Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Art of Imperfection

Rachel Burnham writes: When I was 11 or 12 we were set homework by our art teacher each week.  We were to draw, in pencil, an object that she specified – a tea cup, a pair of scissors, a chair.   She marked each drawing out of 10.  If we received less than 5, we had to do the drawing again the next week – alongside the drawing homework for that week.  By the end of the first term, I was having to do 8 drawings a week.   I remember the chair particularly well.  I drew it over and over and over.   After I finished that year, I didn’t attempt a drawing again for 40 years.

Actually that isn’t entirely true, I doodled.  Incessantly.  When on the phone.   In lectures.   When thinking.  And constantly in meetings.   Faces, shapes, houses, patterns and lots and lots of flowers and leaves.  But I never counted that as ‘drawing’.

Years later, I joined Twitter and I saw pictures shared, particularly by Doug Shaw and Simon Heath (You can find them on Twitter @dougshaw1 and @SimonHeath1).  One day in the summer of 2014, whilst doing Harold Jarche’s PKM programme, we were set the task of putting his Seek, Sense, Share model into our own words.   I had had a particularly wordy work week and at the thought of trying to write something over the weekend, my heart sank.   But as I pondered over the model and dawdled in the garden that summer’s day, it occurred to me to draw what it meant to me instead.  And this is what I drew.

And I shared what I drew not only with my fellow course participants, but on Twitter.

Later that year, I was contributing to an event and co-facilitating a session alongside two colleagues, so I decided to draw little pictures of each of us to illustrate the welcome slide.  A year on at the CIPD NAP conference, I took along some coloured pencils and a notepad and started putting my doodling to good use by drawing points from the various sessions at the event.  I then took photos of the pictures and shared these on Twitter.   I was overwhelmed by the positive response they got. 

Over the summer and autumn I practiced at every event I went to.  Gradually switching from A5 notepad to A4.  Working out how to get all the points onto a single sheet.  Thinking about layout.  Experimenting with how best to use colour and combine graphics and simple pictures.  Realising that you can’t capture every point and that careful listening is key.   Letting go of an expectation of perfection.  I had started Sketchnoting.

Last week there was a very interesting thread shared on Twitter about ‘imposter syndrome’ by Gem Dale – here is the link to the storify. ‘Imposter syndrome’ - that fear that so many of us have of being caught out, of not really having the expertise that is required of us, that somehow we have got where we are by luck, rather than as a result of our skills and hard work.

Alongside that, there is also the self-talk, that stops us from even starting something.  That holds us back and tells us that we can’t do that – that we aren’t artistic, or athletic or wouldn’t have anything to contribute to an online Twitter chat or whatever the limit that we have about ourselves.  If we never have a go, it we never experiment, we will never know whether we just might have those talents?

And in most things it isn’t a question of absolutes – it isn’t that   you are either exceptionally talented or nothing.  I think we can all draw.  Not everyone will be Georgia O’Keeffe and that is OK.  Sometimes it is fun doing something even when you aren’t fabulous at it, just for the pleasure of doing.  And by doing it, you can get better at it and develop those skills.   We know that great artists, musicians, writers, athletes all have to work hard for their talent to blossom.

This is one of my very favourite pictures – I am very proud of it – not because it is my best picture, but because I tried something out.  I drew it two years ago on holiday in Greece with my son.  I very often draw from life – sometimes I get a bit stuck doing that and I love this picture, because I drew what I felt, rather than just what I saw.  It captures the feel of the narrow streets and their vibrancy.  I am really happy that I tried something different and did it whole-heartedly.  

Actually, when I look at it I can also see that the perspective is all off.   It is OK to try something and for it not to be perfect.

There are parallels with  Working Out Loud (WOL), the idea of sharing what you are working on at an early stage, partly so that you can benefit from other people’s input and partly so that other people can learn from and be inspired by what you are doing.  Sometimes our self-talk holds us back from Working Out Loud – ‘ I don’t have anything special to share’, ‘I’m not an expert’, ‘What if look foolish?’  It was WOL by Doug and Simon that inspired me to start drawing and it was the positive feedback and support of my contacts on Twitter, my Personal Learning Network, that encouraged me to continue.  If I hadn’t shared publicly what I was doing, I wouldn’t have benefited from that encouragement.

This picture began as being about seeing the world through rose-coloured lenses, but ended up as the much more exuberant rose-covered glasses - probably in need of some garden maintenance!

I have found that I love to draw.  I am so glad that I took the risk and shared that first drawing publicly.   I have learnt so much as a result about how to draw.  But I know my learning is much broader than just about drawing. 

I have discovered that if I want to get better at doing something then:
  • ·       I need to make a start
  • ·       It is OK not to be perfect – forgive yourself for mistakes and spend time enjoying what you are doing well
  • ·       Iterate and improve
  • ·       Work with a generous spirit – share  with others
  • ·       Nurture the people around you and you will be nurtured in return

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning.

1 comment:

  1. great blog Rachel. The power of WOL is immense but it does need nurturing and encouraging - looks easy from the outside, always anxious from the inside.. and lovely sketch of Nafplio by the way!