Today is my first day back to work
My family and I spent nine days on a lake in the woods. Remote and relaxing.
The best thing about our vacation was that I put stuff away. I didn’t check work from my phone, I didn’t sneak into town for wi-fi.
And for the last nine days I have not drawn or colored anything.
I know that sounds strange to anyone who colors for fun. Most of you dream of having a week of free time to color and doodle as you wish. But art is my job. It wouldn’t be a vacation if I dragged my work with me.
So I haven’t touched a pencil or marker in nine days.
That’s a long time for my hands to sit dormant.
Which means that I’m not going to be drawing anything amazing today. Pretty much everything I draw or color for the next several days is going to be a stunted version of my usual work, way below average.
I’m mentally preparing myself. It’s going to sting my ego but nothing I create this week will be worth saving. It will all be lack-luster.
Because I spent nine days at the beach.
I’m out of practice
When I left on vacation, I was in the zone, making some really good stuff. But I can’t expect to spend nine days totally unplugged and then return to that peak performance state. Frankly, even if it were only half that time- maybe a long weekend, I would still have trouble recreating the magic on my first day back.
Art skills wither when you’re not using them. It doesn’t take very long to loose your groove.
Now let me ask you- how many days has it been since you last colored something?
How many days do you typically go between Copic projects?
And for those of you who dabble with Copics, colored pencil, ink pads, and lots of trendy stuff… how many days days does it take for you to cycle from markers through all your other play toys and get back to markers?
Be honest, how many days a month do your markers sit untouched?
Each one of those days is a day in the woods.
It’s not uncommon for me to hear students chatting before class… “I can’t wait to get started because I haven’t had a chance to color since our last class.”
That's very normal. Most colorers only pull out their supplies when they have a rare spot of downtime. I have students take classes specifically because if they weren’t paying for the dedicated coloring time, they’d allow themselves to be detoured by laundry or email.
And yet when you do find time to color, even though you haven’t touched a marker in weeks, you expect to sit down and effortlessly create your greatest masterpiece ever?
Can we get real for a minute?
Nobody, not even the most skilled of artists, not Leonardo freekin’ Da Vinci could spend the better part of a month dealing with kids, yard mantenance, and mandatory overtime but then crank out the Mona Lisa on a random Wednesday night.
I spent nine days on a lake in the woods and I know it’s going to take at least a week to warm back up to the point where I can create something worth showing here on the blog.
And you’re trying to do top level work squeezed in-between the office, the grocery store, and junior’s soccer practices?
You are putting far too much pressure on yourself.
Great coloring happens when you are in the perfect mental state, when you’re warmed up and the marker feels like an extension of your fingers. Top level work happens when your hand and brain are communicating at lightning speed. You can’t tap into creative flow when you only color every once in a while.
I’m sure you know how to ride a bicycle but if I handed you one right now, you’d bobble and sway around for a few minutes until you found that old equilibrium, right?
And here you are expecting to win the Tour de France with Copics on one night each month?
Stop and think a minute- we all have a favorite marker blogger or design team members we really admire. You pin their work and when it comes time to color, you have their projects in mind. You want to color just like them.
But they’re in the zone. They’re warmed up and running smoothly on sustained creative activity. At the very least, they’re coloring as a part time job.
Do not berate and downgrade yourself.
You can not color like your hero if you’re not coloring as much as your hero.
I’m not saying this to dishearten you
I’m not ordering you pitch your career and ditch the family in order to spend more time coloring.
My point is simply to lighten up. Stop comparing your work to someone who colors for three to four hours every day. Stop envying the project of a star student who takes fourteen coloring classes a month. You are not being realistic and you’re slowly killing off your joy.
You enjoy coloring, right?
But you’ll enjoy it a little less each time you expect too much from yourself.
“I like to color but I’m not very good at it”
That’s the kiss of death for your soul. You’re holding yourself to a higher standard than what your schedule allows for.
Good takes time. Great takes even more time.
You are spending three weeks at the beach and expecting to drop into marker class and create a miracle.
Let’s be realistic
Do you have to color every single day of your life to color well?
You can make some pretty good stuff with the time you have available.
But I’m not going to sugar coat it. You’ll never, never, never color at your peak level if you are not doing it every day.
Just like you’ll never win an Olympic medal for Fencing, you won’t place top five in the Indy Car circuit, and you are not going to be on the cover of the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
If you’re not training for it, it ain’t gonna happen.
Be okay with that.
If you have more time, squeeze in a little more coloring. You’ll immediately see the results of more practice. More time with a marker in your hand pays definite dividends.
But if you can’t, you can’t.
Your coloring will always reflect the amount of time you have to give
Maturity is the ability to accept that fact without disparaging yourself.
It’s okay if you can only color in my classroom. It’s okay if you can only pick up a Copic once or twice a month.
What’s not okay is asking yourself to color wow-level beautiful projects after an extended period of time away from the markers.
You are not in the zone. Be honest about it.
It’s not that you don’t have talent, it’s that your talent hasn’t been given time.
And besides, there’s nothing wrong with nine days at the beach.