Someone asked me (after noticing my daily Instagram uploads): “Joe – where do you find the time for all this stuff?”
The simple answer is I can’t fathom not constantly working, learning and creating. But why is that?
Austin Kleon calls obituaries “near death experiences for cowards”. Reminding yourself of how little time you have is the source of limitless motivation and energy. Better than a cup of coffee and a cold shower, anyway (although I like those too). If you really face that fear, present yourself with the hard reality that we’re all running down a timer, you’ll find the time to do the stuff you want to do. Either that, or you’ll run from it. I choose the former.
This afternoon I went for a run. I wandered about the house, doing bits and bobs, finding every excuse not to go first – but I went. First I ran down the road, then into town. Then to the seafront. The kilometres piled up. I started feeling better, looser. I began enjoying it. When I got home, I looked in the mirror. I was glad. I’d done the work.
That feeling of satisfaction and contentment… It’s not like I don’t know it’s there. It’s a constant reward, forever waiting at the end of any kind of hard graft. And yet I still put off the work I know I need to do, whether physical or creative.
A way I remind myself to just do the damn thing is to be aware of the whistling scythe.
Here’s two sketches of some buildings I saw on my recent travels. Getting some fineliner pens has made a big difference to my urban sketching. I do kind of miss the subtle tones you can get with a biro… I definitely feel I’m getting much more proficient at capturing the intricacies of physical structures. I’m enjoying it too.
I was particularly struck with ‘The Dancing House’. I’ve always liked Frank Gehry. He seems like a cool, grumpy old dude with interesting ideas on the creative process. I like this quote:
“When you build a building, any building, start with the simple block model to see where that goes.”
When you start an essay or report, you’re better off quickly jotting down the core ideas, the big blocks of information. They can be completely fluid, removed or expanded as time goes on – but get them in there first.
Pretty standard day today comprised of three main ‘lumps’: university, working out and creative output. What do those activities have in common? They’re the sum of thousands of tiny concerted efforts. There’s no way to just get econometrics quickly. It doesn’t happen. Nor can you walk off the street into a gym for the first time and bench 100kg (or 225lbs for my American readers). And you certainly don’t build up any sort of competency in your art immediately – if ever.
“Just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.”
Steinbeck got it right. His diaries revealed he was plagued by feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. In a way that’s comforting – it never gets any easier for anyone. But he stumbled across the answer: it’s by focussing on what’s in front of you and doing it to the best of your ability, one day at a time, that you get the work done.
Exciting news. My girlfriend and I have just booked return flights to Bangkok. Nearly 2 months over the summer will be spent somewhere in South East Asia… Although I’ve travelled widely over Europe over the last few years, I’ve never left the continent. An extended summer break before I start my graduate job in Manchester seemed the perfect opportunity to do so. The thought of sitting in the heat, perhaps outside a cafe, sipping a Vietnamese iced coffee, listening to the chaotic noise of the traffic and sketching the world around me… now that’s a scene that gets me pretty damn excited. Just got to finish the degree first!
In other news, I got featured in a local publication, ‘Southsea Folk’ – the first bit of media attention I’ve received. Check it out here. So cool that there are independent publications supporting local creatives, especially as I only started sharing my work a few months ago. It’s one of the reasons I’ll miss Portsmouth. But, with platforms like this and Instagram, I’m confident I’ll always have a digital community to interact with wherever I am.
I’ve got a busy week ahead – the economics degree does warrant some attention! Then, I’m off to Prague on Saturday. Keep an eye out for a steady stream of Czech sketches, beer and sausages here:
Note to self
Today, I deliberately found an awkward spot in the middle of one of my favourite university buildings to draw, snapped a quick photo. It’s the newest member of the rag-tag group of structures that make up the main hub of the University of Portsmouth: all concrete, glass and steel.
I’m actually pretty pleased at how this one came out. The little notes to myself in the bottom right corner aren’t something I’ve done before – they’re the result of a tip I picked up off other urban sketchers on Instagram. It’s useful to think about what went well, and what I’m not so happy with: that way, every drawing is a learning experience.
Substituting sleep for sprints
Riddle me this. I woke up around 3am last night (no idea why). It took me a solid few hours to get back to sleep, meaning I only totalled approximately 5 fragmented hours. I got up around 7am regardless, and did 20 minutes worth of interval training along Clarence Esplanade. I love training by the sea. Today’s workout was 10 repetitions of approximately 30 second bursts of maximum speed, with short rest periods in between. Immediately after I finished training, and despite my lack of sleep, I felt energised. It’s stayed with me throughout the day. Now, perhaps it was just the sea air. But perhaps not. Anyone else notice that weird phenomenon?
The drawings above have a couple of things in common (other than being done by me):
- None of them felt good to draw while I was doing them.
- I’m not happy with them – but at least they’re done.
I can’t explain how frustrated I feel when I sit down to work, and the flow doesn’t come. Which, by the way, is most of the time. My fingers feel like they’re made of lead. I draw clunky lines, a blob of ink leaves the pen suddenly and ruins an intricate detail, the train jolts and it’s all over. A couple of months ago, I’d have just sighed in frustration, shut the sketchbook and got on with my day.
But I’m working really hard at pushing through the feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude I have to just get it done and put it out there, trusting in the process and enjoying getting better.
You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.
I read a story about Arnold Schwarzenegger in his early bodybuilding days once. He (believe it or not) had skinny little legs – relative to the rest of him, anyway! Most people’s instincts are to hide their defects. Arnie cut all his trousers down into shorts, deliberately emphasising his weaknesses. He knew it would motivate him to train harder, and, as we all know, it paid off for him.
That’s why I’m trying things that challenge me and sharing them, even (especially) if I’m not 100% satisfied with them. I want to look back at my work in a year’s time, and I want to barely recognise it because of how much I’ve improved. The only way that’s going to happen is if I force my way through that uncomfortable feeling and get it done regardless.
I think that’s something any person trying to create something out of nothing can relate to. I hope you all smashed your Monday. Get ready for the rest of the week – make it a good one!
P.S. follow me on Instagram – you’ll see some stuff that doesn’t make it to the ink!