Daily Goals (and Such)

Back in January of this year I decided to re-invigorate a habit that I’d been neglecting for a long time, and start writing more frequently. You’re reading the results of that effort right now: after more than eight months of daily (with a small break for summer fun) blogging resulting in over two hundred posts to this space.

Daily habits seem trivial, but in my experience become a drumbeat of steady progress towards getting stronger, faster, better, or simply more attuned to the nuances of an effort.

Over that aforementioned summer break I took up a couple more daily habits that have been fitting into my waking routine and are starting to show progress and results.

The first of those habits has been a daily body strength workout, involving a minumum number of push-up and sit-ups and some other equipment free exercises. None of it is a proper workout, but the payoff after two months of, say, thirty push-ups every day has been a cumulative progress towards some creaks and groans that were developing after eighteen months of working from home during the pandemic.

The second (and more interesting) of my new daily habits, and something I wrote about a couple weeks ago, is that I’ve dug into my old (and bought some new) art supplies, and dedicated myself to daily sketching.

If the day has been busy and my time is short, might just draw a simple thing like my car keys, a pen sitting on the table or any other curious object laying around the house. Ten minutes with a pen and a paper.

Or, if I have more time and inclination, then all that inspiration from reading, watching, and absorbing the work of other artists around the theme of rough watercolour sketching turns into a more elaborate project. I’ll snap a photo, dig through my travel pictures, or prop up my notepad out and about in the city and draw a small scene.

The habit of exercising my artistic soul every day has paid off.

The work that I was doing a month ago was not terrible, but it was markedly weaker than just a few weeks of practice has left in its wake. (I won’t even post those early sketches.) I won’t claim to have found some kind of greatness or unlocked a hidden talent, but I am starting to get a feel for my own style and building a great deal of confidence around things I can bring to life on the page. I can only imagine that this will steadily improve over the next months and beyond.

All that (plus two hundred blog posts and some improved upper body strength) from a little daily dedication to a simple idea: habit building.

(Sub)urban Sketching

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I take a lot of photos while travelling.

Often with multiple cameras in hand or slung over a shoulder or stuffed in a pocket, it has become a slight obsession to try for an amazing photo while out and about on a the local adventure or far-away excursion.

But this summer I’ve put my camera down a few times and have been honing my artist skillset as I dabble in a travel trend known as urban sketching.

It would be fair to say that my interest in sketchy art was renewed about two years ago when I spent a week in Dublin. Having travelled a few days in advance of my family (who were nearby in Scotland) to participate in a half marathon in Ireland, I travelled light and left most of my camera equipment with my wife. I had naught but an iPhone.

I arrived, picked up my race kit, and was left with two days to wander around the city.

I happened to wander into an art store and before rational reminders of my limited talent could creep into my brain and dissuade me, I had bought a sketch book and a pack of art markers.

I spent the rest of those days and the week following settling into cozy situations to attempt some urban sketching around the amazingly sketchable city of Dublin.

All that said, I wasn’t new to art.

Over the summer I found that Dublin sketchbook amongst a pile of other old art supplies. Since the mid-90s when I was in college I have been dabbling in pencil and ink drawing and have collected a small stack of coiled paper books stuffed with a lifetime of mediocre art. I don’t abound with any particular talent, but some of the work I rediscovered over the last month wasn’t half bad, and was often brought back more fluid memories than any photograph ever could.

Urban sketching is a catchall term for a kind of situational, in sutu art. It’s the slow version of a travel snapshot. A moment, a scene, a building, a space, a crowd, or anything memorable is captured by pencil and ink, colour and shadow, in the same way a photographer might snap a pic. Much more deliberately. Much more slowly. Sitting on a bench or a cafe table, just drawing the scene rather than that microsecond of thought to photograph it. It is vastly different in approach but with identical sentiment.

I set myself the goal of sketching daily about a month ago.

I spend some time each day drawing something, even if that just means pausing for fifteen minutes to rough out a scribble of my car keys or some other random item from around the house. But that same goal has prompted me to read up on some techniques, to dabble in experimenting with media and subjects I haven’t sketched before, and think more seriously about putting away the camera more often and honing my sketching plans for some future vacation to be captured in ink and watercolour.

Or like today, to sit in the sunny backyard and bring my apple tree to life on a blank page of a sketchbook.

That’s less urban sketching and more suburban sketching.