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How to start a new creative habit (and stick with it ;)?

Can you relate to this? You've joined a fun creative workshop or online course and you're all excited. This will be your new hobby, your weekly me-time moment. You have spoiled yourself with beautiful materials and can't wait to start doing this every week.

A few months later, those materials are gathering dust at the bottom of your closet. You're busy, have too little time because of other priorities and you choose to Netflix instead. Recognizable? It is for me! How do you keep up that creative hobby once you've started? In this article I share not only my tips, but also those of Margreet Rijlaarsdam. She has been drawing a portrait every day for (almost) 2 years!

By the way, I also wrote a blog earlier about the pitfalls when you start drawing. Like comparing your work with all the pretty pictures online, or the expectation of your perfectionist that you'll immediately paint a Van Gogh or Rembrandt. Might be useful to read this too!

Before I share the tips with you, here's a funny fact. Because you might think: Nienke works as an illustrator, she probably draws every day right? Nope. I'm on my laptop and phone a lot, more than I want to. Email, social media, administration, etc. It's all part of the game, but I noticed last year that it started to itch more and more. I don't want to be online; I want to be offline! More drawing, painting, and experimenting. So the tips in this blog are not just a reminder for you, but for myself as well ;).

Keep it simple

I often catch myself and my students thinking this: the idea that you must have a lot of time on your hands before you can start. So we put it off until that one day. That day when we think/hope/plan that we will have all the time in the world to 'really sit down and start'. But you already know what will happen: 9 times out of 10, something else comes up. Therefor one of the best tips is: keep it simple!

Make a pact with yourself that you will practice, say, half an hour every week, or 10 minutes every day. It's a lot easier to set aside those 10 minutes than it is to set aside an entire afternoon. And chances are that once you've started, you'll keep on going for longer. For example, I had been putting off starting an online oil painting course for a while. On Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., my first thought was, 'Now it's too late to start'. But I decided to at least get my materials ready and put the sketch onto canvas. The end result? I got so excited after all, that my first painting was finished two hours later! A lot faster than I had thought beforehand.

And remember: in those 10 minutes a day, your creative work doesn't have to be finished. You can, for example, make a first sketch in 10 minutes, ink the final lines the day after and put the first layer of color the next day. By approaching things this way, you keep it very fun and challenging for yourself. You probably can't wait to continue the next day!

Make it a habit

Portraits by Margreet

Choose a set time in the day or a set day in the week when you will work on your hobby. That appointment is sacred: no excuses! You can even meet up with others for some extra accountability, like I do every month with colleagues during our SketchMonday.

Someone who is an expert in this is Margreet Rijlaarsdam. She decided in 2020 to start drawing a portrait every day for one year. Almost two years later and ta-daaa: she's still doing it! So I decided to ask Margreet about her experience and tips. How does she manage to keep up this habit?

Margreet: "What I liked about the experiment was that I had thought beforehand, 'I just want to draw every day'. I was very curious about what would happen if I am tired, sick, hungover or cranky. Would I still be able to draw then and what would my drawing look like if I'm not up for it? What happens when I feel a lot of resistance and I start drawing anyway? Where do I find new inspiration then?

So now I have a variety of examples! You can really see when I didn't feel well or when, halfway through, I thought: 'I'm kinda over this one'. And that's okay too. For me the challenge was learning to practice, in an easy way, within half an hour."

And what has helped Margreet the most to keep on drawing every day for 2 years?

"What really helps me is looking back. If you're not satisfied with what you've made, look back at where you were six months ago. If you look at one drawing from that day, you might think:'What is this thing, havent't I learned anything by now!?'. But if you look back a few months, you'll see you've really learned a lot already and are now placing things differently and more beautifully."

What struck me about Margreet is that the motivation really comes from within her. She regularly shares her portraits online and now offers them for sale as well, but that is not the reason she started or continues to do it.


"If you think, I'm going to draw every day for a month, and after a week you 're done with it? Then at least you drew for a full week. And that's okay. But if you've set a goal for a whole year and you're already two months in, then it's a waste to throw away those two months. When I had done a year's worth of portraits, I thought, 'I can see myself doing this for another year'. Once you get into the rhythm, it's a shame to break that flow. It's kind of addictive, I've helped myself to an addiction of drawing every day, haha."

When asked if she has ever secretly thought, 'F* it, I'll skip today and make two tomorrow', Margreet was clear. "That's not allowed by my rules. Because with me, procrastination leads to cancellation."

Want to see more of Margreet's portraits? Be sure to check out her YouTube channel and Instagram.

It's about the process, not the result


What I think are the most important lessons from Margreet's story to keep up such a challenge? Make it easy (30 min a day), there is no excuse to skip a day and above all: put the (learning) process before the result. And that last tip is also my next one. You don't get better by doing nothing. To grow your skills, you must practice! If you only focus on the result of that particular day, practice is almost guaranteed to be a disappointment. The people who - like me - are fans of the Dutch TV program Project Rembrandt may recognize the statement made by teacher Iris last week. 'You're totally allowed to fail completely, at least you've learned something'.

And the more you practice, the more your inner critic will shut up! Because if one drawing out of 10 fails, that perfectionist probably has a lot to say about it. But if one drawing out of 100 drawings fails? That's suddenly a little less of an issue. I found the podcast episode ‘Practice’ by Lisa Congdon also a great reminder for this.

Materials up for grabs

One of the reasons I moved to a larger studio last year was because I wanted more space for my materials. Everything was neatly organized, but in a small closet: box stacked upon box. Every time I wanted to grab something, five other boxes and stacks of paper had to go first. Ditto for the closet I have at home. As a result, during my annual spring cleaning I often find things that make me think: 'Oh right, I forgot I still have that' (please tell me I'm not the only one to whom this happens ;).

In my new studio, I have a larger closet and two of these Ikea rolling carts, so I can grab most of my materials right away! And when I'm on the road? I always have a pencil case and a sketchbook in my bag.

So make sure you have easy access to your materials. Make it as easy to start as possible. Buy one of those trolleys that you can pull up next to your desk or kitchen table when you start. Always put a simple schetchbook and mechanical pencil in your bag (so you don't need a sharpener). Or set up a a small desk in some forgotten corner in your house. If the stuffs there anyway when you walk by, you might as well sit down and draw for 10 minutes, right?

Don't have the time? Nonsense!

There, I said it. Lack of time is an excuse. And I say it with empathy. Because I understand that things can happen in your day, for which you sometimes put your plans aside. But: time is priority. If you really want something, you make time for it. The quote I often refer to is one of Elizabeth Gilbert from the book Big Magic. 'Start an affair with your creativity'. Because people who start an affair suddenly find time for each other besides their busy jobs, families and social lives. Even if it's just 5 minutes of kissing in a stairwell ;).

Still not convinced? Then let me ask you this: how much time do you spent on your phone? In The Netherlands the average is more than 2 hours. Exactly. You can definitely take half an hour a day of you scrolling time for your creative hobby. Only once you've finished, you're aloud to get back on your phone - if you really need to.

Join a challenge

According to research, it takes 2 months (66 days to be exact) to learn a new habit. Want to make a regular habit of your creativity? Join a challenge! Right now there is a #100dayproject on Instagram, where people create and share something creative every day for 100 days. You have the #100headschallenge, in which people draw one hundred different portraits in ten days (or longer), started by Ahmed Aldoori. There are also regular 30-day challenges online and in October every year #inktober takes place. Again, keep it simple for yourself and participate mainly because you want to learn something. Because you want to grow, and not because you want to make something beautiful every day.

I participated in Inktober in 2020 because I wanted to get better at drawing people. Although I didn't end up drawing every day, drew a lot more than usual. And the best part? Afterwards, I was confident enough to record my own online courses about this subject!

And now? I am ready for a new challenge! In 40 days I will turn forty. How cool is it to consciously live up to that milestone with a good challenge? I therefore challenge myself to draw an illustration every day for forty days. With the tips from this blog, I should be able to do just that!

I am very curious if you have picked up your materials after this blog. And do you dare to take on a daily or weekly challenge yourself? Let me know in the comments or tag me in your creative challenge on Instagram!

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