Friday, November 27, 2015

Small Habits Lead to Big Changes

-By Howard Lyon

My handy SketchWallet
Is there a habit that you want to develop?  Start small and tie your efforts to something else you already do each day.  

Developing your artistic skills (or any skill) can be daunting and frustrating.  It takes time to approach competence and then the chase for mastery is often a lifelong pursuit.  It requires perseverance and patience.  I have been teaching a workshop in my studio, and have also opened up my studio on Wednesday nights for a 3 hour portrait session.  I tell my students that come to the class to be patient with themselves, forgiving of stumbles and to celebrate their victories, small and large.

Becoming better at something usually isn't all that complicated.  At the end of the day the most important factor is focused and consistent time put in.  It often takes a change of habit, or developing a new habit so that you don't have to decide to work, it just happens because you have made it part of your routine.

Something that I have been wanting to do more of, is just sketch for myself.  I sketch and draw nearly  everyday for clients and different projects, but I don't really take the time to doodle or sketch with no real purpose other than to explore what is in my head.  I do it from time to time but have been wanting to make it a daily habit to take no more than 10-30 minutes.  My hope from it is that it will expand my creative range a little more, or at the very least just start the day with some creative fun time.  Inktober provided a good start and I wanted to keep it going into November.

I knew that if I were going to take the time each day, I needed to stay small.  Keep my sketches tiny so that I wouldn't get too caught up in the time invested.  If that happened, I would start skipping days under the rationale that I couldn't afford the time.  I also felt that I needed to keep it at a certain time of day if possible.  I let it be a reward for getting all my emailing done each morning!

I was given a SketchWallet to try back in September, but I had not really put it to use more than a couple days until November.  It is a great size, small enough to put in your pocket and keep it with you everywhere you go.  It is also small enough that it fit my desire to not have something so large that I could get carried away with it.

After a month of trying to implement some personal sketch time, I feel like it has become a sustainably habit that doesn't pull too much time away from my work.  Each morning when I am done responding to email my mind immediately moves to my little sketchbook.  Here are my sketches from November (mostly, there are a couple in there from early October).

The good, the bad, the ugly... one or two exceptions

Some of the sketches are ugly, some are good and few I am really happy with.  Some are from life, some from photos and some are from imagination.  It has even spawned a few ideas that I think I will do oil paintings of.  The best part is that I didn't miss a day the whole month of November and I think I have established a routine that will keep me going for as long as I want it to go.  Mission accomplished, now to see where it takes me.

What is it that you want to develop further?  Decide what small task you can add to your day and then attach it to something you are already doing, like eating or reading Muddy Colors :).  Maybe each time you take a bathroom break, take 5 minutes after and draw a few hands.  After a month, you could probably fill a little sketchbook with hands... depending on how much water you drink.

My other recent goal is to paint more from life so I started hosting painting sessions in my studio each Wednesday night.  By putting on my calendar and inviting others, it has helped me be consistent.  My goal is to do 48 portraits from life over a year.  after 10 weeks, I have 8 paintings (I spent multiple weeks on two of them).  I will share them all at the end of a year.

Start a small habit today.


Howard Lyon


  1. Thank you! I have the same problem and this may help.

  2. That was an inspiring post.Thanks! it's something i have stuggle with, and this reading remainds me the importance of both habit and the actual purpose of a sketchbook.

  3. Thank you for this, Howard! Recently, I've spent so much time focusing on finished works, for myself or others, that I've completely overlooked the point of a sketchbook. I think I'll treat myself to a small one this holiday weekend and just let whatever comes to mind spill on the pages.

  4. Small victories are so important. Thanks Howard.

  5. Small victories are so important. Thanks Howard.

  6. I have 5 full sketchbooks that I have been making since 2012, ranging from 100-400 pages. I draw at them everyday, sometimes more than 2 pages. The problem is: I never get to sit and make a real painting - and a lot of those drawings I really want to make a painting from -, only those small, fast sketches. I can't make a portfolio only with those scribblings, so I'm stuck.

  7. Great advice, thank you !! Now let's try practising every day... :)

  8. Thanks for this post! I want to try out a SketchWallet now :)


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