A self-portrait on grey paper and my new drawing routine

My new drawing routine

When I first decided to learn motion design last January, I knew that the first quarter of the year was going to be intense and packed with time-consuming projects. Little did I know, though, how difficult it would soon become to keep on drawing for myself on a regular basis. Last week, at last, I found a new way to get organised and to recreate my daily drawing practice, which allowed me to work on a new self-portrait.

Last day of the week: lights and shadows | A Self-Portrait on Grey Paper by The Daily Atelier

Why I crave routines

I cannot deny that I am very drawn to routines. That is even the reason why I called the blog “The Daily Atelier” in the first place, as a nod to a daily practice. This topic has been very trendy for years now: the appeal of crafting a lifestyle aligned with your beliefs, made of daily habits that grow so natural in time that they don’t require any willpower after a while. As far as I am concerned, I would take it with not one but two grains of salt:

  • First, I have always felt the need to add structured routines in my life, not as much as a way of shaping my lifestyle than as a way to calm my anxiety. It’s a fairly different motivation, although they often blur. Because I like planning so much, I try not to go overboard because I now I would easily spend way too much time designing and tweaking habits, which is more often that not a clever way to procrastinate.

  • Secondly, I am not confortable with some extreme habits shared by some authors. They are clearly not for me. I am not interested in becoming a super hero by the sheer force of my mental strength. Waking up super early, intense workout… nope. I have yet to find a post about someone achieving the life-changing habit of eating a little chunk of chocolate everyday after lunch. Anyway, I am not into daily acts of heroism.

What I am looking for is balance. An easy-going life, soft, tranquil, where the things I want to achieve in the day don’t compete for my time and attention. Because I don’t want to feel frustrated all the time by the conflicting imperatives of the many hats I get to wear (mom, artist, freelancer, and so on…), I have to sort out what I want to do, how much time things really take and when I can best do them, regardless of the level of energy of the day (because some days I feel like a goddess, and some days I feel like crap – I am human).

First day: sketching with pencil | A Self-Portrait on Grey Paper by The Daily Atelier

First, evaluate the need for a new routine

So lately I fell off the wagon of my daily drawing practice, as I was entirely absorbed by my new experience in learning motion design. I started by reevaluating the situation: was that a natural evolution that I had to admit and move on? Simple answer: no. I need to draw, for two reasons: one is personal, the other is professional.

First, on a personal level, I love to draw. I enjoy it tremendously, it is the fastest way for me to get in the zone, and I have still so much more progress to make. Drawing makes me happy, and brings me something else I cannot quite pin down, a little something that makes me a calmer, funnier person.

Secondly, on a professional level, I need to build on my drawing skills for motion design too. All motion designers cannot draw. I am beginning to understand that motion designers who are also illustrators are probably a minority. And suddenly, by accident, I am discovering my unfair advantage, my niche, my differentiating factor. I am going to work harder than ever on motion design techniques that require drawing skills.

Now that I have established that I want to restart my daily drawing practice, what should I do? Well, I used this 3 tricks and, surprisingly, it worked so far.

Day 2: left eye, right hand | A Self-Portrait on Grey Paper by The Daily Atelier

Trick #1 Plan

I tried to make drawing an unavoidable part of my daily planning, instead of a nice relaxing option for the end of the day. The issue with the things you love to do, is that you tend to see them as a reward, something you keep for later when… Something you end never doing because you prioritized other “chores”. I hesitate to write the word “priority” here, because the word is so overused we drown under tons of “priorities” (notice the plural form), so many that we should definitely prioritize among them. Sounds like a vicious circle to me. I’d rather say that drawing has now an official time slot in my workday, and that this time slot happens to be first thing in the morning.

Trick #2 5 minutes is a win

Life is not as neat and tidy as a bullet journal. Sometimes all I can dedicate to my daily drawing practice, first thing in the morning, is 5 minutes. And I still pat myself on the back for these 5 minutes. 5 minutes is fine. The important thing is to draw everyday. I don’t want to put pressure on myself for more time, as long as I honour my daily meeting with my pencils, 5 days a week.

Trick #3 Keep the drawing in sight

It was not meant to help me draw. I just had to move out of my studio and move in a new studio where I have one long table where I can both work on my computer and draw, and by that I mean that I can set up both activities simultaneously, side by side. In this spatial configuration, I keep the drawing in sight all the time. It’s literally right under my nose. The drawing I am working on is laid next to me, pencils are on the table, the camera is hanging above. Nothing more is required for me to draw. No action on my part. None. Whatsoever. Nothing gets in the way. No excuse. I just have to roll my chair a little bit on the right and there you go. I had not planned for it to be such a powerful motivator. Any phone call, any distraction, anytime I take a break or walk a little in the room, the drawing is right there and before I know it I am adding a new line here, correcting a curve there. A treasure trove of precious minutes gathered throughout the day. (I have to say that my mobile screentime consumption has coincidentally decreased. How surprising is that?)

Day 3: body and clothes | A Self-Portrait on Grey Paper by The Daily Atelier

A new perspective on drawing: don’t focus too much

This last trick made me realize something I knew all along: I draw better when I am distracted. Let me elaborate on this counter-intuitive finding. I draw better when I am not so focused on my drawing that I get tense, I draw better when I let my mind wander, when I listen to a podcast or make a phone call. That is not to say that I don’t like to work in a calm atmosphere or that I do some intense multitasking. Not at all. I think it is directly linked to the way I work with a reference picture. I have often explained on this blog that my personal technique is to decompose my drawing into basic geometric shapes. I try very hard not to overthink what these shapes are supposed to represent, and to focus on what they really look like on the reference picture. Hence why my method is exactly the same to draw an eye as to draw a striped shirt. It is, in fact, a very meditative process, that requires letting go of assumptions about how the shape should look like. When I am thinking about something else while drawing, I keep the part of the brain that makes assumptions busy, and I just draw what I really see.

Day 4: facial features | A Self-Portrait on Grey Paper by The Daily Atelier

Back to self-portrait

With this new drawing routine, I was able to work on a new self-portrait last week. I feel the need to say that I don’t do self-portraits to satisfy some narcissic tendencies, but for very practical reasons: model always available, fairly cheap, no contracts. One day when I grow up, I’ll work with other models. Here is the daily break-up of the work I did, in 5 to 45 min chunks:

  • Day 1: sketch (I started with an old sketch)

  • Day 2: left eye, right hand

  • Day 3: body, clothes

  • Day 4: right eye, redo the oval of the face, move the ear

  • Day 5: hair, light and shadows

I am very happy with how it turned out. It definitely worked out better than my previous attempt at rekindling with my daily practice. Indeed, I tried before that to limit myself to 5-10 minutes sketches, and I did not like the result at all. (I post them below, but keep in mind I don’t like them. They are not me.). I feel like I am more a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of artist! Strangely, I am very fast when it comes to storyboards for motion design, but I think it is an entirely different practice (in storyboards, you try to convey ideas and visual concepts).

First 10-minute sketch

First 10-minute sketch

Second 10-minute sketch.

Second 10-minute sketch.


Finished drawing with a frame | A Self-Portrait on Grey Paper by The Daily Atelier

I’ll keep going with this new routine and I’ll tell you how it goes. I have two main questions:

  • am I going to keep the routine, even in the more chaotic weeks ahead?

  • is this routine going to work as well if I try another method for drawing, something that requires more attention? I am going to experiment with that in my next drawing.

See you soon!


How to draw a self-portrait on grey paper, and my new creative routine | by The Daily Atelier