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From July of 2009 to July of 2010, I drew a picture every day.
I set out to draw a picture everyday for a year, and I did that. When missed a day, I would draw two – or even three – pictures the next day. I don’t think that I ever missed more than a couple of days, and on those days I did miss, I acknowledged the fact that I was not drawing.
Within a few months, I noticed the sense that the dusty synapses of whatever parts of my brain are at work when I am putting pencil to paper, when I am drawing pictures and thinking about form and considering details were kickstarted, revived. I began to have new, novel ideas. My sense of humor and joie de vie improved significantly.
I started to look forward to drawing.
It wasn’t something I had to. It was something that, for the first time in a good long while, I wanted to do.
Drawing feels very much like home to me.
Some of the drawings from that year are featured here, and others arose after completing the project.
A couple of drawings – the sacrum (2000) and the diagram of whale bones sketched while standing under the giant skeleton hanging from the ceiling of the science building at Portland State University, with notes made of where the hollow spaces were (2001) – are from over 20 years ago.
Often, when I have a big idea and say, “Okay, I’m going to do it!” – I don’t actually end up doing the thing, or maybe I do it for a little while and then fall out of practice and intention, forget about it entirely. It’s not that I never finish anything I start. I did, and do – all the time. However, I had noticed it was the projects that meant something only to me – my special projects and secret projects and projects that didn’t do anything in the world other than improve my own existence for a brief period of time – that I tended to let fall to the wayside the quickest. I am much more likely to finish a project if someone external to me is counting on me to do it. The work that was the most important to me as an artist was always the first thing to be set on a shelf – often literally, as the pile of unfinished small paintings on my, ahem, shelf attests.
I didn’t really know how to consistently do creative work even when I was not ‘inspired,’ or if I found some of the processes of working on a project to completion to be a bit tedious. I am still learning how to consistently engage in the processes of creative work and to appreciate even the more linear and technical aspects of bringing an idea or a vision to life or – as is often the case in my work – simply creating the opportunity for whatever it is that wants to express itself to work its way onto the page, sometimes only in a detail, the press of a line.
I never did finish the painting of the whale skull as viewed from below.
Primary among my motivations during the year of drawing a picture every day was the simple desire to see a plan through.
Setting my aim to do something (in this case, draw a picture every day) and then doing that thing produced a definite sense of satisfaction (dopamine) and, importantly, helped me to avoid (a sense of shame and failure) the familiar reflexive disappointment in myself that settles into my nervous system and thinking in response to letting my goals fall to the wayside through distraction, ‘laziness,’ and ‘poor time management.’
In 2009, I was in my mid-thirties and was entering the beginning of what would turn out to be a fairly crummy ending to a marriage that I had entered into following a disastrous and disorienting year of ill-fated ambitious transitions and swift retreats, clumsy, humiliated exits.
My kids were little – just 6 and 8 – and I worked at a nonprofit science museum, was able to bring them home the balloons left over from weekend-shift birthday parties where I delighted and cleaned up after other people’s children and then came home tired, mostly wanting to be alone, to draw and to think.
I was right at the very edge of my life falling apart in ways I never could have anticipated were even possible.
In the course of working on and finishing this project, I ended up going through a fairly significant personal transformation. Drawing everyday was – I’m sure – a big part of the emergence of some major shifts in my perception of…well, almost everything.
Everything. Definitely everything.
It was not a tidy or pleasant ‘significant personal transformation.’
In addition to getting much better at drawing over the course of that year, I also lost my mind and ended up in a psychiatric hospital after trying to prove God with photos of clouds.