastels. You’ll see, too, how bad attitudes lead to really bad art.



    1. Yep… on that morning I was saying “Yes, I can,” and then tomorrow’s plein air post it’s all “I can’t do this!” It’s been a real roller coaster around here, not just with art but with a lot of emotional ups and down dealing with my husband’s aging parents. It hasn’t been easy.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Aww, I totally understand about aging parents. We’ve already gone through that with both of Cindy’s parents (her dad passed in 2013 and her mom is in assisted living at age 97 due to extreme dementia). Her dad was pretty much mentally with it until the end, but her mom just about drove us to drinking for many years until we got her into where she lives now.

        Hang in there.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yeah, it’s been rough. His mom suffered a stroke several years ago, and she was very lucky. She’s still mobile, still has language skills, and is still more or less able to function. Her skills aren’t sharp, but she can carry on a conversation and with only a little help can manage day-to-day living. She has labels on all the cabinets to remind her of where things are, and they are both very active — they do a lot of gardening — in their late 80’s. A big part of the problem is that they live in a rural area, and it’s an hour and a half from us. They’re getting to the point where they need more help. They won’t hear of moving, of course. They’re very stubborn, very set in their ways, and to make matters worse they don’t get along with each other. They’re now trying to get things in order, but they don’t want to part with anything, and they’re worried about one person getting more than another, and it’s a nightmare. My husband has tried to do what he can to help but the situation is so impossible he’s about to throw up his hands and say “Do whatever you want because I can’t help you.” His two brothers are both disabled, and his sister lives in Tennessee, so when something happens to either of the parents, he feels he’s the one who’ll be expected to step in and clean up their mess — which is exactly what it is. It’s got him feeling so pressured, he’s about to blow a gasket himself. It’s not fun. They need to find a good lawyer, have wills written up, and stop expecting my husband to handle everything. It’s a mess, and thanks for letting me vent here a bit. I’m at my wit’s end, not knowing what to say or even if I should say anything or if it’s better for me to just back off. So, yeah, thanks again.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s been next to impossible to do any art at all over the last few days. I did sit down this morning with my sketchbook, my pencils, and my gansai, and that actually helped me relax a lot.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you liked the post. Yes, I have a lot of “defense mechanisms” when it comes to art, and I often try to sabotage myself. It is part of a learning process, so hopefully I’ll eventually be able to move beyond that point. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. now this i have to agree on- not a fan of urban sketching. Interestingly, my very first Plien air was an event in the city, in which we painted outdoors in various sectors. Although one could have chosen to focus on something within the sector, most of us did buildings, skylines and business fronts. I didnt realize until later i could have focused on a plant or a small section of architecture or even a gathering of people. I loathed it, but learned that i truly enjoyed plien air. How’s that for an interesting bridge between you last few posts?lol..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve had quite a fun time over the summer… not doing any “serious art” or oil paintings, but just playing with drawing, really getting loose, and really just having fun.

      I’ve figured out that what I’m doing here is finding ways to relax and make art “easy” for me — or, at least, easier. As someone with no natural ability, I’ve had to “really try hard” to learn. I’ve had to “try” to draw accurately. I’ve had to “try” to get the right perspective. I’ve had to “try hard” at everything I draw.

      Now, I’m throwing aside all those concerns about being accurate and precise. I’m just scribbling, letting go, and drawing naturally — no matter the results. That’s really helping me in ways I can’t explain. My “summer of bad drawings” is giving me a much greater understanding of what art can be. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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