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Stop Overthinking, and Start Making Marks

by Nora Thompson


You might be the kind of person that gets stuck a lot. Stuck for ideas, stuck for a direction, stuck staring at a blank sheet of paper. You worry about an audience. You need a style. You want to be perfect. But really? You don’t need any of that for Inktober. Do you have something to draw on? Do you have something to draw with? Maybe what you really need to do is make a mess.

Stop overthinking, and start making marks.

Seriously. That little piece of paper in front of you probably isn’t going to make it to the Louvre. You need to treat it as if it isn’t going to make it to

The Louvre. The journey is the destination here. You’re doing this for you.

One of the things I learned from urban sketching was to not lift your pen off the paper when you’re getting the scene down. Since my work is figurative (creature portraits, actually), I start my doodles and sketches with the eyes. No details yet, just circles and circles and squiggly lines. I’ll move on to other features without thinking much and without lifting my pencil (or pen or marker) off the paper. That scribble could be misconstrued as a nose, just because it’s in the general area. Those lines could be mistaken as hair, just because they’re sticking out of the top of a head. Just squiggles and connecting lines and general area things.

If I’m drawing with a time limit like, say, at a restaurant while we’re waiting for our food, I’ll use my markers from start to finish. If I’m inking in the studio with my full arsenal of implements, I’ll start with a pencil sketch. Either way it starts the same: make marks and don’t lift what you’re writing with off the paper. Starting with a pencil idea means you can sketch lightly and always have the option to erase. But I really don’t erase much—I love seeing the process. It’s an important part of the journey.

Next you can look at what you’ve drawn as kind of a Rorschach test. Some of those lines you made are starting to form something, and they will start telling you what they are. Once you get a better idea of what your drawing wants to be, you can start adding details in a more traditional drawing way. You can leave it pretty loose at this stage and wait to add the specifics when you get to inking. The details are borne from the squiggly lines that, until ten minutes ago, were just marks without a direction or an idea, all on a blank sheet of paper.

To be fair, maybe your picture will make it to the Louvre. Some day. After you’re dead. So since you aren’t going to get to enjoy that part of your drawing’s life, you need to remember who you’re really doing the drawing for.

Make a mess. Seriously. Just do it.

A little bit about the artist in her own words:

"I have been getting in trouble for my art since I learned how to sign my name and discovered floors, walls and furniture made pretty neat canvasses. By the time I hit second grade, I became a tattoo artist for my classmates (also pretty neat canvasses) in spite of inadequate, under-the-table pay and their being forced to bathe. I started playing drums when I was nine, graduated with a BFA at the top of my class when I was 40, and in between raised twins. Somewhere in the middle of growing up a little, I became an illustrator, graphic designer, fine artist and writer. I worked as an illustrator and graphic artist in the editorial art department of a daily newspaper for six years, and have been an exhibiting artist since 1990 and illustrating professionally since 1992."

More of Nora's work can be found on Instagram

and on her website

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jacob clark
jacob clark
Sep 13, 2023

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