I was listening to the NPR  TED Radio Hour on the topic of joy the other day. One of the talks mentioned was by Simone Giertz, an inventor and robotics enthusiast. In her presentation, she talks about growing up with academic performance anxiety. So anything less than perfect was never good enough.

This reminded me of how similar we can behave when creating art. The final result can become all-encompassing and we beat ourselves up when we don’t achieve the results we want. Simone’s story is an interesting one. She wanted to learn robotics and engineering, but wanted a way to make it fun. Otherwise, she knew that her performance anxiety would kick in again. So she began building ridiculous, useless robots, like a robot toothbrush built into a helmet and posted them to YouTube. People found them funny, so much so, that it’s now her job. plus she got to learn a lot while enjoying the creation process.

So how can we apply the same principles to our art and enjoy the process? One way could be to create projects, which remove the pressure of aiming for perfection. One example would be blind contour drawing.

Blind Contour Drawing

A blind contour drawing is when you draw something by studying it carefully, but not looking at your paper. When you draw like this, you can’t expect your art to look perfect, can you? The funny thing about exercises like this, is the drawings have an appeal all of their own. It’s a bit like the charm of the funny robots.

blind contour drawing Dorothy Walker

Blind Contour Drawing by Artist Dorothy Walker

A few more exercises you can try to beat perfectionism are 5-minute drawings, non-dominant hand drawings and doodling

Five-minute drawings

Find some reference, decide what you’re going to draw, set a timer for 5 minutes and start drawing. Once again you can’t expect perfection in 5 minutes, which lets your perfectionist self off the hook. What you will find though is if you continue this every day for a month your drawing will get better and quicker.

Karolynne Hart‎ 5 minute sketch

5 Minute Sketch by Artist Karolynne Hart‎

Non-dominant hand drawings

Use your non-dominant hand to draw something. You will find it harder to control than usual. Of course, you can’t expect your drawing to be great using your wrong hand. However, just like blind contour drawings sometimes non-dominant hand drawings prove to be interesting or quirky. You might find you actually quite like them.

Mummsy Savo‎ Non Dominant Hand Drawing

Non-Dominant Hand Drawing by Artist Mummsy Savo‎


Doodles by Christi C Neff

Doodles by Artist Christi C Neff

Even if you just tell yourself that you’re doodling rather than drawing it makes it seem much more lighthearted, perhaps even throw away. A couple of fun exercises

to try are:

  • creating a random squiggle and seeing what you can make from it
  • ripping a couple of shapes of coloured paper, glueing them to a page. The. Turn the paper in different directions and see what it could become. Create a continuous line doodle over the shapes.

doodles on messed up sketch pages

Try one or two of these exercises and take the pressure off yourself. You might find you really enjoy it.

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