Whatever your resolution is, it’s bound to be ambitious, good for you and something you feel you didn’t do enough of in 2022. For me, that’s keeping fit and making my body look better. In September of 2022 I started seeing a personal trainer in a gym – well five of them – and have been going twice a week since then, give or take a fortnight of illness in November. The plan was to do these formal sessions, then go it alone – cheaper and more sustainable.
Or is it?
I have found hurdles in my way already.
And yet, I encourage people every day to sketch, and expect them to do it without stumbling or coming up against challenges. It might seem easy for me to say “if you are serious about developing your skills as a sketcher, then you must develop a regular sketching habit.” And it is indeed easy to say that, and easy for me to do it, too. After all, sketching is in my DNA – my family on my mother’s side have been in the business of making art, either professionally or recreationally, for four hundred years.
I never don’t want to sketch. And as someone who encourages others to do it regularly, I wanted to think of an analogy that would help me relate to those who struggle to fit art into their day. They want to do it, they know it’s good for them, but it’s just hard to develop that habit. The obvious analogy? The gym. I want to do it, I know it’s good for me but it’s hard to develop that habit.
So I thought I would tell you about my challenges with exercise, and see how it might relate to your challenge with making art. (For all I know, you’re even more productive than I am, in which case just smile smugly to yourself. Likewise you might be a gym fanatic – smug smile.) Here are some of my gym challenges, and their equivalents when it comes to sketching.
1. How do I use the KIT?
In the gym: what on earth am I supposed to do with all these machines? What do they all do? If I use it wrong, will I hurt myself? Is it the right machine for the right muscle? Answer: ask the gym guys for help. They might be a bit bored and they will be happy to show you the ropes.
Sketching: what am I supposed to do with all this kit? What is it supposed to do? If I use it wrong, will I make a horrible mess? Am I using the right product for the right effect? Answer: ask the community for help. The sketching community in the Facebook group called Urban Sketchers will flock to your aid. You Tube will help, although you’re less likely to get a sea of kind people offering you personal advice than in the group I mentioned. You can also send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I can advise on subject matter and composition, sketchbooks, waterproof inks, watercolour brands and how to use them and fude pens (my knowledge is a bit narrow I’m afraid). I’m definitely not bored but I will be happy to help!
2. How do I develop a habit?
In the gym: I cannot be bothered to go! But I choose a podcast to listen to while I am there, and I put on my gym clothes in the morning, and visit the gym it early in the day after I drop my girl to the bus stop. For now it’s easy because I have a gym buddy (Paddy) who is very keen and needs me in the passenger seat while he’s waiting for his driving test. It helps that we get along really well. I have just paid a handsome sum for a yearly membership, which means I can go anytime I like. And there was a spin class on yesterday that looked like a lot of fun – Lunch Crunch – so I’m going to pay my €5 each time to join in twice a week, which is all the Lunch Crunch classes they offer.
Sketching: I cannot be bothered to draw! Make sure your sketching kit is handy: water ready, sketchbook ready, drawing/ painting stuff ready, and in a bag. I recommend listening to a podcast or audiobook while you sketch, as I don’t think I would walk a single kilometre without something entertaining playing in my ears. If you’re really serious about developing a habit, then you should consider taking out a subscription to an online art class. May I suggest mine? It’s cheaper than the gym at €19.99 per month (well, my gym anyway) and the fact that there are twelve live classes every month means you’ll be able to join in the fun, although with membership you don’t have to pay any extra for it. Or you can pay per class until you decide to do more, at €6 per class. Again, there are 12 classes per month at three different days and times, Saturdays 2.00pm GMT, Tuesdays 7.00pm GMT and Wednesdays 10.00am GMT. You can always do the recordings, but many of my students love attending the lives for the craic and camaraderie. Then again…some love that pause button! And some even do both the live class and then the recording.
3. How do I stay motivated?
In the gym: I think about becoming a little old fally-downy lady, and I will do whatever I can to avoid it. I have back issues from time to time and they are immensely debilitating. I am hoping that going to the gym will help to keep my back strong. And I’ll be honest: I find an out-of-shape body revolting when it belongs to me. I want to look less like a fatter version of a sugar cane grub in a bikini when summer comes around (google sugar cane grub). My kids have beautiful bodies and while I am delighted for them, I am slightly envious of their physiques, and would like to stand proud beside them on hols, rather than know I am going to get depressed when I see the photos. Another way I stay motivated is to treat myself to lovely gym clothes. I am comfortable in them, they look super and they didn’t cost much, in one of the amazing low-priced but good-quality clothing stores we have in Ireland.
Sketching: think about the serene hours you will spend sketching rather than scrolling when you’re waiting for someone or something. Think about the inner artist that lives within (cliché or not, it’s a fact). Think about the angsty moments you won’t experience because you’re concentrating on your subject. Think about the colour and creativity that will become part of your everyday life. Think about the memories you will preserve forever, in a life that is beautiful but filled with fleeting moments. Think about the memories you will be able to share with your family. Think about reagaining the talent you were conscious was there in days gone by, but that you never had a chance to develop. And – for me this is a big one – think about the gatherings of friends and family that might be a little awkward (in my case, almost invariably because of me being neurotic) that will be made smoother by concentrating on capturing whatever is on front of us.
4. Can I justify the cost?
In the gym: I won’t be spending that money on other things while I am there. In the future, if I don’t go to the gym, I will suffer ailments that I would give any amount of money not to have (and probably would end up doing, to fix them). It also gives me a good frame of mind, which is definitely worth cold, hard cash…and cheaper than a therapist. And, hopefully, I am buying a better-looking body. Great value!
Sketching: as a sketcher I spend a lot of money – at one go – for my art materials. A paint set costs around €60 and lasts me about eight months to a year at the rate I sketch, which is a lot of paint. My sketchbooks last two months and cost €18 or thereabouts. The rest of the kit is less consumable, apart from ink, but a bottle of ink lasts for-evvvv-er. I think a sketcher with a regular habit could reasonably spend about €20 per month, plus the same again on membership, if they chose me as their teacher. But you’re buying a beautiful life where you stop and smell the roses, where the side-effect is serenity and where the entertainment is definitely “adult” – but in the most wholsesome way in the world. I recall telling a friend of mine about my sketching habit, and the expense it involves, and that at least I am not spending my money on heroin, wine and fancy men. “Why can’t you have those as well?” she said drily. (I was struggling to get my career off the ground at the time, and was saying to her that I was going crazy with the lack of progress. She was working as a cleaner at the time and told me that she thought I was doing pretty okay – she said she saw a lot of white wine being guzzled during the day by women who appeared to have it all. Thinking about that now, I’m wondering…why not both? I’m joking – I am extremely grateful that I don’t have a weakness for alcohol, but, joking aside, sketching is definitely in part respnsible for that.) So think of all the money that a regular sketching habit will save you on wine, psychiatrists and fancy men (or worse – fancy women)! Here is where I should probably not mention that I buy bottles of wine specifically to sketch the labels…
5. What if I don’t see results quickly?
In the gym: I haven’t had dramatic results, but I enjoy it and I feel better afterwards. I also believe that feeling smug is underrated: I now identify as a person who goes to the gym. This makes me feel good about myself. And as for results – so far, I can feel a slight firmness in my tummy muscles that has never been there before, and I can now bend down to do things without emitting a groan, and – and this bit is weird – I can run for a while on the treadmill. Not for long, but I can do it. Above all, I have a feeling of emotional wellbeing from my visits. The next step would be seeing someone who looks like she’s my sort of demographic doing well in the gym…Paddy calls it Gymspiration. There are more terms in the gym glossary that I will add at the end…
Sketching: The weird and wonderful thing about becoming a sketcher is that you don’t have to have huge skills to get a lot of pleasure from it, and that’s before we talk about the fact that your unique style is personal to you, and art is the very definition of subjective. But more generally, we sketch for the sheer joy of pulling an inky line over a white page, tracing the contour of something sinuously beautiful, or seeing the flow of glorious watercolour spread over our newly-drawn lines. Even if you’re not an overnight Picasso, you’ll soon know a lot more about what to do with that proverbial kit than you did when you started. And if you’re in my group, you’ll be part of a wonderful and friendly bunch of sketchers – no matter what your level of experience!
6. And lastly, if we’re going to go to the gym or take up sketching…why choose a particular gym or teacher?
In the gym: Before I joined Hustle, I didn’t have any loyalty to any gym in particular. I didn’t see myself as a brand-oriented person – I still don’t, not really. The gym would have to be relatively close to my home, but other than that I wanted to know if the people running it were competent. And that it was nice to be in. I joined Hustle because I knew someone who was friendly with the manager, and my friend was someone whose opinion on fitnessI would trust. He recommended a few sessions with a personal trainer, and from the minute I went, I liked it. Then I showed the gym to my two older kids, and they loved it too (Paddy decided he would make it his gym, so we currently go together). I like it because the guys and girl who work there are friendly and down-to-earth and know what they’re doing. It’s clean and roomy and the equipment is great. I feel at home there.
Sketching: I guess this is where I unashamedly blow my own trumpet. I will tell you what my students say, because you’re more likely to take their word for it than mine. They say I always find something positive to say about their work. They say my classes are really relaxing after a stressful day at work, even if they are very tired when they start. They say they come for much more than sketching. One said I am a hoot – the best compliment I have every had in my life, as I live to entertain. They say their art class friends notice a big difference in their skills. Some have sold work, something they never saw themselves doing. They have told me about how sketching has taken their minds off their troubles. Compliments aside, that is the most beautiful thing I have been told. They also say they love that when they become VIP members, they never need to book a class again, and that it is renewed automaically. They say they become addicted to sketching. They make friends across oceans and countries. And they say membership is unbelievable value – and I am not making that up!
Paddy says I am his gymspiration. I am proud of that. And I am proud of what my wonderful sketchers and I have achieved together.
New year…new you. And new me.
- Gymspiration: the person who makes you want to be the best you can be in the gym
- Gym Nemesis: the person who is always on the station you want to go on and has a consistent adverse effect on your gym-going experience
- Gymtimidation: when you can’t lift the weights you tried and have to walk back to the rack and get lighter ones; when you think everyone else is better than you, especialaly when you start off when you are fat (Paddy’s words); or when you haven’t a clue what to do with the machines
- Poor gyme-management: when the person you are going to the gym with takes ages in the shower (this is suggested by Paddy, who has terrible gyme-management)