Daily doodle: back in the swing

Art, Creativity, Daily drawing

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.


Czech-sploits and mental Fartlek training

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, Philosophy

I’ve just got back from a long weekend away, exploring the delights of Prague. It was my second time visiting: the first was as a fresh-faced 19 year old, on a backpacking adventure around Europe. I fell prey to some of the tourist traps (quick tip: pubs in the heart of the old town, with signs in English saying ‘traditional Czech cuisine’ are rarely good value for money, or, indeed, particularly traditional). I returned as a more seasoned traveller, and had an incredible time firmly off the beaten track: riding the efficient, faultless tram network to districts like Zizkov and Karlin, eating delicious goulash and open topped sandwiches and drinking copious amounts of strong coffee (not to mention perhaps a few perfectly poured Pilseners).

Strolling the gorgeous streets, I had time to think. It was a real break from the frenetic pace of my normal day to day. February was, as you’ll know if you had the chance to read this recent post, a pretty punishing month. This trip seemed to arrive at a perfect time: I’ve returned crackling with energy and enthusiasm, raring to go and full of ideas, whereas before I felt drained.

But why is that the case? What happened? I don’t think ‘getting away from it all’ or ‘resting’ are convincing explanations.

Something made me think of this line from Josh Waitzkin, in his fantastic book ‘The Art of Learning’:

“Of course there were plateaus, periods when my results leveled off while I internalized the information necessary for my next growth spurt, but I didn’t mind.”

This was part of his experience climbing to the very heights of two disciplines: firstly chess (where he became a national champion at the tender age of 9) and then martial arts (world champion in Tai Chi Chuan). It’s well worth a read.

Waitzkin raises a critical, obvious but oft-neglected point: it’s just impossible to continue at a flat-out pace indefinitely. And yet it seems expected of us in this demanding world. We have to remind ourselves that a paradigm of constant, linear progression is unattainable. I realised I needed to apply something I’d learned running to the rest of my life: the principles of ‘fartlek training’.

This Swedish technique (meaning ‘speed-play’) is simple. It’s some form of continuous exertion, spliced with shorter bursts of intensity. So you’re out on a run, cruising along. Perhaps you decide to sprint between alternate lampposts, or for the chorus of each song you listen to. It doesn’t matter how you do it. The principle remains the same.

This needn’t be confined to exercise. Apply it to the rest of your life. Allow yourself periods of recovery – not coming to a complete halt, or opting out entirely. You’re still moving forward. When you feel the urge, when you’re able, you can push yourself as hard as you can, knowing it’s not forever, and not beating yourself up when you have to lower the pace.

Do as those clever Swedes do: get a bit of mental fartlek training in your life.

Daily doodle: Steinbeck and scribbles

Art, Creativity, Daily drawing, Miscellaneous thoughts, writing

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.”

John Steinbeck

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.



Daily doodles | “Show those skinny legs to the world!”

Art, Creativity, Daily drawing, Motivation

The drawings above have a couple of things in common (other than being done by me):

  1. None of them felt good to draw while I was doing them.
  2. 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.

-Jerry West

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!