Developing my art while conquering my commute

by | Creativity, Social Media

Growing up as an artist

I’ve always loved to draw. I doodled constantly as a kid, often to the annoyance of my teachers. However, a few my teachers knew it was how I tuned in the best. Keeping my hands moving kept my mind from wandering.

I knew as a kid that I would work in the creative industry, but the phrase “starving artist” scared me away from pursuing a career in fine art and illustration. So, as a freshman in High School, I discovered–and fell in love with–the world of graphic design.

I’ve been a professional graphic designer for almost ten years, currently running my own shop as Seekfire Creative and proudly working as a Creative Director for Big Thinkers Society. Fortunately, sketching has been a major part of my design process, and illustration has found its way into projects when it appropriately supports brand strategy. You can view some of that work in my portfolio.

Despite the privilege of drawing and creating art as part of my design process, I was doing it for commercial purposes and I missed that creative spark I felt drawing as a kid with nobody to draw for but myself.

Rediscovering my affinity for sketching

I shared in a recent blog post that I dove back into sketching as a way to honor my deceased Nana and Mom by finishing their old sketchbooks. However, it was only a piece of the puzzle that shaped Drawn to Sketching.

Developing my unique style

When I started sketching again, I found it difficult to find any time for it. In addition to working full time, I spent 15–20 hours commuting every week. I would get home just in time for dinner with my family. Then I cherished time with my amazing kids before putting them to bed. I would only have 30–60 minutes left over for my wife, so I had to find a way to make time for art without neglecting my job or my family. I resolved to use my dreaded commute as an opportunity to draw, and so began my habit of sketching on buses.

Out of my comfort zone

I started sketching on buses using pencil, a lot of eraser, and a significant amount of frustration. The ride was bumpy, dark on the way into the city, and there was often someone cramped against my side. My first reaction was “This is exactly why I don’t sketch on the bus.”

However, for weeks I suppressed my negativity long enough to see the light. I began enjoying not worrying about mistakes as I adapted my style to work with the rough ride. Additionally, the support and encouragement I received on Instagram helped me realize that mistakes and imperfections are not only acceptable, but often perceived as beautifully approachable.

My sketches riddled with shaky lines and other contributions made by the bus driver or road became some of my followers’ and my favorites.

Organic style for an organic subject

I began my Instagram account with quick explorations of different subject matter, but I naturally gravitated toward sketching landscapes. It helped me feel closer to the mountains that I missed so much while I was stuck in the city.

Not only is it a subject I love, the naturally rough edges of our world lend themselves well to scribbled renderings. Trees are messy, water is squiggly, and mountains are bumpy. I have endless admiration for anyone that can effectively draw portraits of people while on a bumpy ride without offending their subjects with the results.

Reaping the rewards of expanding my comfort zone

In a matter of a few months, I realized the one place in which I actively avoided sketching for years had become my ideal art studio. I found myself using the pencil less and confidently jumping straight in with pen.

When you accept imperfection, you let go of hesitation that so often limits creativity. Also, when you have limited time to sketch, such as from the start of a bus route to the end of it, the limited time forces you speed through the sketch. Between this and using a smaller canvas in the limited space, you are able to crank through more sketches, which means more practice with less commitment to each piece.

There’s beautiful opportunity when you don’t hold your artwork too dearly.

The non-creative benefit to sketching on the bus, train, or in the car is the sanity saved in passing the time in a useful way. This is especially important for ADHD inflicted people like me.

My favorite tools for on the road

I keep it simple; paper, a pencil for a rough outline to get my perspective or scale right, and then a .005–.03 Sakura Micron Pen for the rest. I also recently started using Tombow pens, as recommended by Nikki at Drawn to High Places. I use a small 3.5”x5.5” sketchbook by Bee Paper.

This setup worked great for me while I was commuting, and continues to be useful because I can sketch anywhere while packing light. I now also use brush pens, but they are much harder to control on the move.

Tips for sketching on the road

Sketch, sketch, and sketch. Just keep doing it, because you will get more comfortable with it, and you will naturally develop your style and your own methods of overcoming the road. I personally work in quick, short strokes and race through the sketch between the rougher stretches of the road.

Another key to producing quality sketches on the road is to take full advantage of stops, whether in slow traffic or at bus stops or traffic lights. If there is a line you need to execute without unexpected marks, save that stroke for the next stop or a calmer stretch of road.

Moving forward

I knew I had to use my commute as an opportunity for growth, rather than just a jail cell between home and work. I no longer commute by bus, as I now run my business at home. But I still find myself applying the lessons learned on the bus to sketching at home, and have adapted these methods to work in much larger formats.

If you also struggle with finding time for a hobby or passion project, check out my recent post 5 Strategies for Pursuing Your Passion Project!

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