How Post It portraits helped me wrestle with my completion monster

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I had become so used to falling short of the goals I set for myself that the promises I made to myself and others felt empty. While almost certainly partially fun-monkey related*, I do think that part of my procrastination was a submission to the fate of the partially completed project. And somewhere in you-tube-athon or possibly procrastination click-fest I came across the tiniest piece of advice. A snippet of a frase, and frustratingly I’m not even sure where it came from – really – because I’d love to say thanks.

The advice was: lower the goal. Set yourself the minimum achievable goal. Something you can definitely do. Build your confidence in your willpower and creativity by achieving at first, the ridiculously easily achievable.

I’d tried the sketchbook route before, which I know works very well for a lot of people. I have a tendency to become frustrated with the “bad” pages, and an equally frequent tendency to mislay the book when I’m looking to draw. I understood: the low goal had to include fail safes. I settled on the post-it note. One note, one face, one day.

An unexpected upside of the post-it note was the very visible nature of the activity. “What’s going on here?” said my flatmate, and she’d visit the wall to laugh at the squished faces of the people hastily sketched at 2.43 am. I can’t tell the number of times I’ve retired to bed to face the wall, feeling sweaty with the realisation that I haven’t done the days drawing.

The theory went that provided it was a face, some drawing was better than none, and keeping that bar ground-scrapingly low I  wasn’t allowed multiple attempts. After drawing inspiration to scribblers everywhere, Danny Gregory, for a week, I switched onto an actor in a TV show I was watching, then my family, and then my Facebook friends from a randomised list.

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The eagle-eyed among you will spot a faceless day. Failure. A real low.

The success of the post-it portraits had significantly improved my ability to take on and complete other tasks, and in the week of the 4th of February my flatmate and I successfully launched, on a very tight deadline, a special project (which is ongoing). I hit the sack on the night of the 11th without even realizing I’d not done a face.

I felt pretty crappy about it the next day. I felt like a 2 ball juggler who’d added a third to her repertoire and dropped one without even noticing. I felt like I’d be a 2 ball juggler all my life. And my drawings were crappy. They weren’t even great – unlike in the first weeks I was rushing them, and many were a late night afterthought.

I put a blank post it on the wall, giving ditching the project some serious consideration. And with that I realised how pitiful I was being. With one setback, and some subpar images, I was ready to sabotage the whole – let’s face it – frivolous project. The polar opposite of grit, it’s not too great to realise that when the going gets tough (or even just doesn’t continue being super easy), you’re the first with your hands in the air saying “well that didn’t work”. I grumpily and begrudginly continued onwards (what a champion I am!). Although the quality of the work didn’t greatly improve I was certainly faster at getting down a likeness and some shadows and contours seemed to be becoming almost like friends.

For a few years, I’ve thought of doing a drawing for my parents’ birthdays. They are the proud owners of the publishers’ proofs of their wedding photos that they couldn’t afford to print properly, and I’ve always toyed with drawing one (minus the big “proof” stamp). This year, I felt it would be possible: I knew I was faster and with the strict no multiple attempts rule not in place, I started a drawing 3 days prior to the event (because although I might be better at follow though I still have the tendency to be a bit last minute). About 1 hour in I had some doubts, and then banished them. The whole thing is about A3 size, took nearly 10 hours, and is the most serious piece of intentional drawing I’ve done in years.

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Please excuse the glare on my dad’s shoulder from my desk lamp! It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a solid likeness. I am 100% sure I would never have done it without all the crappy 3.25 am faces, I’m sure my power of observation and possibly even technical ability has improved slightly, but more important was the belief that I could take on the project (albeit only lasting 10 hours in the end) and see it through.

Thanks post-it notes. Thanks internet artists (notable mentions Danny Gregory, Mark Crilley) Thanks whoever it was that helped me set the bar low.

 

*the best article/post on procrastination ever written by Tim Urban. I imagine everyone’s already read it but i’ve linked it anyway :-).

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