3 min read

When the world is in flux, a sketch is better than a painting

Now's not the time for long-term plans, but it can be a good time for tiny projects.
When the world is in flux, a sketch is better than a painting

I've been talking to a lot of friends who've said that the projects they were working on pre-lockdown now feel pointless. Someone who was about to launch a business that now can't open; someone who was about to appear in a movie that now can't be filmed; someone who was working on a theatre show that can't be performed; someone who was writing a book that now feels like it was written for a world that doesn't even resemble this one any more.

I think all of us are experiencing some flavour of this, right now. The world is changing so much every day that it's impossible to make plans. It's impossible to work on a project if you're not sure whether that project will mean anything a month or two from now. What if you start writing a film script but the local movie industry collapses and you'll never get it made? What if you start a business selling Zoom classes, and the lockdown ends next month?  What if you start making masks only for a new study to come out saying masks are useless, and the thing that really wards off the coronavirus is aggressively doing the Hokey Pokey at it?*

*(This is a joke, please do wear your masks, stay at home, and don't drink bleach).

All of this reminds me of trying to draw my cat.

One of my great Quarantine Joys has been getting really, really into drawing again.

Drawing, for me, is a way that I practice mindfulness. I'm more interested in the process than the outcome (GOOD THING TOO because the drawings that result are loveable monstrosities). Drawing is how I get my brain to shut the hell up and just look at something for a few minutes. And being able to shut my brain up has been especially useful recently.

So I've been trying to draw my cat, because... well, obviously.

But what you have to understand about my cat (AKA Sir Digby Chicken Caesar AKA The Spoopy AKA fuck ow get your claws out of my shoulder AKA the love of my life) is that he never sits still. He's a very Busy and Important Cat with very Urgent and Necessary Cat Business to attend to at all times, constantly moving and grooming and shifting and stalking and twisting. Even when he sleeps, he twitches.

I've really wanted to do a detailed, accurate drawing of him, but it's impossible. By the time I'd captured exactly how the light shines on his whiskers, he would have moved them. By the time I'd figured out the shape of his tail, he'd have tucked it under his butt.

He's an infuriating model. Impossible to paint.

But I've been having so much fun sketching him. Quick outline drawings, completed in a minute or two, that capture the shape of his shoulder in the few seconds before he shifts his weight, his sweet little cat croissant shape before he flops his belly up, the huge arc of his mouth mid-yawn. Sketches. Ephemera. Little attempts to capture a fleeting moment, knowing the moment is going to pass in just a few seconds.

Sketches of my cat grooming himself
Cat poses

I've been trying to apply this principle to the rest of my life right now, too.

I can't write my novel right now - it's too big, its edges keep shifting before I can pin them down. A novel is an attempt to say something about the world and how people are, and my thoughts about the world and people change every single day. But I can write little poems. Short-short stories. I can fill a page with observations of the wildflowers growing on my lawn.

I can't plan for what my business will need to look like over the next year, but I can think about how to get enough cash in to pay salaries next month.

I can't book flights to go to my brother's wedding in October, but I can send him a dumb list ranking the best practical jokes he pulled on me as a kid, to make him smile.

Sometimes you have to give up on long-term plans or big projects.

When the world is in flux, make sketches, not paintings.

Psst... want to get into drawing as a mindfulness activity?