On fighting the monkey


“I can’t tell you how happy I am to have taken up drawing again. I’ve been thinking of it, but I always considered the thing impossible and beyond my reach.”

– Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother.

I saw this quote in a book the other day and found it so profoundly inspiring. I have always been very inspired by van Gogh and to see that this great master struggled with his craft in the beginning is a relief. It also shows that he pushed through his doubts about himself and he went on to create great works of art that speak (and have spoken to) to millions and millions of people.

I, too, have started drawing again. I decided to carry a simple sketchbook with me everywhere I go and fit in a quick sketch as I go about my day. I am using a Traveller’s Notebook for this purpose because it is very inconspicuous. It doesn’t look like a sketchbook. It’s also the right size to easily carry around everywhere.

On my lunch breaks I go for a walk around the downtown area of my little town and I have been carrying my sketchbook around and making quick drawings of things that catch my eye. I am only using a fountain pen which prevents me from “fixing” mistakes (there are a lot of mistakes). The fountain pen is slightly awkward to draw with because the ink doesn’t dry quickly but I like the lines it produces and I like the way it flows across the page. Because I am out walking and my lunch break is short my sketches have to be quick. I am usually standing when I sketch and I imagine people wonder what the fuck I am doing when they walk or drive by.

As I make these simple, quick drawings my head is buzzing with these kinds of thoughts: “You are standing here like an idiot and people are wondering what you are doing.” “This drawing sucks completely. Let’s┬ájust give up now.” “You messed up that line.” “That looks nothing like that (thing you are drawing).” “the ink is taking too long to dry, let’s just quit.” “We need to get back to eat lunch”


As I draw these sketches and as these thoughts enter my mind I keep drawing through them. I finish the drawing. I give myself permission to draw for the sake of drawing. Nobody has to see these drawings. These are for myself. I don’t even have to look at them later, if i don’t want to. I let the chatter happen (it’s just going to happen, I can’t stop it honestly) and then I keep my pen moving regardless.

I feel like each time I keep my pen moving through the chatter it is a small victory. It’s hard to face the monkey chatter. Really really hard. But each time I do it and keep the pen moving I feel like I am giving it less power.