The summer sun is high, the lighting on my desk is as bright as it’ll ever be, and it’s time to revisit our see-through affair with the Moment TN insert. It was a very different experience than I’d imagined. If you’ll remember, back in February I broke in its pages with bits of paper scraps and the paper towels I use as paint palettes in a loose, mixed-media collage style. But as the weeks wore on, I found myself reaching for the notebook less and less. It felt as if I was amassing ephemera that held no particular visual interest, summoned no especially meaningful memories, just to fill the space. This is perhaps too harsh of a thought. After all, you can fill any notebook however the hell you want to. But I like to approach sketchbooks with a certain care, especially if the paper is unusual or just plain pretty—and I felt the beauty of the vellum material was being under-utilized by me. You deserve better, Moment!
As so often happens in my life, I found an unexpected way forward because of Emil. He wanted to try getting into a daily sketching habit and I decided to join him for both fun and accountability, like a workout partner. (If you find yourself wondering “Wait, aren’t you both artists? Don’t you already draw every day?”, let me assure you: that kind of consistency doesn’t come easily or by default for everyone, even if it does for a few. Or appears to, online. I have a lot of feelings about how social media distorts the expectations for and presentation of art, but that’s an essay for another day). We decided to start by drawing the houseplants in our apartment, since they’re abundant and readily available to model. We also decided to give ourselves some structure with some simple rules:
- We wake up and draw first thing in the morning.
- We draw for a total of twenty minutes: two sketches with a five-minute timer to warm up, followed by a slightly longer ten-minute sketch to finish.
- We cannot have coffee or breakfast until we’ve done the above.
I strongly believe this last rule has been the key to our being able to maintain this discipline for close to two months now without missing a day. From this, I gather it’s a good move to tie a new habit you’re building to an existing, rock-solid one that won’t be moved around. Not that different from giving the tendrils of a climbing-type plant a stick to grasp on and guide its growth, no? Before I knew it, the pages of the Moment were blooming with leaves and branches. I really enjoyed the way the ink fades and becomes ghostly as you move through the sketchbook. And being able to see so many pages at a time made me think more about negative space: I started spacing out each drawing and using collage more strategically to act as backgrounds.
Returning to the same practice every day, the same container of time, it’s noticeable how much more enjoyable it is to draw on some days than others. Sometimes there was a correlation with my mood or how much sleep I’d had the night before, but other times it seemed arbitrary. I had to start calibrating my goals in order to suit the energy I actually had at the time, instead of the focus I wish I had. Rather than “good or bad”, it became more useful to think of daily sketches as “successful or unsuccessful”. The question was no longer how to make the best drawings “ever”, “possible” or even “compared to previous drawings”, but how to make the best drawings for that day. This might mean using a thicker, blobby, wandering contour line—accuracy and fine details be damned. It could mean ignoring the mass of a bushy plant in favor of focusing on capturing the pattern on a single big leaf. It might mean leaving lines unfinished. Or it might mean making an ugly drawing.
I try not to put too much belief in “ugly”. At least not in my sketchbook, not when I’m creating for myself. First of all, if something really bothers me that much, I can paint on top of it, ink around it or cover it up with some nice paper later. But more importantly, ugliness is besides the point (and so is beauty, for that matter) when the point is not to make amazing pieces, but simply to make time, to be present with your art, consistently. Refuse to give the threat of ugliness power over your ability to touch pen to paper. All you have to do is show up. Or so I tell myself. That, along with look, let’s be honest, it might be ugly or it might not, but either way it’ll be over in less than ten minutes and then you can have a nice cup of coffee. Works like a charm.
I’m glad we started daily drawings when we did, because right as I was approaching the last few pages in the Moment sketchbook, we took a trip to Yosemite National Park. I was heartened to see these strong, ancient pillars of cedar and lichen, so seemingly unfazed by the scurrying of tiny people so far below and between them. These forests and mountains are beyond grand and beautiful. They evoke eternity. I was grateful, then, that Emil and I were not too intimidated to bring out our sketchbooks and try to capture portions of it, thanks to the effort we’d spent on sharpening our eyes and understanding of how to take each drawing beat by beat.
Nature is a generous teacher. If I had to imagine what it looks like from the other side of these drawing sessions—if I assume the life around us that we observe also observes us, in turn—then I would hazard a guess, or a hope, that the plants see the activities of our pens and pencils across paper not as either fast or slow, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, but for what these movements attempt, over and over, to be: growth.
Text and photos by: A.C. Esguerra
Where to find A.C. : instagram @blueludebar
Read other stories by A.C. : Here
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