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Persistence: The Only Technique that Matters

January 22, 2015

I don’t usually show my ‘bad’ sketches.  I often draw on loose sheets of paper, and tear up bad ones right on the spot. So there’s no evidence.

These happen to be in a sketchbook, and this was such a classic incident, I figured I’d post it for you.

Here we have what I’d consider to be a pretty average drawing.  Not very structurally sound. It’s stiff. And it doesn’t even show what’s going on.


I ran into this fellow doing a lampworking demonstration at the Corning Museum of Glass. He’s probably there 9-5, five days a week, doing his thing. But I only had 20 minutes before I had to be somewhere.

I’d found him just as he ignited his jet of flame and started to melt glass. I’m a sucker for a jet of flame. I’ll watch anything on fire.

So I dive right in aaaand – – – terrible sketch right?

Despite the interesting subject – it just didn’t turn out.

We had driven two hours out of the way to see the other demo I was heading to –  so, I wasn’t interested in missing that. But this drawing was really bugging me. I had already taken five steps away when I thought ‘No. Actually – I can’t live with it”.


So – turned around, did another one.

But, wouldn’t you know it!

Still a pretty weak drawing.

I’ve become a lot more demanding about capturing a likeness in recent months.  It’s never going to be perfect – but this isn’t even close.

Plus – I don’t mind a messy drawing – I’m fine with a sketchy feeling. But I want open, floating lines that have some elegance. This guy looks hunched over – his shoulder is a mess.

Even though the clock was ticking, there was nothing to be done but try again.


I had to slow down, ignore the possibility of losing a good seat for the show, take my time, and really look at the guy. Find what is distinctive about him.

His shoulder length hair rolls down the back of his skull, and flips up around his neck. It’s not just a bunch of lines – it’s a flowing shape with weight. Smoothly falling, only then dissolving to brush work.

He had a bit of a heavy jaw (a little chubby – after all, he’s a desk worker like me). His goatee was very specifically trimmed. Almost a Fu Manchu mustache – not just a generic scruff of hair. A beard always follows the jaw line.  It’s not pasted on – it reveals the shape of the jaw.Solving that leads me to his somewhat fleshy lips, and prominent – yet pointy – nose.

Now I have an actual person, not a generic human.

As well, the strange device spitting flame – it’s like a little cannon on spindly legs jetting blue fire. That’s a unique prop that is important to get right. Add in the glass rods and sculpted vials he’s crafting – and now I have a real description of an artist doing lampwork. A useful document of the day, not just a scribbled person.

Hope that helps you feel good about any bad drawings that happen. Use them as an opportunity. Flip the page and keep going. Getting a bit better each time. Persistence is everything in this game.

119 Comments leave one →
  1. Sharyn permalink
    January 22, 2015 12:13 PM

    Thank you for showing sketches that might not be your best. Sometimes I look at what people post and feel like a total failure… it helps to know that EVERYONE has sketches we don’t like as well as those that shine. This was a great post.

  2. January 22, 2015 12:18 PM

    We artists all needed this post, Marc. Every attempt doesn’t turn out well, I have lots of watercolor sheets with work on both sides. Turn that sheet and try again. We only learn from our failures. Love your book and passed it around my painting buddies. Jody

  3. bmweeks permalink
    January 22, 2015 1:20 PM

    Thank you!

  4. Gayle permalink
    January 22, 2015 2:03 PM

    Actually I found all three sketches good! Way better than what I’d be capable of at this stage! Thanks so much for sharing all your encouraging tips and this reminder about persistance.

  5. Linda permalink
    January 22, 2015 2:13 PM

    Marc, methinks you are being a tad too hard on yourself. All of these sketches have merits. You might be interested in visiting an exhibit of some of Arthur Lismer’s sketches – which he did on napkins and coasters, among other things – which are on display in the McLennan Library (Rare Books and Special Collections). Here’s a link: Lismer’s sketches are very “rough” but evocative nonetheless. There is an expression in writing (my profession) that “less is more” and I think that can also apply to drawing.

  6. January 22, 2015 3:26 PM

    I love the details of the third sketch. The first resembles something I saw recently- it was a comparison of blindfolded sketches by some cartoonists from the 1940s. Like the guy who drew Dick Tracy- you could see his elements, his process and muscle memory but the spatiality was off. It was beautiful. This top one looks the same way, there’s something a little off but still gorgeous.

  7. Robin King permalink
    January 22, 2015 4:03 PM

    Wooohoooo!!!! ::applause:: Thank you for sharing all of these AND for the commentary, too. I rarely have an opportunity to sketch actual people so I’m not good at it (but I’m getting better). This post was like a short course in some very important concepts.

    PS: Like the commenter above, I thought they were all pretty good — they’d’ve made me happy if I’d done them!! — until you explained why you thought they weren’t good.

    • February 3, 2015 9:14 PM

      This is beautiful!! I would love if you checked out my blog hoping to be an inspiration like U I really love this this is beatiful and inspiring . I love art in genaral there’s so many ways to create so many new and amazing things !!:)

  8. Fred permalink
    January 23, 2015 8:04 AM

    Incredibly useful. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad


  9. Mary Warren permalink
    January 24, 2015 12:20 AM

    I appreciate your sharing all of the thinking that went on in your head …what appealed to you, what bugged you, what aspect of your drawing attracted you. While I would have happily kept these sketches as finished and GOOD, I have a better understanding of the work that is ahead of me. Thanks again.

  10. January 29, 2015 10:29 AM

    Thanks for this post. I liked seeing the progression & reading what was going on in your head. I’ve been self-teaching for a while & use static images because live peeps are so tough. And, as another commented, you only see the best, most successful drawings & it skews your POV in what your doing.

  11. February 2, 2015 4:35 PM

    thanks for that……….insight helps us all to see.

  12. February 2, 2015 5:02 PM

    Hi Marc, I have done so many sketches in my life as well. Describe the moment when you knew your idea was going to actually become a work of art? Love to have your insight on this.

    • February 2, 2015 5:21 PM

      I think what you’re asking is ‘when you know you have it?’ When is it ‘good’? I think the ultimate answer is, you just do as much as you can, continuing to push, until you are out of time or energy, and it’s only later that you know if it was good. Does that sound right?

  13. February 2, 2015 5:37 PM

    With each description I had to scroll up to compare the last sketch with the former :)

    Persistence. Loving it.

  14. February 2, 2015 5:41 PM

    Looks awesome to me .

  15. February 2, 2015 5:43 PM

    I really liked your second drawing! It’s easy to be our own worst critic, but I think it’s always good to remember that somewhere out there, someone will appreciate what you’ve creatively done, even if it’s not yourself.

  16. Rik Surace permalink
    February 2, 2015 5:50 PM

    Can be adapted to many things. Nice, honest post on persistence Marc.

  17. February 2, 2015 6:01 PM

    Sometimes mistakes create room enough to grow into a new experience of an old understanding. To my untrained eye your lines were gorgeous from the beginning; seeing your errors through the filter of your intentions and distractions created a new appreciation. Lovely.

  18. February 2, 2015 6:08 PM

    Reblogged this on mdgoodluck.

  19. February 2, 2015 6:18 PM

    You’ve piqued me back into drawing again. I’ve been meaning to go back but I could list a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t try again. But it shouldn’t matter. Getting myself a drawing pen tomorrow.

    Persistence is definitely key.

  20. February 2, 2015 6:21 PM

    Persistence, the ability to keep moving forward no matter the matter, love it.

  21. February 2, 2015 6:25 PM

    looks great! please do check out my blog

  22. February 2, 2015 6:41 PM

    Awesome drawings!

  23. February 2, 2015 6:43 PM

    Reblogged this on emmanueldech.

  24. February 2, 2015 8:01 PM

    You can write AND draw well. Where is the justice??
    On a serious note, though, thanks for posting sketches that you don’t consider your best work (I liked them, but what do I know?). It must have taken a bit of courage (;

  25. February 2, 2015 8:06 PM

    I love these types of minimalist sketches and it’s great to see the process you went to create the final one. Your post is on the money, the right pen/pencil line made with the right amount of thought can communicate just as much, if not more than a more ‘thorough’ drawing.

  26. February 2, 2015 8:51 PM

    Great post man, very inspiring and motivating. Thank you, and keep it up.

  27. February 2, 2015 9:11 PM

    Pretty awesome sketches .

  28. February 2, 2015 9:21 PM

    I love all three – well done and phenominal talent.

  29. February 2, 2015 9:30 PM

    That is right! Persistence is everything. It worked in my sketches too.

  30. February 2, 2015 10:26 PM

    Reblogged this on .

  31. February 3, 2015 1:14 AM

    Inspired me to continue inspite of a number of bad sketches in my portfolio.

  32. February 3, 2015 1:21 AM

    Reblogged this on Little Deduction.

  33. thenjuvi permalink
    February 3, 2015 1:43 AM

    Reblogged this on Queen-V.

  34. February 3, 2015 3:04 AM

    Reblogged this on michclle.

  35. February 3, 2015 5:22 AM

    I appreciate your post. I have been struggling not with time or my drawing ability, but with the lack of persistence. It follows me all my life in almost everything I do. It seems that I cannot decide whether I want to dive into it or not. I love how your drawings resonate in the current moment. I do not know how you do that, but it is lovely. It stays contrary to the typical design stuff that surrounds us with perfect shapes. Imperfection is the way to go!

  36. February 3, 2015 6:04 AM

    great post

  37. February 3, 2015 6:10 AM

    Reblogged this on talithao's Blog.

  38. February 3, 2015 7:12 AM

    Reblogged this on pensandoenmayuscula.

  39. February 3, 2015 7:30 AM

    Yes it is true :) :)

  40. February 3, 2015 9:04 AM

    Reblogged this on successfulhomebusiness and commented:
    very impressive

  41. February 3, 2015 10:12 AM

    cool post

  42. February 3, 2015 10:45 AM

    I think what’s best about the third one is the ‘rhythm’ in the marks. The flame (largest of the three) carries into the man’s shirt sleeve! I think this is what makes the drawing so good. Love your drawings.

  43. February 3, 2015 11:20 AM

    Reblogged this on schyzzhls96.

  44. February 3, 2015 12:29 PM

    Hey everyone! I’m glad this particular post is resonating with people. It’s surprising how much email I’m getting from this one little example. Thanks for all the likes. Good to know readers are out there :)

  45. philthomas78 permalink
    February 3, 2015 12:38 PM

    Very inspiring. I have trouble just drawing regular stick figures. =/

  46. February 3, 2015 1:16 PM

    That’s good and a proper reminder too

  47. February 3, 2015 1:46 PM

    Reblogged this on beautifullymisconstrued and commented:

  48. February 3, 2015 2:05 PM

    According to me your all sketches were nice but i like the 3rd most. Nd i never think there is something bad at all because everything is a result of something that someone did and worked for and working for something with right intention wont be bad.So its nothing bad for me its just not that good..

  49. February 3, 2015 2:05 PM

    Wish I could draw like that….. Thanks for sharing your pictures :)

    courtneyglitter :)

  50. February 3, 2015 2:07 PM

    This is a great description of your process. I love it! My passion is learning languages, and your process of mistakes and mis-takes reminds me of all the problems I run into when I speak other languages. As a language-learner *most* of what I say is a mistake. When I make that connection with the person I’m interacting with, it’s beautiful.

    When you successfully draw a subject, and that subject is a person, do you feel you’ve made a connection with him/her? Is there a better connection when you create a better sketch?

    • February 3, 2015 7:05 PM

      I’m not sure about a connection – I’d like to think so, but who can say? For sure it makes a memory be both have. Its rare enough in peoples lives – even among urban sketchers – that they remember the experience. The time spent together face to face. So, ok , now I’m going to say yes it does connect people! Heh. And I hope, we don’t care too much about the quality of the sketch. That’s fun, sure, when the sketch is good – but isn’t it the time spent that matters more :)

  51. February 3, 2015 5:14 PM

    I am not an artist but this can also work in other areas of our lives. We don’t always have to show the best and the brightest parts of us because all parts make up the whole even the not so perfect parts….so thanks for sharing.

  52. February 3, 2015 7:23 PM

    Reblogged this on nilpojapoti.

  53. February 3, 2015 8:49 PM

    I agree with some other commenters. I like all three drawings. The first looks rushed, but gives us the essence of this man concentrating on what he’s creating. The second one is much more detailed. I love the arms and hands. He looks middle aged and conventional. In the third one he looks much more artistic and sort of like a peaceful hippy. But his arms and hands have lost the detail. You say you have observed his face and hair, so it must look like him the most.
    It was enjoyable seeing the progress and reading your comments.

  54. February 3, 2015 8:58 PM

    Reblogged this on Illumination.

  55. February 3, 2015 9:02 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this, so articulately. Amy Tan the writer has a really powerful point about persistence. The act of persisting gets you somewhere better … even if it wasn’t where you’d intended. I think kids who are born with natural “talent” be it music, art or writing often miss out on this important skill. They may never discover the joy of persisting at what they enjoy … regardless of other people’s praise.

  56. creamy725 permalink
    February 3, 2015 9:52 PM

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  57. The Editor permalink
    February 4, 2015 7:50 AM

    I think it’s not just about drawing; this idea can be applied to most aspects of life. Slow down, see the thing for what it truly is, and better appreciate the little imperfections that somehow make it more beautiful :)

  58. February 4, 2015 11:13 AM

    I like your work.. It’s different and your sketches are amazing..

  59. February 4, 2015 11:26 AM

    CS: That was extremely interesting and I loved how it kept evolving into something more. (Not just the picture, for your sake of getting it right, but how you wrote out your thought processing it forward. As another artist, I have come to not worry about something that I’m doing that isn’t turning out right. In fact, some of my favorite works (I do “wall art”) actually happen after a mistake or rotten look I can’t stand happens and I begin fixing it. Often, something I create, ends up entirely different than what I had in mind and much better! (I jokingly say the “creative angels” are telling me to get out of the way and let them take over (working through me).

  60. Adrienne Preddie permalink
    February 4, 2015 11:43 AM

    Great life message even for those of us who are not artist. Persistence does pay off. We just have to keep trying past failures.

  61. February 4, 2015 12:41 PM

    Nice imagery.

  62. February 4, 2015 3:05 PM

    I think it captures the action and shows what you were seeing,and we see the artistic beauty even though it may not have the proper coloring or perfection we all strive for…Keep it up!!
    THanks for sharing..

  63. February 4, 2015 3:48 PM

    great that you post some that you weren’t liking at the time; I actually found the second one quite engaging-lively, intent, conveyed the mood of the person, had some nice diagonal action lines – I liked it!

  64. February 4, 2015 4:20 PM

    I gotta agree with philthomas78 in that I, too, have a challenge with sick figures! Personally, I feel I’m better with words.

  65. February 4, 2015 6:48 PM

    Reblogged this on Life In Riv Ers.

  66. wjacobr permalink
    February 4, 2015 7:00 PM

    I agree that all the sketches had some merit–but what happened was the emergence of the drawing you wanted. That feels right, cause it establishes something, a direction, a statement, maybe only interior to the artist, of where the next drawing is headed, and the next. This is as much about that–about the development of personal aesthetic judgment in the process, as about the drawing.
    Thanks for thinking this… and then writing about it.

  67. February 4, 2015 8:09 PM

    Nice post.

  68. February 5, 2015 12:54 AM

    Reblogged this on whatyouneedtolookat and commented:
    Good thoughts.

  69. February 5, 2015 1:19 AM

    thank you for this essay…i feel appreciated…im really artsy or trying to be…my friends always don’t praise my artworks…the biggest compliment iv’e had was when i try to do a watercolor portrait of my friend…he said at first that he did not recognize that it was his own portrait yet…he said he’ll framed it anyway…such a compliment. :)

    p.s. your sketches are good…i don’t sketch that good given a little time…kudos!
    <3 from philippines!

  70. February 5, 2015 6:06 AM

    Reblogged this on A Dream Within A Coffee.

  71. February 5, 2015 10:25 AM

    Reblogged this on I Know Things About Pigeons, Lily..

  72. February 5, 2015 10:57 AM

    I certainly needed this today. Whether it’s my painting or my writing, there are so many times I feel inadequate when looking at others’ work. This article helped me realize, there were probably sessions of self-editing before the version I saw. Thanks!

  73. February 5, 2015 4:56 PM

    I liked your post. I don’t feel so bad after reading about your trials and tribulations. I paint with oils but I sketch on my canvas first to give me a good guideline. Fortunately oil is very forgiving so I can make adjustments as I paint. Thx for your insight & sharing.

  74. mhrain permalink
    February 5, 2015 7:56 PM

    Reblogged this on mhrain.

  75. February 6, 2015 1:25 AM

    Thank you for this testimony! Great inspiration for fellow artists.

  76. February 6, 2015 1:25 AM

    Reblogged this on Art & Design without Frontiers.

  77. February 6, 2015 12:08 PM

    non the less i love your sketch and write up

  78. Alyana permalink
    February 6, 2015 3:06 PM

    I think they’re cool :)

  79. February 6, 2015 4:26 PM

    Reblogged this on ruhika42.

  80. February 6, 2015 7:08 PM

    Reblogged this on packyourcamera and commented:
    For an artist who never likes sharing my work until completion or even worse, perfection, this is perfect!

  81. February 7, 2015 9:08 AM

    This is a great point, not just about persistence but about the whole creative process. I think it’s useful at times to go back and review and analyze the steps or revisions it took to get the final product. I like how you evaluate each version for its merits and weaknesses and continue to dig deeper to find the essence of what you’re trying to create.

  82. February 7, 2015 11:20 AM

    Reblogged this on I Think. Therefore, I write..

  83. February 7, 2015 3:18 PM

    Reblogged this on Inextricably Connected and commented:
    I think persistence/perseverance truly are the key to happiness and fulfillment. Failing is so much easier to cope with than giving up; take the lessons from your failures and use them to build strength and work towards success.


  84. February 7, 2015 3:48 PM

    Reblogged this on Question Everything.

  85. February 8, 2015 9:10 AM

    Reblogged this on Inspired through responsibility.

  86. February 8, 2015 9:43 PM

    Reblogged this on The Eclectic Chick and commented:
    Great post, and I think it probably applies to many things in life. In my case, I go through the same thing with my writing. I’ll write a scene, constantly debating over which exact word or phrase to use as I go along, and then I may go back and revamp the whole thing once I’m finished. What’s more, sometimes I’ll scrap it entirely, and write it over from scratch.

    Also, I find that rushing is definitely an issue. I can work well under pressure, so sometimes needing to be done by a certain time can help me. However, if I’m just rushing because I want to get it done and over with, then it won’t turn out well. I have to be patient, and be willing to take the time to really analyze things and figure out what I need to do and how I’m going to do it.

  87. February 10, 2015 11:38 AM

    “I’ve become a lot more demanding about capturing a likeness in recent months. It’s never going to be perfect – but this isn’t even close.” I found this part to be very true and very applicable to my own work. Thanks for a different perspective!

  88. February 10, 2015 1:38 PM

    Reblogged this on -Sweatpants & Lipstick-.

  89. February 10, 2015 6:09 PM

    What you’ve shown here is great. I believe there’s a greater message here as well, that persistence is valuable in all things, and that persistence makes you capable of anything.

  90. February 13, 2015 6:12 PM

    Reblogged this on pojapotirdana.

  91. February 14, 2015 5:07 AM

    Reblogged this on Joanna Eve.

  92. February 15, 2015 9:01 AM

    Lovely post! It’s nice to know that we all have our bad days, when what we write or do don’t turn out the way we would like them to. Thank you for sharing.

  93. maathaphone permalink
    February 15, 2015 11:30 AM

    I enjoyed your thoughts. Being an artist you have your right to feel the way you do about your work. Being a non artist who appreciates what it takes for my best work to look like your worst, all I can say is sometimes you have to stop being critical and just enjoy it.

    • February 15, 2015 11:46 AM

      Oh well, you know :) I hear you :) It’s an artist mindset – to have both pleasure (pride even) in your work and a wicked critical eye at the same time. Alex Kanevsky (great painter) says: “Build up your self esteem to the level that might seem unwarranted. This will help you ignore both positive and negative responses to your paintings. Both are usually misguided, since they come from the outside. Be your most severe and devastating critic, while never doubting that you are the best thing since sliced bread”. (

      • February 20, 2015 6:00 PM

        Excellent – quite agree, you’ve obviously been there – Hooray!

  94. February 15, 2015 6:16 PM

    Reblogged this on Beyond Your Thinking and commented:
    Check this out!

  95. February 15, 2015 7:00 PM

    Reblogged this on pridstoncrib.

  96. February 16, 2015 10:47 PM

    Persistence is what it;s all about. Everyone can get better – except a character in a movie called “Frank.” :) And I rather liked your sketches.

  97. February 18, 2015 5:07 AM

    Reblogged this on Live Life Fullsome.

  98. February 18, 2015 11:17 PM

    Reblogged this on sarraharrows.

  99. February 20, 2015 5:58 PM

    I love your drawing! it’s simple and it speaks – who are you comparing yourself with?

    • February 21, 2015 11:26 AM

      Hey thanks Pip :)
      Who i compare myself? Well I look at a lot of art, I suppose I look a lot to the movement to see many people doing tremendous things with art on location. But that’s just one circle of artists – I think we should look at a lot of things, even work that is completely different than our own.

  100. theanonymousfaceless permalink
    February 24, 2015 2:00 PM

    I agree! Without persistence, we would not be anywhere!

  101. February 24, 2015 7:50 PM

    Thanks for sharing these! I enjoyed seeing them, and enjoyed the reminder about persistence and the joy of the process! ~Rita

  102. CatherineFoley permalink
    February 27, 2015 12:55 AM

    These are all amazing sketches! Yet I can see the subtle differences in each of them as you try to capture the man with different approaches.

  103. March 1, 2015 4:08 PM

    Great post, Glad I’m not the only one who thinks similar to this… Good days and bad days regardless I keep pushing forward. I don’t really impress my self any more unless I look back at work I created years ago. I personally think art is a life long quest for perfection that will never be reached as there is always some one else to admire or aspire to be as good as and by the time we get there we have already began to look else where for the next level. “Well that’s my own personal view so far”

  104. simplyalexandrie permalink
    March 10, 2015 12:39 AM

    I loved the sketches. Great job

  105. March 11, 2015 7:46 AM

    Persistence prevails! I think the P’s really matter….If you have passion, persistence and patience it will truly prevail!! good post!

  106. March 16, 2015 1:22 AM

    I’ve never been much of an artist, but it’s kind of inspiring to see that even the best make mistakes. Thanks for sharing this

  107. March 27, 2015 6:57 AM

    I think this what stopped me from being a good artist….the patience and practice..I just can’t make myself take time for it. I am glad some do.

    • March 27, 2015 12:34 PM

      Well, perhaps someday you’ll pick it up again :) The great thing about sketching is it only takes a few minutes a day. I helps if you have a subject you love – like my friend Liz and her tea time sketches. Thanks for stopping by!

  108. March 28, 2015 2:49 AM

    Nice Job! As a talented graphic designer, if you have some spare time, would you be able to check out a graphic design piece me and my team created for an app firm in silicon valley. The design is for an app called “Mr. Popular.” It would be awesome if you could give us some feedback on the design. Thanks so much!

  109. Polly Purpose permalink
    May 2, 2015 1:34 AM

    The middle one is my favourite one :-)


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