Don’t Resist, Persist!

Article by Darren Rousar.


Persistence is paramount. Why? Because learning a skill takes time, sometimes a very long time. Memory drawing is no different. It takes time and concerted effort to succeed, especially when the evidence of progress is not often apparent. Therefore, don’t resist building a memory drawing habit. Instead, persist.

In most endeavors, positive results gradually happen over the long term rather than being immediately noticeable. Just look at any mountain or river canyon. The upward push of the earth’s crust takes millennia to build a mountain. Water eats through just about anything, given enough time.

Not Note-By-Note

Relative to drawing, certain functions need to become thoughtless, and that takes time.

I often equate learning to draw to learning to play music. It’s an apt comparison regarding the statement about thoughtlessness. Why do musicians practice scales? So they do not have to think about where the notes are when performing. During the performance their finger positions need to be thoughtless or we’d hear the music note-by-note with pauses in-between each.

The same concept is true for memory drawing.

When your visual memory is well-trained, you’ll be better equipped to draw the relationships in the scene. Seeing them will often happen thoughtlessly. And when that happens, it results in a more truthful representation than does simply recording separate, piecemeal aspects.

Just Keep Pushing

Though the earth’s crust is constantly pushing upward in certain areas, gravity brings everything down in the direction of the earth’s center. So while you can keep pushing a rock uphill like Sisyphus, eventually it will roll back down.

To keep with the metaphor, as it relates to your life as an artist the rock’s ultimate descent does not happen until you permanently cease drawing. Until then you’re either pausing or pushing.

Regular memory drawing practice supplements your push.

It also increases your rate of push because every time you look at your paper you have to rely on your visual memory. That memory allows you to retain more information from each glance at your source.

bomdon-01Bomboloni anyone?

How to persist

Persistence is easy. How do I know? Because every time I want a sugar donut, I struggle to not give in to the urge. It is so much easier to simply eat one. And then eat many, many more. Especially Bomboloni, the kinds I found while living in Florence.

Hyperbole aside, the key to persistence is desire. When you desperately want something, you’ll persist. That combination is something that is now commonly called grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals.1

Angela Duckworth

You’ve got to desperately want a trained visual memory more than just kind of, or sort of wanting one. If you’re not blessed with the innate desire for it, then you might have to play a few games with your mind in the beginning.

As I wrote in the article on memory drawing habits, you’ll likely need to rely on cues to get you started.

What if I said, “I’ll have a donut for breakfast each morning, but only if I first do my 15 minutes of memory drawing”? Odds are, I’d be more consistent with my practice. Over time I’ll naturally internalize the act of memory drawing as something I regularly do during that time of day. Then the donut connection will become unnecessary.

What if you have a problem?

What if your issue is not a lack of grit but a lack of progress?

First, you must ask yourself if you truly are having a problem. As you’ve learned, memory drawing is a long process so a perceived lack of improvement needs to be considered over the long term. Some students show little progress for many months, and then marked improvement. Others embark on a very long and gradual rise.

If it was possible to graph one’s memory drawing progress, odds are most student’s would look like one of the two lines shown on the graph below.

Notice how the blue line rises at a consistent rate over time, whereas the green line starts slow but ends up at the same point in the end.


If you are concerned, the best way to check your progress is to:

  1. Have consistently practiced:
    • 15 minutes per day,
    • 4 to 5 days per week,
    • for at least 2 months.
  2. Always mark up your exercises with the correct shapes (it’s often best to do you shape exercises on tracing paper and mark them up with red colored pencil).
  3. Review the previous week’s attempts before starting the current week.
  4. If you’re at the end of the aforementioned second month, go back to some of the initial exercises and attempt them again.

Another test is to attempt a memory drawing of a static image (like a photograph of a simple still life) early on so as to establish a baseline. Then, try drawing the same image from memory every other month.

It’s also possible that you’re moving through your exercises too fast.

Don’t fret and don’t let the weekly designations lock you in. Maybe you need to stay with certain exercises for more than the allotted week?


Realizing Perfection

Perfect accuracy in drawing is the initial result of learning to see. It is, and should be, the goal of every art student. Perfection in memory drawing is also a goal. But it is not the main goal. The main goal is consistent practice. Over time that consistency will result is perfection.

Beyond the ideas above, understand that your ability to accurately draw what you’re looking at will affect your success in memory drawing. In fact it works both ways. Accurate drawing and memory drawing are symbiotic.2

The best way to test your drawing accuracy is to take any exercise at which you feel you failed and try to draw it directly.

  1. Set the source and your paper side-by-side in a Sight-Size arrangement.
  2. Make the same control marks on your paper as you would when memory drawing.
  3. Draw the subject by simply using your eye to see it (no mechanical measuring).

How did you do? Odds are, better than your memory drawing version and that’s perfectly ok. In fact, memory drawing accuracy normally lags behind direct drawing accuracy.

However, if your direct drawing is dramatically inaccurate then I would not expect a good memory drawing. Yes, keep exercising your visual memory, but don’t let that practice overtake your regular drawing time.

That’s good advice for everyone by the way, whether or not their eye is accurate.

I tell my students that despite apparent failure, their ability to improve is not fixed. It can and will change through persistent effort. Believe it or not, simply believing those facts will help them persevere.3

It’s true for you as well.

So don’t resist building a memory drawing habit. Instead, keep pushing that rock up the hill and persist. Over time you’ll be very glad you did.

1From the book, Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
2 While it is possible to learn to draw by only doing memory drawing practice, it might dramatically increase the time it takes. Conversely, using memory drawing as a supplement should help your accuracy over time. That’s why I stress the fact that memory drawing is meant to supplement your regular art training.
3From the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.

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