Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone?

Oh how I hate that phrase.  It’s used in various ways to suggest something, but I never know exactly what, at least when it’s directed towards me or my sketches.

But maybe it’s a soft way of talking about something very basic to learning art.  I’ve noticed that amateur artists in particular don’t progress because they conflate learning with simple doing.  We believe we will improve by going out with our sketching group once a week, doing sketches just as we’ve done every other week.

Sure, you’ll improve, slowly, by this approach.  The problem is that when you go out with your sketching group, you want to produce something that you can proudly display when everyone says “what did you draw?”  Because of this, you sketch in the way you know.  There is no experimentation.  You choose subjects that are similar to ones you’ve drawn in the past.  So, you get better and better at what you know, avoiding anything that you don’t know.

I’ve always thought about my drawing as a two-part thing.  One part is the execution/performance part.  I use what I know to produce the best sketch I know how to make.  I do learn a bit from this process but mostly it’s about producing sketches that day.

It’s the second part, the learning part, that improves all of my sketching and I feel that progress has come more quickly than would be the case if I’d simply concentrated one that first part.  This learning part burns through paper a lot faster than the first part of my sketching life.  In this time I’ll create pages full of elllipses and hatching of all kinds.  It’s really fun to just draw a random amoeba-like shape and then contour it with hatching.  I’ll also draw lines between dots drawn in advance.  I’ll try to draw over a single line repeatedly trying to do so without widening the line.

I’ll draw parts of other people’s sketches, trying to get a feel for how they’ve made the lines they’ve drawn.  I’ll quickly sketch stuff, mostly from commercials on TV.  I’ll draw lines and divide them into thirds, fourths and fifths, followed up by measuring how good I was at it and correcting the errors.    I’ve filled a bunch of cheap sketchbooks with this stuff and it’s rare that any of it sees the light of day, but it’s the most important “art” I produce.  Now that I’m thinking about it, I should post some of those pages so you can see how disjointed, loose, and how little thought is given to producing “art” of any kind.  It’s all about training my visual cortex to gather the right information and disseminate it onto the page. Hmm.. maybe I’ll do that.

Anyway, while I’m very much in love with making lines with fountain pens, I also draw with ballpoint pens, brush pens, and watercolor pencils.  Sometimes I’ll draw in pencil.  Most of this is done while I watch movies or TV shows but sometimes I’ll just sit down and draw with the notion of improving on things I don’t feel I know.  This gives me a lot of things to choose from and on this day I decided that drawing with pencil was the order of the day.  Sadly, I didn’t think well enough and just started drawing on a piece of Fabriano Artistico CP paper, which is not an ideal paper for pencil.  There are numerous errors here but I learned a lot in the process and am now motivated to do it again but on a more suitable paper.

Drawn with a 0.5 mechanical pencil

4 Responses to “Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone?”

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  1. This post really struck a chord. More than half the stuff I do [watercolor] is trash. The other day after finishing piece that went really well, felt really good and that I really like finished, I pulled out another piece of paper and grabbed a reference photo from a magazine and started painting. I wasn’t hopeful that the finished product would be any good, but that wasn’t the point. I needed something new to think about. I could tell I was exercising new muscles and that felt great. I was way out of my comfort zone and the new zone was interesting. I noticed a new confidence that I didn’t have last year at this time. I was more comfortable with some of the paint, some of the light, some of the texture. I could see progress in many areas that weren’t represented on the page. That felt good.

    • Glad I said something that you could relate to, Robin. Most of my practice/learnimg stuff never produces an entire scene but I suppose everyone has their own ways of learning. For me it’s more about making lines with no notion of showing the results to anyone.

  2. Elva says:

    I spent way too many years always staying in the “make-sure-the-art-turns-out” zone. I’ve grown so much faster now that I often give myself the liberty to experiment and not worry about the end product. Experimenting should be challenging, but also exciting and even fun.

    • I find it a bit ironic that so many of us responded to people saying “it’s the process that matters, not the product” and that works during early stages of learning curve climbing. But once we start sketching with others, or participating in social media, the product starts to matter, just when we need to be spending a lot of time trying things rather than just doing what we know. Love your last statement as that balance between challenging and fun.