February was short, bleak and tough. But I’ve achieved a lot, and learned some important lessons this month.
1. Ensure balance
I’ve been putting a lot of time into the site: thinking of ideas, reading widely, listening to podcasts and trying my hand at new drawing techniques. As my time at university is coming to a close, and the difficulty and complexity of my studies seems to be increasing exponentially, this month has been the first time since starting the ink I’ve really felt the strain. So, I had to back off slightly on the site after a major panic over getting my dissertation done in time. This was brought on when I got a grade for another piece of coursework back that was far lower than I’d hoped. I quickly spiralled into self-doubt and feeling sorry for myself.
It didn’t take long to realise that, rather than blaming anything else, I needed to admit to myself I was distracted and hadn’t been fully committed to university work. With that came the realisation a dissertation isn’t a paltry commitment – if I want to graduate with a first class honours degree, as I’m on track to (barely) at the moment, I need to double down. I’ve got myself to a good place with my university work now, despite my earlier wobbles. But I learned I don’t have a limitless supply of energy. I can’t burn the candle at both ends forever. In trying to do everything at once, you run an increasingly high risk of doing it all to a low standard. Better to prioritise and execute (as Jocko Willink might say).
2. Support the foundation
Shoring up the base has been essential for me staying on track with everything else this month. I prioritised my physical and mental health over everything else. It’s the only logical way to do it: without either of those intact, nothing else you do will be of any substance anyway.
So, I’ve meditated almost every day, and that’s helped me stay focussed, able to detach from emotional reactions and avoid getting lost in unproductive patterns of thought. This has also had a knock on impact on my sleep schedule. That’s meant I’ve been able to keep churning out drawings, successfully fulfill illustration requests, write blog posts and keep on top of uni work without going insane.
Some people let their exercise habits slip when the pressure is on. I’ve never understood that. I’ve got to push myself physically some way everyday, through lifting weights, running, yoga, or even just riding my bike. If I don’t, I feel like I start to unravel at my core, and begin to lose discipline and focus in every aspect of my life. The same goes for diet: I’ve been eating mainly lean protein, healthy fats and greens, with very limited starchy carbs. I feel alert, lean and focussed when I fuel my body this way: like a well oiled machine.
Finally, no matter how busy you are with ‘work’, I’ve realised it’s critical to keep feeding your brain new and interesting stuff – allow time for ‘play’. Without reading extensively, listening to interesting podcasts, interviews and audiobooks and generally keeping my mind lively, I’ve found my creative muscles start to atrophy. The stream starts to dry up – and that’s not a good feeling. So, I’ve been reading a load of books, including Jordan Peterson’s ’12 Rules for Life’. It’s fantastic, and I usually get a good 20 or 30 minutes of reading in before I go to sleep every night.
3. Say yes to adventure
It’s really only been a few months I’ve been sharing my work with the world, and it’s already to led to some amazing stuff. From doing illustrations for a large and well-respected blog, to helping a friend with some ideas for their new website, and even being featured in a cool, local magazine: Southsea Folk. I constantly remind myself that all of this comes from the daily grind, getting myself to sit down and do the best work I can.
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”
Inspired by creators on this platform and Instagram, I’ve started trying out the tricky but satisfying art of urban sketching. One of the things I’m loving most about trying this new discipline is being a complete amateur again. It’s also so refreshing – it gives you a point to going or being anywhere – I’m constantly looking for interesting angles, perspectives and scenes. Check out a selection of February’s output below:
One of the final ‘themes’ of this month has been travel. My girlfriend and I have (somewhat impulsively) booked lots of trips for the rest of the year, from Prague to Stockholm to Bangkok. I’m excited to go to all these incredible places with a sense of purpose: to expose myself to new experiences, to create the best art I can, to eat tasty food and drink beer, to marvel at amazing architecture and natural beauty, and to have engaging conversations. I start my graduate job in October, and I’m looking at the summer as an opportunity to explore and create – not just bum around wasting time. Life is far too precious: Henry Rollins showed me that.
Onwards: goals for March
As well as keeping up the daily drawing and writing practice, and continuing weightlifting, running and yoga, there are some specific things I’m aiming for:
- Submit my dissertation/research project
- Produce at least 5 urban sketches I’m proud of in Prague, for potential display/exhibition
- Hit 100 followers on this platform, and make March my best month yet for interactions, views and visitors on the ink
I absolutely love the process of writing this blog: it’s given me a sense of tremendous focus and meaning. I appreciate every single person taking the time out of their days to read this, and I hope you all get something useful from it.
If you’ve made it this far, consider doing this: take some time today to think back on your month: what went well? What wins, big or small, did you have? Where did you trip up, and what can you do to avoid those circumstances in March? Set yourself some exciting goals, and figure out what you need to do to achieve them. Then get to work. It’s all to play for.