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when drawing lets me down

Yesterday I had one of those days where I just couldn't seem to draw anything right. ...That's not strictly true; I could draw anything BUT what I was supposed to be drawing for my next book. Sometimes I just need to draw something else to reroute my brain, so I sat in front of the mirror and drew my irritated self. She doesn't look exactly like me, but she does look annoyed.

It didn't help. When I went back to working on my book (pencil roughs for a picture book), I felt a growing feeling of helplessness as I drew, scrubbed out with the eraser, drew, erased. I knew I could draw. This was stupid, and pressing deadlines meant I didn't have time to mess about. ARGHHHH.

I finally admitted defeat for the day. It just wasn't a good drawing day.

I don't have too many of these kinds of days, this bad, but they happen. Sometimes it's related to exercise, that I'm not getting enough. Sometimes thinking about tight deadlines gives me a underlying feeling of panic. Once I was working for very unpleasant people who were trying to scare me with legal threats and I and got so depressed about it that I struggled for months to draw anything good at all. In that situation, I ended up enrolling for the MA Illustration programme at my local art college and that gave me the boost I needed. Walking into a room full of completely new faces, people who loved to draw, filled me with renewed hope and reminded me why I love drawing so much.

I wish there was a single easy answer to getting back my drawing mojo on a bad day. Going for a walk can help, but not always. It's tempting to try to help the problem by eating junk food, but that can make it worse. Sometimes I need to go away and do an entirely different project for awhile (making lino cut prints is my favourite diversion), but I'm locked quite tightly into the international book fair schedule; projects need to be ready for Bologna, for Frankfurt, for Bologna, for Frankfurt. If I miss a book fair slot (say, Bologna 2015), the book gets delayed by a whole year (to Bologna 2016) as I pick up the book I'm doing for the other publisher (for Frankfurt 2015). And now with the chapter books, I have 14 foreign publishers waiting for each year's installment of the series, so a delay would affect quite a few people.

I've also been doing lots of events; I love doing them, but a day's event can mean a loss of up to two days of book work. I often agree to events up to a year in advance, so when the actual date rolls around, it's too late to say I'm too busy. I still haven't figured out the exact amount of events I can do and still meet my deadlines, it's a blind guessing game. When people read the word 'freelance', they sometimes think it means 'free', but that's only if you don't plan on earning a living. I'm finding my years more and more planned out in great detail, in a way that's hard to change.

I'm not complaining - it's great to have work - but I do feel the pressure, and sometimes it affects my drawing. I worry when my husband makes 'ships in the night' comments, and feel guilty for going out in the evenings if he doesn't want to come along with me. So I haven't seen a lot of my friends lately. I miss them a lot. I didn't get to see my good friend Emma Vieceli perform the leads in South Pacific and Godspell and I'm very sad about that. I get to the point where, when I meet someone new who's wonderful, I almost feel a bit melancholy, because I know I probably won't have time to get to know them properly, and in a parallel life we might have become very close friends. I love meeting people and getting to know them, so this feels wrong.

This job is a strange one. It's the proverbial feast or famine. I went from not having any work to having too much, and I don't know how to find a good in-between place. I'd like to do this job until I drop; I look to people such as David McKee, Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr, Quentin Blake, all who have carried on doing what they love into old age. I once interviewed David McKee (Elmer the Elephant, Mr Benn), and he'd moved into painting big canvases, and was still exploring new ways of working; I was so impressed by the freedom he had to paint, and that he was still pushing his own creative boundaries. I love seeing Shirley Hughes at parties.

I hope today's a better day. I might start it with a tree drawing in the park. I don't know if it will 'fix' my drawing today, but it does feel therapeutic to get outdoors and study something other than myself. I need to be more disciplined: get up early, noodle around less on the Internet, and get out of the house earlier so I have time to make these morning drawings. I'm one of those people who hates routines - I get all rebellious, even against myself - so I guess I'll always be looking for ways to figure out this whole work-life balance thing. When I meet other people I know are working incredibly hard - David Roberts, Alex T Smith, Liz Pichon, Jamie Smart, Chris Riddell, anyone with kids - it's so tempting to grab them, give them a shake and ask HOW DO YOU DO IT?! Apparently people say the same thing about me. (Answer: I don't know.)


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2014 07:56 am (UTC)
I really love the irritated self portrait of yourself you drew, the first one. It's different to your usual work, but actually kind of ...uhm, beautiful actually!
Peej Maybe
Jun. 10th, 2014 08:22 am (UTC)
I get days like this too, mostly the days that end in 'y'

Ace post!
Jun. 10th, 2014 10:20 am (UTC)
Jun. 10th, 2014 02:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jeremy! I like drawing like that, but it requires models and real-life observation... ha ha, not so easy when I don't have any to hand.
Jun. 10th, 2014 08:21 am (UTC)
Work-life balance
What you do is fantastic. Keep going! Everything you've said about exercise, deadlines etc is very familiar and sensible. And brains just need to take a break sometimes. Good to see yours having a day's holiday.
Jun. 10th, 2014 02:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Work-life balance
Thank you! Not a day's holiday, but at least a morning! Managed to get to the park and draw a tree; feeling a bit better. :)
Nick Cross
Jun. 10th, 2014 08:42 am (UTC)
It's weirdly encouraging to know you have trouble with this stuff too, Sarah - you always seem to be sailing through it all without a care whenever I meet you! I regularly have bad writing days or even weeks, to the extent that I'm glad I'm not trying to earn my living that way. Of course if I was, perhaps I wouldn't have the room to feel sorry for myself that I do now!
I'm sure today is going to be a good one for you - go out and grab it.
Jun. 10th, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
Cheers, Nick! Ha ha, I give a good impression of sailing, I guess. Good luck with the writing! :)
Jun. 10th, 2014 01:57 pm (UTC)
Deadlines, forget 'em. You're working for you -- you're making pictures that make you happy. Any collateral benefit from creating them is beside the point. Have fun!
Jun. 10th, 2014 02:22 pm (UTC)
Ha ha, I don't think my agent and editors would agree with you! I really do want to do this for a living, so there have to be compromises, but yeah, if something doesn't make me happy, I can't expect other people to like it.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 10th, 2014 02:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Gosh, that ships in the night thing is rough, huh?
One of the worst things is when friends get upset I don't make enough effort to see them, and they think I don't care about them. (Which isn't true.) And then ten people say something to that effect in the space of a week about me not having any time for them, and I can't meet up with all ten, and the guilt is crushing, and I just stay home and read a book. (I don't read enough book these days, either.)
Jun. 11th, 2014 12:47 am (UTC)
Thanks for this post!
Hi Sarah,
I just want you to know that you're not alone and I admire your honesty. Love the scribbled slump! I guess the consolation from this is that you're making a lot of people happy and that's a wonderful thing but you need to spend a little of that goodwill on yourself too! I've found no answer to the problems you've mentioned, but I guess in the end we've got to structure into our schedules arguing about the dishes, the TV remote, which friends to see, yours or your partners....y'know "quality time"!
In any case, I hope today is a better drawing day for you, you're a star!
Paul Peart Smith
Jun. 12th, 2014 12:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks for this post!
Cheers, Paul! :)
Jun. 11th, 2014 11:49 am (UTC)
Great post Sarah, and some fantastic drawings came out of your frustrating day. For some reason it helps knowing there are others out there having the same struggles and feelings of guilt, so thanks for sharing. You continue to inspire! Take care and all the best. Dave Cousins.
Jun. 12th, 2014 12:44 pm (UTC)
You, too, and I'm glad it's not just me... although I wouldn't wish it on anyone, either! ;)
Jun. 11th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC)
PERFECT piece - I needed to read this - I was trying to explain today why I missed a friend's 40th because I was working. And I was thinking, I sound like I'm complaining about too much work but I bring it on myself by saying yes to everything. Perhaps the real challenge is not meeting the deadlines but trying to come to terms with the fact I'll always feel like I'm working too much & yet can't work enough. It's a bit "we'll eat you up, we love you so". And Max said, "Yes! I can totally squeeze that in, if we just tweak the schedule a little..."
Jun. 12th, 2014 12:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, I'm glad it's helpful! Yeah, it's so awkward trying to explain to friends, especially if they work regular hours. I used to have jobs where I finished for the day, and that was it, I was done; there was nothing else I could do. They weren't very nice jobs, but that daily closure was the one good thing about them.
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:27 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you just need a holiday away from all this - by yourself (and with Stuart, of course). When are you going away? do it, me duck. You'll come back, get everything done twice as fast.

Now i just need to take my own advice...

Al of the yeti
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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