Make Lots of Bad Drawings

The full piece of advice is – Make lots of bad drawings and learn not to care. It’s a gem from Michael Nobbs in his book Drawing Your Life: Learn to See, Record and Appreciate Life’s Small Joys.

I really despise making bad drawings — especially if someone is going to see them. But somehow, the planets aligned for me when I flipped to the page that held that quote the other day. Somehow, the quote found its place in my heart and brain, and now that page is one of my favorite pages in the book.

I care about learning to draw, and being able to record what I see. I care about being able to teach others to draw. But, if I care about each mistake, each less than perfect drawing, each wonkily drawn mug handle — the ability to draw a good mug handle eludes me so far — then I will never get at what I really care about — drawing, learning, teaching, and joy. AND if I can’t sit with my own bad drawings, if I can’t embrace them, be willing for others to see them, and learn from them, then I can’t help anyone else do that either.

So I care about bad drawings, but I’m not fretting about them. I’m having fun. I’m laughing at my mug handles all askew. I’m noticing, thinking, wondering and trying again. And, every once in a while the handles look pretty darn accurate.

I started with a bit of trepidation. Eee gads, could I really do it? Could I really not care? Could I really put aside my ego and embrace a beginners mind?

All I could do was try.

I started with the first page. I grabbed a pen, and I drew it. Then I grabbed two more and drew them.

It was a great first go because it was something it could do with a bit of ease and relatively little “badness.” That ease helped my protective brain relax, and allowed my thoughtful brain to draw, learn and have fun.

I’ve been drawing little bits of whatever is in front of me. I fill in the space on the pages in whatever ways bring me joy. I am embracing, and actually enjoying, the challenge of drawing without fretting about my mistakes.

This is what we want all our learners to do — regardless of their age or level of proficiency. We want them to give it a go. Try. Try again. It’s like the creative design process. Try something. Learn something. Try again. Learn again. Talk with others. Have fun. Try again.

Ideate and iterate are two of my favorite words. That’s what Michael is asking his readers to do. That’s what we should be asking our learners to do. Have ideas. Give them a go. Stop fretting. Have fun. Learn.

I want to remember my experience with Michael’s challenge when I’m with my students. Sometimes the task in front of them may feel a bit too difficult. Instead of pushing, perhaps we can allow them to do a similar less difficult task where success is more assured. That experience may give them the confidence to try and tackle the weightier task. Perhaps, we should even construct these activities and make them a regular part of the learning process. Athletes warm up, why not learners?

There’s an archived class at the Stanford dschool called FAIL FASTER. In the course students explored ways to ​[1] become comfortable with uncertainty, [2] develop tools to navigate situations of failure, and [3] learn to turn failures into opportunities I wish that course were still being offered because I want to take it.

But, since it’s not, I’ll just have to continue to explore these things on my own, and press on teaching the Kindergarten version of FAIL FASTER!

I’m serious. This is important stuff. Failing – early and often is how we ALL learn. It’s how we learn to walk, ride bikes, spell, do math, make art, have ideas, have conversations, and collaborate — to name just a few.

Failure is NOT a bad thing. Failure is how we learn. Instead of being afraid of it, instead of avoiding it, instead of being ashamed of it, let’s embrace it, let’s celebrate it, let’s see each failure as an opportunity to learn. Let’s even develop one of two tasks where fail is expected, explored, and valued.

Some people baulk at the idea of failing early and often, or failing faster. They’re concerned it implies a lack of thinking, or the encouragement to rush rather than do your best work. On the contrary, lack of thinking, or rushing without learning, would be the antithesis of the idea proposed the the dschool.

Failing forward is a “the never-give-up attitude of being willing to fail early and often in order to learn as much as possible to produce the best possible solution through real experience.”

Being willing to fail in order to learn, and produce the best thinking, work, or product possible is a mindset I want my Kindergartners to develop with me. I want them to be confident and comfortable in their ability to try, to fail, and to learn. I want them to know it is how we ALL learn, not just how Kindergartners learn. Failure is, to quote Benjamin Zander, “Fascinating!”

If my learners, and their parents, might come to an understanding of the value of experiencing and examining failure with an eye for what might we learn, wow, that would be fantabulous.

I’m on it!

9 thoughts on “Make Lots of Bad Drawings

  1. When did the mindset of “I must do it perfectly the first time” appear? No, no one likes to fail, but isn’t that where learning happens? It’s where we adjust and try again. I wish that was the accepted way of learning. Keep drawing, badly or not!

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    • Yes indeed! Approached in the right way, mistakes and failure hold the possibility for profound learning.

      And yes! Absolutely keeping on with the drawing. Not me without art and creativity of some sort! 😁

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  2. What a great post! I really liked this thought that you shared, “I want to remember my experience with Michael’s challenge when I’m with my students. Sometimes the task in front of them may feel a bit too difficult. Instead of pushing, perhaps we can allow them to do a similar less difficult task where success is more assured.” As a teacher, I often forget to share with my students how to get through difficult tasks.

    The book you shared sounds great, too! I just ordered a copy!

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  3. So much to love about this post. “So I care about bad drawings, but I’m not fretting about them. I’m having fun.” Glad you are having fun. I think I would love to take a drawing class… but the book and me alone, is more palatable. I’m getting it. XO

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