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 :-).

Day 5 (many days later than the 5th day)

A favourite TV programme is very tricky.

I started with some scenes from one of my all time favourite comedy sketches “An Unnamable Unimaginable thing in my basement” or the Lovecrafian sketch as it’s titled by this youtube video.

But I then lost the paper, and having invested a bit of time in it already spent rather too many days hoping it would show up before realising of the futility of the task.

The sketch is from “Burnistoun” comedy written inspired by the city of Glasgow and starring scots, Iain Connell and Robert Florence. I’m a fan overall, but I do think it has a few real stand out sketches.

So, as I still hold out hope of finding those scenes, I’ve stayed within the same show and done a quick drawing of the silver tongued salesman in the “Denim Jayscuit” sketch (mislabelled – in my opinion by the uploader of this youtube video).

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In the hope of getting back on track drawing wise…!

Day 4: A Quote You Like (this goes in a dark direction, avoid if squeamish)

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This drawing task took me to some quite dark territory.

I even checked the WordPress FAQs to see what the community response might be to a drawing (albeit quite a stylised one) of what is effectively a young boy’s severed head.

I’m a big fan of Eleanor Roosevelt overall and she is very strong on pithy but common sense statements. In a few words she neatly exposes how very gruesome our very idea of a “war won” is.

I had the idea of drawing some tanks or military paraphernalia, but for some reason looked up “War” images for inspiration.

This, in it’s original photographic form is shocking in the true meaning of the word. It physical representation of what some many call victory and as such calls into question this very term. It is not a comment on this war specifically, as I have very little background in Korean history.

Today, the offices of the French satirical paper “Charlie Hebdo” were attacked by armed men. Journalists and policemen have been killed by men presumed to be Islamic extremists, in the name of a holy war. It is sad to think of these men and women who, far from being any real enemy of Islam, were essentially in the wrong place at the wrong time. Killing to warn, win or provoke takes us far from any religion, and far from any humanity.

Day 3: Favourite Character from a Book

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I’m falling well behind on this!

I worry it’s going to reveal something psychopathic about my personality that I don’t really have a favourite character from a book.

And, odder still, it’s never occurred to me to think of a character out with the matrix of the story for which they were written.

Although I slightly favour non-fiction, I do read and enjoy novels and short stories, but I wouldn’t say that any of my favourite fiction (The Glass Bead Game, Cloud Atlas, anything by Raymond Carver) pull one character to the fore, that is to say they are driven more by setting, or events than a personality per sae.

I pretty much always try to read fiction in my second or third language. It is one of my favourite experiences in language learning! Fiction in English feels quite crisp around the edges: in published authors ambiguity is most commonly an intentional device. Reading fiction without the immediacy of the total comprehension we all benefit from in our first language is to enter a less certain, dream like world where images and stories emerge more slowly, and at times remain hazy.

So I’ve drawn Raimund Gregorius from Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”, which I am reading currently in the Spanish “Tren Nocturno a Lisboa” version. Raimund is a scholar who has lived his life within the security of the printed page, but an encounter, and a book lead him to abandon his life in Bern for the Portuguese capital, I’m not much further on than that, plot wise but I’m pretty certain that Raimund would wear tweed.

A shadow fell over this drawing as I took a photo of it. Somehow it seemed to suit Raimund, so I’ve left it as is.

 

Day 2: Favourite Animal for a day: Wasps

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This was drawn close to midnight on the 2nd of January.

Wasps are not my favourite animals, usually.

I had woken on the 2nd of January wondering if the buzzing insect I had flapped and fanned out of under my duvet had been a dream, and concluding that it probably had been.

Returning to bed at the end of the day, a dusty looking, bulky wasp was dragging itself towards my wooden floor lamp. It certainly wasn’t in good shape. And I couldn’t see how greater proximity to the bulb was going to change it’s overall outlook. It’s January in Scotland, and really, I was surprised the wasp had made it this far.

This blog is quite the fascinating perspective on all things insect (although there is a bit more about bed bugs than I’d like to know about). It was the source of the discovery that wasps cannot fly “when chilled” (that would certainly include ambient Scottish winter temperatures). I wondered if other motor functions would also be impaired, accounting for it’s unusual gait. Was the 30 watt bulb the best potential source of heat in the room? (That wasn’t actively swatting it away).

I also read, on Reddit, a personal account that bees* can sometimes be revived with some sugar water. The usefulness of doing this on a bee-by-bee basis is debated – 172 comments, who knew?

It is a source of some personal disquiet (but, really not very much) that I continued to draw the wasp, and search for information on it rather than supplying it with some sugar water. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to have to try to remove a reinvigorated wasp from my room at 1am.

The struggle must have lasted some time into the night, but it was certainly over by the time I woke in the morning.

For this day, and the information gathering journey that my encounter with this creature took me on, I have instated “wasps” as my favourite animal**.

 

 

 

* I know bees are not wasps but an internet cross check revealed that while carnivorous in Springtime, come Autumn/Winter they are less fussy and less protein-centric, something that anyone who has tried to eat a jam sandwich in the park will already know.

**In no way related to the fact that this was the only animal I drew on the 2nd of January.