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When Is It OK To Give Up?

Posted by Koosje Koene in Uncategorized on March 6, 2017

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the decisions you make as part of the creative process.

When you start a creative project, you’ll always face a certain amount of resistance, it’s normal. It’s part of the process. You could come up with all sorts of reasons for this feeling of resistance or even unwillingness but basically, the main reason is your own expectation and the fear you can’t live up to it.
Once you’ve stepped over that first bump and just start, you realize it’s not that bad. In fact, working on the project you chose is fun!
Along each project, there are many other challenges to face after this first bump, and you’ll conquer those with perseverance, grit, and by believing in yourself. You can do it!

But what if
you started something and at some point, you don’t feel the need to finish it anymore?

Your goals may have changed, your focus may have shifted, your style may have evolved. Your excitement may have faded.
Should you still hold on to the mantra ‘never give up’? Should you still show that grit to prove you can and will finish what you started?

For some things, like changing to a more healthy lifestyle, or getting into a creative habit, I definitely think that we should resist that little voice inside our heads because we know we’ll feel a lot better when we pursue.

What about creative projects, though? Are we allowed to give up?

I don’t know the answer. I guess it depends.

I gave up on a project recently, and felt nothing but relief:
A couple of years ago, I bought this accordion sketchbook. I’d always wanted to try and use one of those. It felt so new and different, that I thought I should come up with a special dedicated project for it. So guess what? It sat on the shelf for almost 2 years. Even before I unwrapped the plastic around the sketchbook, I had put so much pressure on drawing in it!
Then finally I came to my senses and realized I shouldn’t make such a big deal out of this sketchbook (it’s just paper! folded and stacked!) and just started to draw on its first page. I started drawing people in the book. Just because I loved the idea of ending up with one long group portrait, grown bit by bit. I thought this could be the book to turn to whenever I ran out of ideas.

There weren’t many rules for the book. I would use a fine liner and a brush pen for each drawing and I could draw whoever I wanted, using reference pictures online. I picked the people to draw kind of randomly and discovered that drawing people from pictures is a bit of a challenge but I also found it a little bit boring. The upside is that they don’t move, but that’s the downside too. Where’s the challenge in that?

So the book was left on a shelf again. I felt kind of guilty about abandoning it, so a week ago I picked it up again and drew a couple more people in it.
It felt more like a chore than a pleasurable project. I don’t particularly like the drawings I made, because they feel kind of ‘dead’ to me. I was drawing random famous people by a lack of a better idea, and I felt like I was creating a paper and ink version of Madame Tussaud.
So after struggling through another drawing, I decided it was just silly to pursue this ordeal. And I said it aloud: ‘I give up on this project’.
Instant relief!

Now what?

To celebrate abandoning the project that never had been ‘me’ in the first place, I drew a self portrait, expressing how I felt about the pages I filled so far.
Maybe I’ll draw more selfies. Maybe the rest of the book remains blank. Although now that I let go of this rigid idea, I am itching again to experiment and play. We’ll see.


What I learned here is that it’s okay to give up on an idea if it really doesn’t feel right.

If it’s making things too complicated. If it restrains you from being able to have fun. Don’t just give up when you’re having an off day or made a drawing you don’t like. Just make another one and another. I’m not talking about giving up because of disappointment or results – it’s the emotion behind it that has to fit. Stepping out of your comfort zone is good, but sitting down in front of the blank paper feeling you need to do a chore isn’t.

I hope this little story is helpful for you as well. To look at the things that you want to do, plan to do, or work on, and assess them. Does it give you joy? Good, keep on going! If not, try analyzing what the problem is. Adjust your course or focus accordingly, or make drastic changes. You’ll feel inspired again!

Koosje Koene

Hi I'm Koosje. I'm an illustrator and art teacher in Amsterdam, where I was born and raised. I went to school to study graphic design, then worked for ten years as an award-winning professional photographer. But eventually my love of drawing and painting took over and I became an illustrator. My illustrations have been published in many Dutch magazines and in 2011, I began blogging and started developing and teaching online art classes. In 2014 I founded Sketchbook Skool, which is a flourishing community of artists from around the world of all skill levels.