The Failure Challenge: Drawing People Edition

A lot of the beliefs that I hold about myself are dichotomous: I am this, I am not that; I am this way, so I cannot be that way. I’m sure that a lot of these beliefs are unnecessary and limiting. Like how, for instance, I used to believe that I was creative, but only with words. I can’t count the number of times I said, “I’m just not visually creative.” I looked at my friends who could easily draw beautiful pictures, and my boyfriend who took stunning photos, and the bloggers who created perfect scrapbooks, and I told myself, “I’m simply not creative in that way and there is nothing I can do about it.” (Much the same attitude I had about fitness.)


When I started taking photos more regularly, I found that I began to improve. When I began to draw and paint with the idea that it was for fun, that I didn’t have to be amazing at it, I found that it was something I truly enjoyed and that I was, actually, not that bad at it.

The one thing that I found very difficult and intimidating was drawing people. People are complicated. Even though they are really just made up of shapes, I found it nigh on impossible to break them down into said shapes and make them come out on paper looking like actual people and not some sort of half-melted candle wax cartoon character.

So I decided to run straight at the challenge. I started drawing people more and more often. Though I am still no paragon of drawing ability, I am seeing definite improvement amidst my modest successes and dismal failures. Let’s take a look, shall we?

 Bryan: half-success (technically blah but subjectively accurate)

I didn’t use a photo reference for this one, as far as I can remember. There is a lot to be technically desired in this piece, but I also think that I captured Bryan’s nature rather well, so I’m calling it a half-success. PS. Hair is so hard to draw without it just looking like scribbles.


half-success (technically good but subjectively missing something)

I was impressed with myself with this one because it matches the picture reference pretty well, and it was the first decently good drawing I had done of a person. But it is rather lifeless. It is missing something subjective and emotional. So another half-success.



Jamie: success (looks pretty good both objectively and subjectively)

This past weekend, I decided to do a portrait of my middle sister. This one I am damn proud of. I think that it is technically pretty good (there are a few weaknesses, such as the areas where the perspective is slightly off, but overall not bad), and it actually looks like her. I think I got a bit more of her spirit and nature. So I am chalking this one up to a true success.



Robin: failure (what the what?!)

Oh God, I don’t even know what happened here. Seriously, what is this disaster?! I was trucking along pretty well, not 100% happy with how the picture was turning out, but not too disgruntled either. Her mouth was giving me problems (the teeth were turning out more hillbilly than adolescent), and the shading was giving me problems because the shadows and highlights were so intense in the photo. And then…and then, I dunno what happened, it’s like I went crazy, I decided to use a really dark pencil in her hair, and then it all went off the deep end and I ended up staring at the end result in utter consternation. This one is a huge failure in my books. So I will have to give my baby sister another try; I’m sorry, I love you, you don’t look anything like this!!



Malissa: half-success

This drawing looks nothing like my friend Malissa (except for her hair, perhaps). But I am calling it a half-success, because I am pleased with the way that the body turned out (the crossed legs were particularly difficult). Not including a photo reference because I drew this one from life, which was a fun new experience.


A few resources I have used to improve my drawing skills:

 The Creative License by Danny Gregory

Just Draw It! by Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philp

The Art Channelthis video in particular


What difficult things have you been running at full-tilt lately?

The Failure Challenge: Drawing People Edition

The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

Growing up, I was never great at team sports. I like to take control, to do things my way. I was always the person who would say, “No, no, I don’t want to talk” when we were doing group presentations, and then inevitably jump in and talk for half our time (oh God, you don’t even need to tell me how annoying that must have been). I did gymnastics, kickboxing, bellydancing; anything that I could do by myself.

I also harbored a belief that you were either born athletic or you were not. I believed that athleticism was an innate trait that I could not foster in myself, and that I had been born unathletic, and there was nothing I could do to change that. So I didn’t try. Then I proceeded to complain about how unhealthy I was. (Sigh.)

In the past five years, I have been working on changing that. I have learned a lot of things about myself in the process, including that I am as athletic as I want myself to be. I have done the Insanity workout program twice through, run a half-marathon, gotten deep into my yoga practice. I have achieved things that I would not have dreamed possible at the age of 17.

This past fall, my cousins mentioned that they were playing recreational volleyball, and they wanted Bryan to play with them. They also extended the invitation to me, but I waved it away, mostly because the idea of playing a team sport made my heart pound with trepidation. And volleyball? I was that girl in gym class who ducked every time the volleyball came her way. But after a day of thinking about it, I realized that I wanted to try it, for the very reason that I had originally said no: it made my heart pound with fear, and I believed I was terrible at team sports.

I hadn’t started my failure challenge yet, but I was already in that mindset.

We played one season, and, to my great surprise, I kind of enjoyed playing. I wasn’t very good: I hadn’t played volleyball in almost eight years, and the other people on our team were much more experienced. I made a lot of bad plays. I suffered from a lack of confidence. As with many co-ed teams, I got frustrated with the way the boys seemed to assume that I wouldn’t be able to do something, and so they stepped in to do it for me.

Then, for me, the season ended on a rough note, with a bad game where emotions got out of control, and I felt like I had been badly treated. I thought that I was done, that I wouldn’t play again. That I had tried it out, but that I didn’t want to go through all of that again. Still, I waffled. A large part of me had enjoyed playing, and the only reason I was undecided was because my confidence and ego had taken a battering. So I sucked it up, and signed up to play again.

We are four games into our season now, and I am playing much better. Two weeks ago, I had the best game I’ve ever had, even making a few key plays. Last week, we beat the best team in the league. I am beginning to enjoy the experience again. Here are a few things that I have learned from this sojourn into team sport territory.

  1. I am responsible for how I play, no one else. Just because someone doesn’t believe that I am capable of making the play doesn’t mean it’s true.
  2. I do not have to be affected by how someone else is responding to a situation. Other people have the right to their own emotions and responses, and so do I. Someone else getting frustrated or responding badly doesn’t mean that I have to respond that way too, and it doesn’t mean that I have to start feeling badly about myself or how I am playing. I am the one who makes that call.
  3. I do not have to be forced into a box that I don’t want to be in. Playing on a co-ed team can be an interesting experience. The boys on our team are more athletic than I am, have more experience with volleyball, and more experience with sports in general. They tend to be more confident and more assertive on the court. One of my cousins likes to be in control, and will often step in to take over a situation even when it is not necessary. I have learned that I don’t actually have to do exactly what he tells me to do. If I miss a serve once, I don’t actually have to step back and let someone else take the next serve, even if they tell me to. I can analyze the situation, adjust myself, and attack the ball on my own terms.
  4. Having my own measurements for success is very liberating, and I can celebrate those for myself. I am a competitive person, but winning a game is not my only measurement for success, especially because I am not a star volleyball player. My measurements for success are often things such as getting several serves over the net in a row, getting the ball more often than not getting the ball, and being there and ready to make a play even if the play doesn’t happen. Being able to look at these events and judge how my game went rather than simply the score on the board is a much more objective measurement of how well I am doing and what I am learning, which is a huge confidence booster, which then helps me play better in the next game. And so on, and so forth.
  5. I don’t have to apologize every time a play doesn’t go exactly right, or I make a mistake. I noticed that the boys on our team rarely, if ever, apologize for not making a play or for messing one up. But nearly every other word out of my mouth was, “Sorry, guys.” Even when something wasn’t my fault. So I made the decision to stop saying I was sorry. And that has also helped with my confidence. Things happen, my team will deal.

Ultimately, I am glad that I decided to try this thing that scared the pants off of me. Seeing how I have already grown over the last five months has been an amazing boost to my confidence in so many other areas.

Is there anything that you have tried recently that really scared you? What have you learned from the experience?


The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

The Failure Challenge

I recently read the book The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, which was a scientific and sociological look into the gender gap in confidence and how women can address this in their own lives. The biggest piece of advice that I gleaned from the book – which is well-written, accessible, and applicable, and you should read it, man or woman – was to stop fearing failure. Fail fast. Fail often. And in looking at my life, I realized that there were not too many instances that I could look at and say, “That. That was a time that you failed.” Some people might hear that and think, “Yeah, yeah, go ahead and brag about how great you are, without any failures in your past,” but in reality, it means that I have been playing it too safe.

I don’t want to play my life safe. I want to play my life big and grand, I want to take risks and experience things, and that means that I need to stop shying away from failure.

For a while now, I have had the idea for a failure challenge bouncing around in my brain. There was a draft of a blog post on my previous blog entitled The Failure Challenge, and there has been one on this blog for the past six or so months now, too. I started to write it, and then I thought, “Nah, this is pointless.” So I scrapped it. Deleted it completely. But then, as I read The Confidence Code, I realized that I was on to something, something that could enhance my life and set me up for further success, as well as showing other people that failure is not something to be reviled and avoided at all costs.

So was re-born The Failure Challenge.

There is an app that I am going to check out that gives you daily rejection challenges, to help inure you against the pain of hearing the word “no.” I guess there are challenges such as, “Walk up to a stranger on the street and ask to borrow $50.” I am uncertain of how much I will use the app, if at all, but if I do, I will definitely be chronicling my adventures here. (In doing some Googling, I discovered that there is also a game that you can buy! Cool.)

A few other ways that I plan on confronting my fear of failure:

  • I have always loved the idea of performing, and the few times I did it were incredible and exhilarating, but the anticipation of performing is enough to make me sick to my stomach. So I am going to seek out some performance opportunities. I’ve been debating taking singing lessons because I really enjoy singing, and I am also thinking about finding a play that I can audition for.
  • In the same vein, I fear improv. With a deep, deep terror. I loved my high school drama class and my high school drama teacher, and even so, one of the only disagreements we ever had was when she forced me to do improv and I threw a hissy fit because I was terrified. We have a great improv group here in Edmonton, and they offer workshops. So I am going to do one of those workshops. Improv is all about saying yes, and getting over your fear of looking stupid. Sounds perfect, right?
  • Start making the stationery I have been talking about making for more than a year. There is literally not a single reason why I haven’t started yet except that I am afraid of sucking at it.
  • Submit writing work to publications.

And anything else that makes me want to curl into a ball of armadillo-like terror.

I am really looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone (hahah, right, I actually feel like I am going to puke, but that’s okay). I hope that you guys will join me for the journey and we can all learn something new together!

Does anyone have any experience with purposefully seeking out rejection and failure? I would love to hear about it in the comments!


The Failure Challenge