“Shitty First Drafts”

In art class we had a live model for the first time.  We were to do a fast sketch to acquaint ourselves with her facial features.  She was a striking young woman with distinct features. 

My initial 15 minute charcoal sketch looked like a wild animal had attacked.  I admit to being a bit embarrassed when the model walked by looking at all our sketches.  It’s one thing botching up a plaster cast and another maiming a live beautiful face.

"Shitty first draft", charcoal

“Shitty first draft”, charcoal

The remaining time in class was spent doing the model’s portrait in chalk pastels.  (Confession: The teacher helped me since I’ve never worked with pastels.)

I was not going to post either the initial sketch because it wasn’t “perfectly executed” nor my pastel since my teacher helped. 

Then Anne Lamott, the author, came to mind.  In her book Bird by Bird she talks about how the writer should just spill it all out, create the “shitty first draft”.  That’s how good writers get to the second, third and polished last drafts.


Pastel on grey paper

When I look at the portrait I see flashes of myself – mostly the pain I’ve been in.  There wasn’t time in class to finish . . . another work in progress, like me.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” 

Anne Lamott

22 comments on ““Shitty First Drafts”

  1. Absolutely. I’ve read that book by Lamott, and recognized that quite immediately. And you’re so right! The second version is so much better and every version after that will be better too as we learn to see the subject. Terrific post! Thanks for the follow as well!


    • Jacqui,
      That’s very perceptive of you. the model wore a lot of very dramatic make-up – black exaggerated eye-liner and dark crimson red lipstick – which created a harshness that (I think) protected a vulnerability. My guess is the pain is probably mine. I was struggling a bit as I had to stand for 3 hours at an easel which impacted my muscles – it even hurt to draw. I do believe that whatever the media we all ultimately end up on the page, the paper, the dance movement, the music . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone trying to be in “perfectionism” rehab”, I repeatedly have to remind myself, everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s ludicrous to compare a novice to the more experienced or Master. Love the quote, and for choosing to share your first drafts. Bravo, bravo!!!! 😀


  3. That’s your first and second efforts? Talent, my dear Judy, talent in droves. Quite beautiful and dramatic, not the least bit sheetay. It’s capturing the spirit of the model that’s important. Think Cezanne, Modigliani, Manet, Gauguin, and Schiele. If you want a perfect draft, take a photo.
    During one of my first clay sculpture classes, we had a live model for the 15 sessions. Toward the end, I walked around to see what everyone else was doing and noticed that however closely the other artists sculpted the model’s face, and no matter their age, race, or gender, everyone carved the nose to resemble their own. Everyone but me. My sculpture’s face had a nose like the model’s. The instructor and I talked about why it was the noses and not other features and came to no conclusive reasons. But I’ve always remembered that experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shari B-P,
      That’s fascinating about the nose! I’ll be paying attention to the nose with our next model. I do find that I’m more attracted to drawing people than objects or landscapes. Probably an indication of my years as a therapist.
      The teacher is very exacting which is good as it is challenging but does tend to make me more self-critical. It’s a good learning lesson since I tend to “throw” paint around and not care very much if it resembles anything!


  4. I remember sketching my “partner” in class for an exercise (this was over 30 years ago!). She was very angry when she saw by draft. “Those are not my eye brows” she exclaimed. I remember thinking as I shrank into my self. “I am just a beginner, but I guess is should already know more.”

    Thank you for the words of wisdom and the opportunity to learn from you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous,
      I generally delete all “anonymous” comments but yours seems legitimate and not spam!

      How true that most of us think we should “already know more”, be better, smarter . . . I have to keep reminding myself I’m a rank beginner in everything when it comes to eternity.


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