It’s easy to believe there just isn’t enough time to do something we love or to learn something we’d like to learn. We think if only we had an hour, or a day, or a weekend, to give to our passion, then we could enjoy doing it. But the truth is, taking (or making) a little bit of time for what we love, consistently, is more effective than we often realize.
As an “all-or-nothing” type person, I have to remind myself of this on the regular. And I have found it to be true across all manner of disciplines and practices – prayer, craft (whether knitting, spinning, weaving, or writing), exercise, and even non-passion projects like taking care of the household and finances. It’s easy for me to think that 5 or 10 minutes isn’t enough time to accomplish anything of value, but with many things, 5 or 10 minutes a day can be much more valuable than 30 minutes once a week.
Last month in Paris (ahh! even saying those words makes me shiver with both nostalgia and delight!), I signed up for an Airbnb experience entitled, “Be an artist in Montmartre.” Montmartre is a beautiful, artsy district of Paris with a fascinating, revolutionary history of rebellion and art. The Basilica of Sacre-Couer is there, on the Butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris, and it takes a lot of steps to get there (the picture in the header of this post is just one of several sets of steps it takes to get to the top of the hill). The only way to get to the top, of course, is the same way you do anything big: step-by-step. It’s worth it. Montmartre has kept its historical character and village charm.
We were fortunate enough to live in an apartment in this district while we were visiting Paris, and I absolutely loved it. I loved this Airbnb experience, too. It was a three-hour drawing course and walking tour, with a French art professor. As he guided us around the district, he helped us travel into the story and history of Montmartre, while also giving us the basics to create a visual travel diary. He was fantastic and I learned so much and enjoyed every minute of it.
Here’s one small interesting tidbit he taught us. Drawing a landscape in a vertical orientation is considered the “French” style, and drawing it horizontally is considered the “Italian” style. My natural tendency is horizontal/Italian (my sketchbook is the bottom right), but I’ve begun experimenting with vertical/French.
I felt like I learned many things from Romain, but the thing he said that stuck with me the most was this: draw every day. At least 10 minutes. Just do a few 2- or 3- minute sketches. Take your sketchbook everywhere and pull it out when you have even a small window of time. Just draw every day.
I already knew that doing something every day, for even a few minutes, was the best way to make progress, but standing on a street in Montmartre, with my sketchbook in hand and the cobblestones under my feet and old architecture filling my eyes, listening to Romain encourage us to just do it – well, I took his words in, thoroughly.
I’d be lying if I said I proceeded to draw every day after that. But I have drawn most days, for at least 10 minutes. I carried a small sketchbook with me everywhere, and practiced drawing on our balconies and terraces, at cafes, on the tube and on the train and on tours and at the table. If I had a few spare minutes, I tried to pull out my sketchbook rather than my phone (I was only partly successful with that). I took one drawing book to Europe with me – You Can Draw in 30 Days: The Fun, Easy Way to Learn to Draw in One Month or Less, by Mark Kistler – and I did many of the lessons while we traveled (though I didn’t do lessons every day).
This week, I finished the last lesson of that book. Though it took me more like 60 days (I did the first lesson on June 5 and the last one on August 7), it actually only represented 24 days of doing the lessons (I did two or three lessons on some days). In between, I practiced either what I’d learned from the book or what I’d learned from Romain.
There is so much about drawing that does not feel natural to me (yet), but I’ve become so much more comfortable with it than I’ve ever been before. What’s more, I’ve begun seeing differently. The change in how I see has really had an impact on my experience both of our travels and of the art and architecture we were exploring. I’m more in touch not only with my spiritual and emotional responses to what I’m seeing but with the reasons behind those responses. I can see more clearly what it is that calls to me and impacts me in the things we look at. And I’m seeing beauty in things that once would’ve seemed extremely ordinary to me (one afternoon as our family was walking through Rome, I stopped and snapped a picture of a random street corner and I heard Paul ask Rob what it was – but it actually wasn’t anything “special,” not some iconic place of historical or spiritual interest – I just found myself captivated by the lines and the light and the colors, and I knew I would want to draw it later).
Even though I still have so much to learn about drawing (and seeing!), it’s exciting to have clear proof of how much I’ve already learned, a reminder that a lot of change can happen with just a little bit of consistent practice.
The power of a little bit can be quite a lot.