This is the third in a series on how to balance the ups and downs of art making as culled from advice from the Buddhist, Pema Chödrön. You can read the other parts here:
Lesson 1 // Accept the falling apart.
Lesson 2 // There is no perfect.
Lesson 3 // Focus on today.
Lesson 4 // Give up control.
Let’s Get Real About It
Before I jump in, let me be real for a hot minute. Not that I’m ever not-real in these essays, but I’m talkin’ real-real right now. Raw real. Today’s real.
This stuff is hard, you guys. I think and write about the mental side of artmaking a lot. Writing and thinking and handing out good advice is easy. But it’s hard to actually DO it. It’s even harder to do it consistently. And although I do think it gets easier as time goes on and we practice these new skills, I’m not gonna lie—there’s always going to be a bit of a struggle.
Yesterday, I forgot to draw for the first time in a very long time. I broke a long streak of daily drawing, and when I realized it the next day I felt awful. I remembered and regretted my procrastination throughout the day. I felt disappointed in myself for forgetting to draw that night as I had planned. And most of all, I felt like a fraud for missing a day of drawing while I’m currently running TWO drawing challenges to encourage people to draw daily.
I messed up. I forgot. I failed.
But then I remembered that today is a new day. Yesterday I didn’t draw. I procrastinated, I forgot, and I just didn’t do it. That day is done and there’s nothing I can do about it. But today is a new day, and today I can draw. Yesterday, I messed up. But today is a clean slate.
Just because we can’t do something perfectly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because even if we’re only able to do it sometimes, that’s still better than nothing. No one’s perfect, and that sure as heck includes me. I’m just here, showing up, thinking, writing, drawing, trying to get my stuff together, and some days are better than others. Some days I forget to draw. And that’s ok.
Drawing is like Meditating
It can be helpful to think of artmaking like meditation. The goal in meditation isn’t to squash our thoughts, but instead to acknowledge our thoughts and let them be. And we can do the same with our art.
When we’re making art, we should try to stay in this state of balance instead of giving in to the extremes of pride or shame. In the moment of drawing, we shouldn’t be thinking about what is good and what is bad. We need to notice what we draw, but not to judge it. Let the art come out of you and onto the page. It is what it is. Be open to the moment and the process. Try to relax your mind and loosen up your expectations and thoughts.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the question of just how willing we are to lighten up and loosen our grip.” ―Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Your Inner Critic
When your mind begins to tighten back up to criticism, shame, and disappointment in our art—and it will, because no one’s perfect—just try to notice that tightening feeling, and label that voice as your inner critic. That aggressive voice will only squash your spirit, choke your work, and bring you down. We all have that voice, but we don’t have to listen to it. Gently brush it out your mind, and get back to your drawing.
In this mindful way of drawing inspired by meditation, we aren’t being lazy, lowering our standards, or settling for “bad art”. We’re trying to see what we’re making right now clearly for what it is. Our inner critic is constantly looking at the future, the past, or sideways at what all the other brilliant artists out there are doing. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is this present moment and this current drawing.
If we let our inner critic control our thoughts, we’ll spiral down and out, never really being in the moment, and never really seeing what we’re actually doing right now. We’ll focus too much on the macro (I want work full-time as an artist!) and not enough on the micro (making art TODAY). We’ll focus too much on the years, and waste away our days. We’ll focus too much on our “dream projects” and not actually make anything at all. We have to focus on today.
Because today is all that matters and this drawing, right now, is all that matters.
We have to focus on today.
I’ll be back next week with Lesson 4: Give Up Control.