What art has taught me about incremental change

I like drawing.

I am not very good at it.

The best I can do are modestly complicated doodles. Abstract 2-dimensional representations of something going on in my brain.

I tend to turn to art during times of high emotional arousal. It might be because I am very happy and I want to celebrate the small but important artistic streak in me, or when I am very distressed and looking to find a state of flow where I don’t focus on negative thoughts and feelings.

Regardless, in recent times, as I’ve been thinking and writing about self-improvement, I’ve intentionally re-introduced drawing into my weekly schedule.

I think all hobbies have within them lessons that we can apply to other areas of our life. For example, gardening teaches me about life and death, the art of caring, and the intimate nature of the relationship between people and the natural environment.

Drawing has taught me about the critical importance of incremental change.

My type of art is built in small steps. I don’t always know what the next step will be and I don’t always know what the impact of each decision will be on the whole. I have to be extremely patient as I wait for the next step to reveal itself.

Take this most recent piece of mine as an example. I started with the idea of interconnected circles with triangular innards. Once I manifested that idea, I stopped, looked and then decided on the next stage – bold coloured edges.

I then stopped again, looked and reflected and decided on the next addition. I did this repeatedly until I reached a point where my brain said it was time to stop (top left image).

Some of the steps along the way made the piece of art worse. Some made it better. But the incremental growth of the piece delivered me an image that I could never have envisioned at the earliest stage.

The lesson for me is it is good to have broad goals and vales – do art, draw regularly, be creative – but that the specifics of manifesting those goals and values will require letting go a bit and just taking the process one step at a time, with regular opportunities for reflection and planning the next step.

I have faith that if I engage in this incremental process, it will yield outputs that delight or challenge or surprise me. Art is the place where I learned that faith and intentional change don’t have to be enemies.

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