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The One-Thing Sketching Practice

The piece below, which appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter, was written by my friend and former business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Enjoy!


One Thing Sketching Practice

On the first of the month, I choose one familiar household object — a toy, a necklace, a clock on the wall — to sketch every morning of that month. I draw every day because I want to draw well, and I believe in the power of consistent practice, for two minutes or an hour, or an entire morning. I draw because I find the nonverbal work of visual observation and moving the pencil on the page to be meditative and centering. I draw because anchoring myself in wordless observation and movement ultimately helps me access my writing (the word-soaked centerpiece of the creative work that I do) from a more honest and flexible place.

Drawing the same object every morning means that I eliminate “but I don’t know what to draw!” as a barrier to getting started. It allows me to zoom in, sometimes drawing a tiny portion of an object, or to zoom out and include context and surroundings. It allows me to try and fail and try again to capture curves and shadows and relationships, to be playful, with the knowledge that I can give it another go the next day.

At the end of the month, I flip back through my journal and review the drawings I’ve done. I literally stack up evidence that I have met my commitment to myself, and this deepens my belief (and the self-fulfilling prophecy) that I’ll be able to show up again in the future, for drawing and other projects. I’m often surprised by the quality of what I’ve drawn, especially on the mornings where I recall feeling frustrated or stuck. And I’m never able to look at the objects I’ve drawn for 28 or 20 or 31 days without feeling that they’re not just props in my life, but friends I know intimately.

Would this practice work for you? Give it a try and let us know!


Ellen Olson-Brown, M.Ed., is a teacher, author of four children’s books, yoga teacher, and enthusiastic consumer of art and office supplies. Positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of human flourishing are her current fascinations, and she loves supportively daring people to amaze themselves. Ellen lives in Groton, Mass., with her husband and twin sons.
17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great job, congratulations!

    January 24, 2013
  2. I love this idea. I haven’t tried it yet but need to. An artist friend and I resolved to do this but then decided instead to visit the same theme each day for a month. This allowed for more abstract art. The simple practice of creating one small drawing in a notebook and seeing it compile over time was very energizing. It was also great to share the practice with someone else.

    January 24, 2013
    • What a nice creative partnership, Rebecca!

      January 24, 2013
  3. Okay. I’m game! I’ll give it a shot and check back in 30 days.

    January 24, 2013
    • Awesome, amantha. Come back and let us know how it goes! 🙂

      January 24, 2013
    • Hope you’re enjoying the process!

      February 3, 2013
  4. What a terrific idea and I am thinking it’s something I can do with my 5 1/2 year old! By the way if that’s your drawing Ellen, most impressed!

    January 24, 2013
    • Great twist, intrepid! And yes, those are Ellen’s sketches 🙂

      January 24, 2013
    • Oh, that sounds SO awesome! I think I’ll try it that way.

      January 28, 2013
    • Thanks so much! I loved drawing that guy!

      February 3, 2013
  5. im definately gonna do that..good job

    January 24, 2013
  6. Thank you. I will try this an let you know how it works for me.

    January 25, 2013
  7. This is indeed a terrific idea! I have been wanting to draw again. I used to draw a lot years ago and when I picked up a pencil to draw recently, I was discouraged by how awful it looked LOL. This approach of drawing one object for 30 days is brilliant and I can handle it. Now are we drawing a new sketch everyday, starting from scratch or are we going back to the same drawing to improve it? Great idea either way. I think I will start with a centerpiece I mocked up for a bridal show I attended. So glad I found this blog!

    January 29, 2013
    • So easy to get discouraged, but I think the process itself actively works your anti-discouragement muscles. I like to start fresh with a new sketch every day, but I think you could do it any way that felt right and productive for you. Happy sketching!

      February 3, 2013
  8. I’m so curious to see how the month of drawing is going for people who decided to give it a whirl! Loved drawing a wall clock last month, but I was excited when February 1 rolled around and it was time to choose a new subject. This month is a wire whisk – challenging, and lots of fun with all those intersecting loops at one end.

    February 3, 2013

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