Someone’s been monkeying with my sketchbooks.

Yesterday I had to pick out a few representative watercolors from my sketchbooks to share with a magazine editor who asked to include my work in an upcoming issue. I didn’t have a scan that was high enough resolution, so I decided to go through my sketchbook archive and shoot some new ones.

But something odd happened.

After going through the first few books, I started to wonder why they all looked so dull. The colors were washed out. I turned on more lights in my darkened living room but they still looked lifeless. But there was more to it than just the vibrancy.  The brush work seemed primitive and half-finished.  And the lines were dreadful and crude. Page after page, the drawings I knew so well looked just, well, bad.

How could I send any of these things to a magazine devoted to watercolor art? It was laughable. How had I ever had them published in books? How had I dared share them on the Internet? Had I ever done a single drawing that was any good at all?

I flipped through more books. Nope. They were all dreadful. Every last one.

Maybe they had faded over time? Nope. They were all stored, closed, in a light-proof cabinet, closed. Maybe the iPad was affecting my ability to look at analog colors? I looked through my Instagram page. Nope, they were all dreadful too. I clearly do not know how to draw and have been pulling off some massive con on the universe and myself. This magazine editor was clearly deluded in thinking she should include me in her publication and would soon lose her job.  Hmmm.

Today, Something has happened to them again.

I went back, looked through the images I’d picked, then flipped through a few of the books on the shelf, then looked at my Instagram. Not so bad. In fact, I liked quite a lot of them. Wonky, sure, but with style and a POV. I’m glad I made them. Whew.

A cautionary tale. Maybe it’s because it’s so stupidly cold. Or because I haven’t been sleeping terribly well. Or because, well, I’m me. But I can’t always rely on my judgement of the given moment. I need to trust myself, and others over the long run, and meanwhile just keep my head down and keep making stuff. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. Especially if I’m going to think it sucks so much I stop making anything altogether.

Does this ever happen to you?

22 thoughts on “Someone’s been monkeying with my sketchbooks.”

  1. Oh my gosh I can so relate to this.. in fact.. I am at this moment going through my photo files on my computer and I photo my paintings and drawings at different stages and it is clear to me now.. several years later that I overpaint.. and that what I thought was bad at the beginning is actually better.. but not well finished.. so I have been picking that up and then over painting.. for my taste.. so strange.. how we will react to our own work, depending on mood, and taste at the time.. sure not everything is great but often it is OURS and that makes it better than too much of the wrong kind of fixing.. to my mind. So glad you shared thESE THOUGHTS


  2. Hi Danny, I’ve really enjoyed seeing your iPad drawings develop over the last few months. Inspiring and fun in equal measures. Look forward to seeing them pop into my Instagram news feed.


  3. It happens to me every time I finish a page,sometimes that feeling dissapears the following day when I open my sketchbook again,and I can discover that “awful” pages are necessary and helpful if I observe them without inner criticism…I think your art is awesome,I cannot see them as laughable,thank you for your words Danny!


  4. Wonderful article. Keep making things no matter what is a great new mantra. The klasses sort of force you to demand a creative habit of yourself. Love the variety of books and teachers you have exposed to the world.


  5. Hi Danny,
    I see what you mean, I have the same feeling some days. We have to be indulgent with ourselves, to work hard and to create but with indulgence always. It can only be better.


  6. Well of course it does and some guy called Danny Gregory advised me to walk away, do something else for a while and then look again. Hmm Sketchbook Skool it was..same name as you too, great guy, oh wait!?…:) ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s happened to me a few times too. I reminds me of being sick when nothing tastes good. But after a day or two of good sleep, you feel better and see your work with new eyes.


  8. Of course it happens and then it doesn’t. Hilarious. Your ipad pro work is a wonderful work to follow and learn from. Hey when are we going to get a bookclub thing not that I need another book or anything.


  9. This has happened to me time and time again. I usually do my sketchbooks for my children but when I’ve shared them I’ve gotten many compliments. I’ve led workshops, done art festivals, and even (recently) had my own gallery show based on my sketchbooks. At every point of the way I’ve questioned myself “Am I really that good? Should I be taken seriously? Why are others so impressed when they’ve just painted a masterpiece?” evey time I’ve looked at my work that I’m about to present to others. I question myself. But, I’ve come to realize that the importance of what I do always stems from how I felt after I made them when I wasn’t expecting to share it with anyone other than my children and that was “proud.” Proud that I took the time to record pieces of our world, our life, for my kids. Proud to have my talent express my love for them. Proud that one day, it could mean everything to someone generations from now. Proud that I drew something that resembled what I saw through my own eyes. Proud that I’m doing something for my sanity. Your post also rminded me of this quote that I keep in the back of my mind when I have too much time to doubt myself…

    “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” -Andy Warhol

    So thanks for letting me know that even the great inspirations like you, have moments like me…


  10. I’ve been cleaning out the basement and found a portfolio of stuff I did for a studio art class years ago. Someone must of messed with it, just it didn’t look too bad!


  11. It is all part of the learning process. If I’m working in a sketchbook, I just turn the page. If I’m working on watercolor paper, I don’t decide right away: I put it away for a day, a week, or more before deciding whether it works. If I still don’t like it, I repeat the process and try to be glad I’m adding to my use-the-back pile.


  12. Aw, Danny, you had your “red pen” in your hand and your “grading hat” on! You let that stupid monkey out of the cage and I to your head again! When will you ever learn! I know, it has been so cold in NYC that the stores ran out of bananas! Now, if you wanna’ see sketchbooks with dull colors, and terrible lines and brush marks, I have a whole shelf of them in my studio! Opps, who let that Monkey in here! Quick, get the bananas! Thanks for the blog post, we all needed it! Now to put bananas on the grocery list!


  13. Yes, it’s happened to me before several times. I’ll pull out a Sketch Book to show someone or just to look myself, and be completely disappointed. In my mind the drawings were so much better than what I was looking at. So yeah it happens to alot of people.

    By the way your sketchbook skill videos on YouTube rock.


  14. Danny, not only you make awesome art, you know how to bring things to the point with your words! So true! And what a loss if someone – like you, or him, or her, or me – would quit making art just because of such monkeying days!


  15. Yes! I go the full spectrum from, no one will ever see these! To ….damn, I’m good! I usually feel those damn, I’m good moments when I’ve put it away, or like my stage sets ….the curtains open. The monkey is in my head the rest of the time.


  16. The majority of what I draw is for my eyes only, but when I do post I notice my lens is different. “What will they think?” “This is so remedial compared to what others are doing”. I totally get it. If I’m really unhappy with a drawing I’ve made, I put it away for the evening. It’s never as bad as I think in the light of the next day. Thanks for sharing!


  17. Wow that is something that happens to everyone! (At least I hope it does) . Yes, I look back and sometimes think I was better before I put in a year or two of practicing some technique. Or I walk into a room with a painting that I made, that I was proud of at the time and just think of all the ways it sucks and I should do it differently now. I think of that as the shift in perception, like you are stuck between dimensions and you can’t really see clearly. Trust me Danny, your work, your colors and playfulness is all good stuff. It inspires and helps those of us who are stuck. Thanks.


  18. You ARE the king of monkey business! Cripes. I always do this. We will always be our own worst critic. Trick is to be our own biggest fan too.


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