I've always drawn, since I can remember.
This love for drawing led me to CalArts, a dream for any aspiring character animator. But there, in the midst of rigorous training and portfolio building, something shifted. The drawings I once did for joy became tasks, each stroke a step toward a professional goal, not a personal one.
It took years before I realized: I had lost the art of drawing for myself.
This isn't anything against CalArts. It's something that any artist will come up against once they pursue any professional avenue with their art.
In this piece, I want to share how I rediscovered my initial spark in drawing again, in the simplicity of a sketchbook, away from the eyes of critics and expectations of the professional world.
The essence of drawing for oneself
In the beginning, there's a purity in drawing.
It's about capturing what you see, feel, or imagine, not about meeting a brief or impressing a panel. I remember those early days, my sketchbook a sanctuary where my thoughts and simple observations in the world around me took shape in graphite and ink.
Yet, as I ventured deeper into the professional realm, this essence began to blur. Drawing wasn't just drawing anymore; it was a means to an end – a polished portfolio, a successful career. I'd sit down to sketch, but instead of freedom, I felt constraints. What would my teachers think? Would this piece strengthen my portfolio?
At CalArts, surrounded by talent and ambition, these questions grew louder. My sketches became less about exploration and more about precision, technique, and marketability. The freedom and joy in my art were replaced by the pressure to perform.
It was during a quiet evening, alone with my sketchbook, that I confronted this change. The page was blank, not because I lacked ideas, but because I was thinking too much about the ‘right' thing to draw. It was a stark realization. I was drawing for others, not for myself.
This realization was a turning point.
I decided to reclaim my sketchbook as a space for me, not for grades or galleries. I began to draw without purpose, letting my pencil wander freely across the page. In those moments, I reconnected with the simplicity of drawing.
It's a balance I'm still learning. The professional world has its demands, but my sketchbook remains my retreat, a reminder of why I started drawing in the first place. It's where I draw not for accolades or approval, but for the sheer pleasure of creation.
And that, I believe, is the true essence of being an artist.
The art school experience
CalArts was both a dream and a challenge.
Every day was a dive into technique, storytelling, and refining my craft. Surrounded by incredible talent, I pushed myself harder.
But in this pursuit of excellence, my personal art started fading into the background.
In art school, the focus is often on what will sell, what's industry-relevant. My sketches started reflecting this shift. They became more about what would impress, less about what I wanted to express. The portfolio I was building was professional and polished, but it didn't always feel like mine.
I remember nights spent working on assignments that honed my skills but didn't ignite my passion. The gap between what I was drawing and what I wanted to draw grew wider. I was learning, growing, but part of me wondered if I was losing my artistic voice in the process.
Losing the natural way I liked to draw, loose, sketchy, and with “too many, messy lines”.
I was lucky enough to meet Corny Cole. One of my drawing teachers for my four years at CalArts. He too, drew in a “messy way with too many lines”. Yet, he was able to work as an animator on Looney Tunes, and have a thriving career as an artist.
He told me a story where he was storyboarding an animation and someone told him there were too many lines, and that he shouldn't draw in ballpoint pen. Yet, he had a thriving career. I could probably make an entire video on Corny Cole and his teachings, but in an instant, I knew you had to fight to draw how you want to draw, despite what an “industry standard” is.
Rediscovering personal art in a sketchbook
Another turning point came unexpectedly.
One evening, tired of working on an animation assignment, I opened an old sketchbook.
It was filled with old drawings from before CalArts, raw and imperfect, but unmistakably mine. Flipping through it, I felt a sense of freedom I hadn't in a while. All the drawings felt like polaroids I took. Each page was a memory, a friend sitting in front of me, a poem scribbled by a friend next to one of my drawings, entire environments drawing in continuous line at a coffee shop. I remember exactly where I was when I made each drawing.
I started sketching without a plan. These weren't pieces for a class or a portfolio; they were just for me. In the privacy of those pages, I rediscovered the joy of drawing. I experimented, made mistakes, and most importantly, I wasn't drawing to impress anyone.
This personal sketchbook became my creative outlet, a space where my art could be unapologetically mine. Whether it was a quick doodle or a detailed study, each page was a step back to my artistic roots. I was learning to balance the demands of art school with the need to nurture my creative soul.
Tips to reclaim your sketchbook
Here are some tips to reclaim your sketchbook if you feel the same way:
- Set Aside Time for Personal Sketching: Dedicate a specific time each day or week for sketchbook work. This isn't time for projects or assignments, but for personal exploration. Even 15 minutes can make a difference. It’s about creating a habit of drawing for yourself.
- Embrace Imperfection: Let go of the need for every sketch to be a masterpiece. Use your sketchbook as a place for trial and error. Scribble, doodle, experiment. Remember, this is your private space, free from judgement.
- Draw What You Love, Not What You ‘Should': Forget about trends or what you think people want to see. Draw subjects that excite and inspire you. It could be anything from nature scenes to abstract shapes. Your sketchbook, your rules.
- Keep It Private: You don't have to share everything you create. Some art can be just for you. This mindset helps alleviate the pressure to please others and lets you focus on what pleases you.
- Carry Your Sketchbook Everywhere: Make your sketchbook a constant companion. Inspiration can strike anywhere, and having your sketchbook handy means you can capture those moments whenever they occur.
- Limit Digital Distractions: Try to sketch without the interruption of devices. It's easy to get caught up in what others are creating and sharing online. Give yourself space to focus on your own creativity.
- Use Different Mediums: Don’t limit yourself to pencils or inks. Experiment with charcoal, pastels, or even watercolors. Different mediums can bring out different aspects of your creativity.
- Revisit old sketches: Go back and add to old sketches. Add color, improve them, finesse the line weight, and more drawings in the empty spaces.
By integrating these practices into your routine, your sketchbook becomes more than just a collection of drawings. It becomes a personal diary of your artistic journey, a place where you can reconnect with the joy of creating art for its own sake.
Looking back, CalArts taught me invaluable lessons, both in technique and in finding my artistic identity. My journey taught me the importance of personal art. It's easy to get caught up in external expectations, but it's crucial to remember why we started drawing in the first place.
Keep a sketchbook for yourself. Let it be your playground, free from judgement and expectation. In it, you'll find not just your true artistic voice, but also the pure joy of creating art for art's sake.