I drew myself every day for a year. Here’s what I learned.

This took way longer than it should have, because I should learn to farm out such jobs to people who are more skilled than me.

This took way longer than it should have, because I should learn to farm out such jobs to people who are more skilled than me.

Sitting in the cafe, I’d been staring at the guy for a solid five minutes when he looked up and caught my eye. I panicked and looked down at the table. Grabbing the newspaper in front of me, I covered up my piece of paper, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t see it..

As a kid I loved drawing. And as a teenager, art class was one of my favourites. But when I came to the age where we got to pick our subjects, I realized something: I did not have natural artistic talent. And I assumed this meant art wasn’t for me, so I stopped.

But then, a few years ago, doodling in a notebook, I suddenly thought,

Hang on — I love drawing!

And I realized: just because I’m not good, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.
And that maybe I could just draw, and then never show anyone!

Pretty soon, I understood that I like drawing faces more than anything else. Given that I spend a lot of time working (and taking breaks from working) in coffee shops, this would give me ample numbers of faces to draw! Except… for the embarrassment factor.

I mean, staring at someone just is embarrassing. But skilled artists can (sometimes) get away with it, because they could perhaps say,
“Oh, I was just drawing you!”
And then the staree could say, “Well, can I see?”
And the talented pencilsmith would show them the drawing, and that person would say,
“My gods! You’re BRILLIANT! It looks just like me! Let me pay you for it, fifty shillings!”

The only problems with this fantasy are 1) we don’t use shillings anymore and 2) in my version of this scenario, the person would more likely say,
“My gods! Why is my eye next to my mouth? Is that a SQUIRREL on my head? What is WRONG with you?”

 

Around that time, I saw Lisa Congdon said two things that altered the course of my year. 

In a talk onstage, she explained that she is someone who came to art late in life and now makes a living from it. While she does have heaps of natural talent, she shared, very, very helpfully:

“You have to come to peace with the fact that the drawing in your head, and the drawing that comes out of your pen, are not going to be the same thing.”

INTERESTING, I thought.

Then she told us about a project she did for her audience, where she committed to drawing a different self-portrait every week for ten weeks. For the first few, she was trying to make them realistic. But one week, she was in a really bad mood, so she just drew that. And people loved it.

INTERESTING, I thought.

Around that time, I’d been loving the little day-to-day cartoons my friend Natalie Czerwinski draws. I’d even once told her I wished I could commission her to follow me around and just draw scenes from my life. The final piece was remembering something I’d heard Asha Dornfest say in a talk:

“Self confidence grows when you keep a promise to yourself. You prove to yourself that you are trustworthy.”


On August 30th, 2016, I made a promise to myself:

I was going to draw a self-portrait every day for a year.

I made myself some rules:

1. If I was drawing what I did or how I felt (as opposed to from a mirror or photo), I would have to draw in ink so I couldn’t erase mistakes.
I was only allowed to tear out a page in very, very extenuating circumstances.

2. I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.
I decided that writing a blog like this (or making public an instagram page) would change the nature of what I was doing. I wanted to see what this project became before it got performative.

3. I didn’t have to draw the drawing on the day, but I did have to go back and do the days I missed.
The first few were just done on random pages:




When I realized I was going to keep it up, I went out and bought the smallest plain notebook I could find and stuck the first few in. After a month, I figured I’d likely make these public at some point, so made a secret instagram for the project — @yesmarshadraws. The rules for that were:

1. I wasn’t allowed to diss my drawing skills in the comments (because at first I felt compelled to in pretty much every single one, and I figured it would get boring)

2. No pics of people who don’t post pics of themselves on social media. This is why not every pic that I drew is up there.

In early October of 2017 — a year and 6 weeks after I’d started the project — I stopped drawing daily. There was a baby impending, and I guessed (correctly)(very, very correctly) that I wouldn’t have time to commit to one drawing a day of the kind I’d been doing. So I let myself pause. But the year I spent drawing, I LOVED.

 

Here are six things I learned:


(1) Lisa Congdon was right — and sometimes that’s a good thing.

Every now and then, I’d have an idea of how I’d want a picture to turn out, but what showed showed up instead was something I liked even more:



 

(2) Lisa Congdon was right, sometimes that’s a bad thing — and sometimes that’s a good thing.

When I’m drawing, the picture in my head is usually Photograph Rendered In Ink. The picture on the page is often Thirteen Year Old Attempts To Copy Princess Cartoon.

At first, I’d get bummed by how weird certain drawings would turn out.


But then I showed the project to my friend Sage. When I told her how I wished that the scenes from my life looked more realistic, she shook her head. She took one of the drawings I’d done of a photo.

“This,” she said.


She continued, “Give anyone that photo, a pencil and a year and they could draw this. But the ones you do that come straight from your head — these have so much character! NO ONE ELSE could do them!”

And with that, I learned to love (and often, laugh heartily at) some of the ideas my fingers came up with.



 

(3) People love drawings of themselves. Even really bad ones.

Very few adults draw each other. Especially those who don’t consider themselves artists. Because of that, we very rarely see drawings of ourselves.

Whenever I’d draw someone else with me in the photo, I’d always feel bad about how little it actually looked like them. But I’ve discovered that people LOVE a drawing of themselves — even a really bad one. One person even asked for a high res photo of the original, so that they might put it into a tiny frame.




 

(4) When you do something every day, it takes the pressure off.

If you make just one piece of art, you might judge yourself on how well you did it. But with a new thing every day, there’s always the chance to do better. Which means it’s ok to do it badly sometimes.



 

(5) Art therapy is a THING

The first time I sat down to draw in a foul mood, I felt like I just wanted to put on a hoodie and tell everyone to eff off. So I drew that.


Another time, I felt like I wanted to dig a big hole, climb inside and bury myself. So I drew that (with a breathing tube, because: claustrophobia).


Both times, doing the drawing transformed my mood. It was like I’d said to that little part of myself, “I hear you. And it’s ok that you feel how you feel.”

 

(6) Sometimes, a bad drawing preserves a nice time better than a good photo

Looking back through the tiny books, I feel such warmth when I get to certain drawings. While I love seeing an old photo, there’s something about the wonkiness of a drawing that often does a better job of capturing what that moment was like.

 

Want to see every pic I posted? You can find them all at instagram.com/yesmarshadraws

Since I finished doing the daily project (and, ahem, taking a year and a half to put the pics all online), I now use drawing as a way to still my brain before I start work, or when I’m feeling weird. If this has moved you to do something similar — even if it’s just weekly, or even if it’s just once — I’d love to know. Or if you have a favourite from the pics, tell me that too! Either way, leave a comment below.

Thanks so much for reading! That was a long one for me! If you know someone else who you think would be into this idea, you can share this blog with them using one of the round buttons below, or click HERE to share this on Facebook (and if you do, tag me! I’m @yesyesmarsha).

You rule!
xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

 

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10 Comments

  • Yes, YES, Marsha!!

    This is my MOST FAVOURITE post (which I received by email) from you EVER! And, your timing is spot on.

    Thank you for sharing this journey and, most especially, the drawings.

    I’m off to create my own secret personal daily activity now.

    I love your guts!

    L.xo.

  • Coralee

    Reply Reply April 17, 2019

    Loved this! All of it. I recently completed a 365 of photos and gratitude – shared it with a small community on fb while I was doing it to keep me motivated and to my pleasant surprise the community of gratitude took on a life of its own. ☺️

  • nicky hood

    Reply Reply April 17, 2019

    I love your drawings. Some of them remind me of Lynda Barry and her fantastic comic strips of yore. I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing her at the Vancouver Writer’s Fest years back. She, of course, urged all of us to draw and create. I did not. Perhaps I will take inspiration from your project.

  • DDK

    Reply Reply April 17, 2019

    Marsha this is SO amazing. Have just started the 100dayproject on Instagram and while I am not drawing pics I am finding something so soothing about holding the space for my creative expression for whatever unfolds. No rules. Also love that you chose drawing pics of yourself and to see how ‘you’ have unfolded in the process…very tres cool. Seeing your honesty and your progress is both grounding and inspirational…and also hilarious. All the things I love best about YOU! DDK

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Thanks so much, DDK! I love that you’re doing that! And thank you for the lovely words, I DO feel like I unfolded!! 🙂 Lovely way of putting it.

  • Brook Thorndycraft

    Reply Reply April 18, 2019

    Yes yes yes! This is the best thing you’ve done!! And that’s saying a lot! So so inspiring! Xo Brook

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