The Smallest Art Goal: Pencil Inches

Make a bigger goal and you set yourself up to fail. Halve the goal and make your mark more likely. The chance of succeeding strangely increases as you decrease your expectations.

“The day we set [a] goal, marks the furthest point from reality.” Ryder Carroll

It makes sense that a smaller, more reachable goal is not going to get us as lost at sea.

The Smallest of Goals

The year I had concussion I reduced my art goal to a mere, "Use an ink pen every day." It was almost impossible to fail at that one. Write a grocery list in ink and I'd succeeded.

So with whatever visual energy remained as I recovered, I quickly turned to my cheap Pilot Metro ink pen.

I listened to the BBC’s brilliant brief Shakespeare retelling for kids with my daughter on Friday afternoons and we doodled together. What an oasis to end each week. Or I wrote that simple grocery list or planned. And enjoyed the color of the ink or the feel of the pen, and called it a day.

But it was surprisingly refreshing to feel successful in the middle of such difficulty.

Pencil Miles

Nature journaler John Muir Laws likes to call on a similarly simple mantra.

You say you cannot draw. He promises that if you give him a year he will teach you how to draw. But what you have to commit to is putting in pencil miles. If you keep on attempting, you will improve.

Are the pencil miles eluding you? Can you try pencil inches?

Set Yourself Up

Put together the simplest kit. A notebook. A pencil. A sharpener and eraser. Or use a mechanical pencil and do away with the last two.

Whether pencil or pen, commit to pick either up for a few minutes. Draw. And repeat.

And begin to accumulate those inches which will add up eventually to plenty of miles and an increased facility and skill.

The Upcoming Year

I commit to do this in the new year, to simply draw on as many days as I can.

When I want to draw something simple and indoors, I pick up a natural object, a leaf, an acorn, and begin with a blind contour drawing. I recently bought a very small Stillman and Birn Alpha just for these blind contour drawings, numbered the pages, and plan to fill them consistently.

For help with blind contour drawings the links below are ones I showed the teen students in my nature journaling class this year.

For the winter I also hope to look at the birds in my yard and attempt to draw them, using The Laws' Guide to Drawing Birds. (You don't even need to buy that. All the information is free on John Muir Laws’ website.)

But in the end what I want to achieve is pencil miles.

Want to Join Me?

So as the New Year races towards us and you contemplate your hopes and dreams, what realistic goal could you commit to that might, this year, actually happen?

What is stopping you from making this new year one of victory and actually starting that journaling habit you keep saying you'll begin?