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Art, Validation and My Secret Sketchbook

coloured pencil sketch of Durness beach by Camile Doubtfire
Durness beach

Why do we as artists care so much about getting validation from others? Art is supposed to be about self-expression, so why do we care so much about what others think?

When I was a little girl I wanted my dad to think I was a great artist like him. I drew pictures for my mum in hopes she would display them on our walls. I wanted my dad's customers to order "my designs" to be tattooed on their bodies. I wanted the presenters on Nickelodeon to be so impressed with my artwork they would show my drawings on TV. I wanted my teachers and peers to think I was the best at art in my class. I wanted to give my Grandma a reason to praise me over her other grandchildren. I want my partner to peer over my shoulder and gasp in amazement whenever he catches a glimpse of what I'm working on. I want to impress every one of you that follows me every time I upload something online. I want the validation.

I also want to be free to create whatever I want, whenever I want. I want to experiment. I want to allow myself to explore colours, lines, and composition and document things that I am experiencing. Still, the idea of having a book filled with "ugly sketches" is terrifying. What if someone sees it and thinks I'm a terrible artist?

I have a great fear of drawing in public. I replay this imaginary scenario in which I am drawing in a cafe or at a park and someone spots me and excitedly peers over my shoulder expecting to see something profound and instead they see a very crappy sketch. They smile at me politely with a slight grimace and walk away pitying my feeble attempt. This fake scenario is the paralysing fear that stops me from filling sketchbooks, it stops me drawing from life. It makes me hide in a dark corner with my pencils and a photograph meticulously rendering every tiny detail to its fullest.

I am challenging myself this summer to do all the crappy sketches, to draw from life in public quickly, slowly, sloppily and feverishly. I want to free myself from the shackles I have bound myself in and learn more about what I like artistically and what I don't.

I just got back from spending a few days in the Scottish highlands. Before I left, I treated myself to a very fancy new sketchbook and set of pencil cases (everybody knows that there is nothing more motivating and terrifying than a new sketchbook right?). I felt so inspired to capture the incredible sights I was surrounded by that I drew every chance I could. It was freeing not to have much time and be faced with an ever-changing landscape. I found this also freed me from the expectation of being so perfect. Antony and I were travelling together so I didn't want to impose on his holiday too much which also made me hurry. I took a limited palette that I chose very carefully beforehand for its vividness and appeal rather than its ability to represent the true colours I would be surrounded with. I spent very little time on any drawing and ironically, my least favourite is the one I spent the most time on, trying to be perfect.

Spending time in such a vast and beautiful place where nobody knew who I was made everything so much easier. If anyone was around me I told myself I would probably never see them again so it didn't matter what they thought and I could focus my attention on my sketchbook.

I have big hopes for this sketchbook. Let me tell you some of them

  1. I want to complete my first ever sketchbook without removing a single page

  2. I want to fill the pages without worrying about anybody else seeing what I'm drawing

  3. I want to work on all of my flaws (maybe I will share this list with you later?)

  4. I want to experiment with different colour palettes

  5. I want to figure out the perfect pencils for sketching

Beauty is found in imperfections and I have so enjoyed having a space where I can make mistakes and try out new things. I can work on things I need to improve and treat this sketchbook as a safe place.

I still get very self-conscious when I draw in public but with time I am sure I will find it easier. I will share a sketch with you from time to time (like I have done today) but for the most part, this is my secret sketchbook, just for me, and I am excited to fill it with recordings of my experiences and ideas; the good, the bad and the crappy!

I hope you are all having a great summer so far!

Spoiler alert, we had to come back from Scotland early because we caught covid so we have been in bed for the past week recovering!

Speak soon,




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