Living well through bad drawings


When some people see an illustrated journal, they say, “Wow, that’s great. I could never do that.” With some coaxing, they may be persuaded nonetheless to give it a try. Others say, “Wow, I’m going to do that.” And they start too. And quite a few say, “Huh, where do you find the time?” then use your journal as a coaster.
It’s comparatively easy to start. To bring yourself to draw your breakfast once or your coffee cup once and to keep it up for a couple of days. Ideally those first few days infect you with the fever and you’re compelled to carry a long series of journal books around with you for the rest of your days.
But more likely, your initial enthusiasm will wane. You’ll forget to do it one day, give in to resistance the next, then feel like you’ve broken the chain, the narrative is lost, a month’s gone by, and you drop it altogether. Why? Often it’s because you are disappointed with your drawings. You may say you don’t have the time, forgot your book, grew bored but it’s really because you aren’t that impressed with your drawing skill. You haven’t made something that looks like Art.
I don’t think that illustrated journaling is really about doing great drawings. You’re not out to make something that you could frame or give as an Xmas present. I’m not really into doing the sort of exercises on perspective and tone that you see in most drawing books, exercises that will move your skills to another level artistically. Not that you shouldn’t do them if they are fun or if you have some other goal in mind but I don’t think they are essential for the true purpose of illustrated journaling.
That purpose? To celebrate your life. No matter how small or mundane or redundant, each drawing and little essay you write to commemorate an event or an object or a place makes it all the more special. Celebrate your hairbrush and it will make you appreciate the intricacy of the bristles, the miracle of your lost hair, the beauty of you. Sounds sappy but it’s in there. Draw your lunch and it will be a very different experience from bolting down another tuna on rye. If you take your time (and we’re just talking maybe 10-20 minutes here, folks) and really study that sandwich, the nooks and valleys, the crinoline of the lettuce, the textures of the tuna, you will do a drawing that recognized the particularity of that sandwich,. That’s the point: to record this particular moment, this sandwich, not something generic. If you approach it with that attitude, you will create something as unique. reaching that place is just a matter of concentration and attention. A brief meditation and you will have a souvenir to jog your memory back to that a moment forever more. Imagine if you can keep doing that, keep dropping these little gems in your day, recognizing the incredible gift you are given each morning upon awakening. You will be a millionaire.
There’s a demon in your mind that will fight this, that will tell you your life is unworthy of acknowledgment, that today sucks through and through. It will tell you you have no time for this, that you are too harried, too stressed. Which brings me to Marybethd who wrote to me from Nebraska where she just had emergency eye surgery. For two weeks, she could only see the floor. She wasn’t sidelined though— she drew all of her visitor’s feet. She pulled art out of that tragedy, celebrated her visitors, created a positive memory that she will have to cherish long after her vision is back to normal. He nightmare became a lesson.
I have gone through my fair share of shit. My regret is that I didn’t celebrate all of it. I can’t say it often enough: life is short, art is long. Get the habit.