Why embark on a drawing class? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on work-related skills? Not at all, argues Pavitra Baxi: it has been hugely beneficial
As I contemplated signing up for an art class, a number of questions came to my mind. Can I allow myself the luxury of indulging in a hobby? Will I be able to devote enough time to it? Do I really need another distraction? We all tend to spend our time, money and effort on enhancing our work-related skills rather than on activities that give us pleasure. Given a choice between personal and professional development, we all too often think that we have to opt for the latter.
But I’d been doodling since childhood, and it served as an excellent release for pent-up teenage angst. With the pandemic situation being what it is now (and I live in one of the countries hit hardest by COVID-19), my mind went back to art, and the desire to give structure to my doodling habit actually became stronger.
I had finally gathered the courage to sign up for the course ‘Drawing live subjects in public’, conducted online by graphic designer and illustrator Roz Stendahl, when Roz announced that this was probably her last year of offering online classes.
It was a 30-day course with recorded video lectures scheduled twice a week, access to numerous handouts, practice videos and two live Facebook sessions with Roz. We had to draw every day and upload our homework on the Ruzuku platform. Roz would give her feedback on our homework along with much-needed encouragement. The two non-negotiables: draw every day for 30 minutes and use positive and supportive vocabulary to describe our work.
Roz started the course with a session on essential art materials, followed by an introduction to different styles of drawing. Once a week, we were expected to go and draw outdoors. Given the current constraints, she also gave us tips and tricks to sketch from a safe and protected location, and in fact these sessions were where I gained the most learning. Roz spent considerable time dispelling our fears that we weren’t sufficiently good or accomplished artists to take our sketchbooks out. Not only did this help us to get over our preoccupation with making perfect drawings, but it also improved our ability to concentrate. Shutting out distractions and focusing on drawing is difficult in a public setting, and this exercise helped us overcome that hurdle.
Roz helped us tackle the very common dilemma over what to draw in the first place, by giving us some simple suggestions: draw a self-portrait; draw with your non-dominant hand in different positions; or even draw pebbles! She did however insist on our drawing live, from something physically in front of us. Many of us were tempted to draw from photographs, but she made the point that in photos the subject looks flattened and the light and shade are often very different from real life because of the way the image has been processed.
The internal critic is the voice in our head which constantly criticises our work and which makes us procrastinate and look for excuses to avoid developing good habits
So how does this help the way I do my paid work? Quite apart from the huge benefits of finding other creative outlets in one’s life (particularly at such a horribly difficult time), there were some direct benefits to carry across. In fact, the class gave me a fascinating insight into how art is closely related to translating and writing – practising one enriches the other two.
Discipline, consistency and keen observation are equally important for both artistic and academic endeavours. Artists communicate with their audiences; it is just that they do so through their compositions and colours rather than through the spoken or written word.
Even more importantly, a large part of our discussions centred around the internal critic and how to ignore it. The internal critic is the voice in our head which constantly criticises our work and which makes us procrastinate and look for excuses to avoid developing good habits. Roz explained at great length how to silence this voice. The internal critic thwarts all our efforts to find satisfaction in what we do. The quest for perfection, the feeling that we lack experience, and comparisons with others are what really stop us from progressing. The internal critic makes its presence felt in other areas of our life too. It is quite possible that our best work is right in front of us, but that we fail to acknowledge it. Rather than repeating the critic’s voice, we need to become acquainted with the rather more sympathetic one that looks at our work with empathy and identifies areas for improvement: a patient and positive coach that nudges us slowly and steadily towards our goal.
Taking this class helped me to stop analysing and to enjoy the process of creating. It also made me realise how closely our personal and professional development are related. It might have seemed an indulgent extra, but in fact it enhanced my life overall. Our skills do not work in isolation, but in tandem. They support each other in making our lives richer and more fulfilling.
This article was first published in the November - December 2020 issue of the ITI Bulletin.
About the writer
Pavitra Baxi is a German to English translator based in Bengaluru, India. She works mainly in the engineering, medical and IT sectors. She is a mechanical engineer by qualification, and developed software solutions for the automobile and construction engineering sectors before turning to full-time translation. You can contact Pavitra through her website or email address.