Does Drawing Make You Tired? Why, and is it Normal?

Drawing makes you tired header. Drawing of a sleepy owl by Kevin Hayler

People think drawing is relaxing, but for me and many others, it is anything but. It is mentally exhausting and often stressful. So how can that be? In this post, I will explain why drawing makes you tired.

Drawing is tiring because it requires intense levels of focused concentration. Each drawing is a puzzle. It involves extreme hand and eye coordination, advanced spatial awareness, and the ability to see and render fine detail. The process exhausts the mind.

All this with the aim of creating a 3D illusion on a piece of paper. It’s not easy. So what happens, and what, if anything, can you do about it? Let’s find out.

Drawing Requires Concentration and That’s Very Tiring

The brain must break down the subject into simple blocks, reconstruct it in progressive layers of detail and make it appear three-dimensional. The theory may be simple but in practice, it requires time, patience, and dedication to get it right.

Most people find it hard to concentrate for any length of time in this busy world, everything is designed to distract and interrupt us. Little wonder that the average attention span gets shorter and shorter.

Drawing demands your full attention, nothing else will do, you can’t blag it. You need space and time and preferably no pressing issues nagging away at your mind. Easier said than done, I know. You have deadlines to meet, money worries, family issues, and so it goes on.

That said, you have to sit down at some point, get into the zone and create something worth doing, and just as importantly, worth owning. It’s a tall order, and for professional artists, that can seem like a real burden.

Juggling life and drawing can be exhausting, and burnout is real, Believe me, I’ve been there.

Further Reading: Creative Burnout and How to Deal With It

Drawing is a combination of different things happening at the same time.

On the surface, you seem to be focusing on one task, namely drawing, but a successful drawing requires many different skills.

  • Cross-referencing dimensions,
  • Working out spaces,
  • Getting the proportions right,
  • Choosing the right pencils,
  • Using the right techniques,
  • Adjusting the composition,
  • Adding personality
  • Knowing what to leave out,
  • And what to add in.

And that is only if you are at home or in the studio. when you are outdoors, there are the elements to worry about.

If you are sketching from life there is the shift of light, the wind, the sun, the threat of rain, even squashing bloody insects on your paper.

Endless calculations occur throughout the drawing until the time comes when you can’t think what to do next and you call it finished.

Except that it’s never finished, every time you look at it, there is something else to be done. A drawing is only finished when it’s sold in my book.

Drawing is tiring.

How to Concentrate on Drawing Without Getting too Tired

Avoid working long hours at all costs. You’ll accomplish less, it’ll drain your spirit, and you’ll start hating the very thing that you love.

The way to get things done, and free up your mind, is to break up your day and adopt a positive work routine.

If you draw or paint for a living, get up at the same time every day and go to work just as you would working for someone else. It’s a job. Turn up and make a start.

Make it a habit that you cannot break. Self-employment is not a holiday. You must go to work to get work done. You can’t subcontract this stuff, only you can do it.

Further Reading: How to Motivate Yourself to Draw

Hobbyists or part-timers must set aside time and own it. I know from experience that you can’t easily combine a part-time job with your art. The job will usually win. You have to set aside a time of day, or time in the week, that is yours alone to draw or paint.

Work in short bursts. Concentrate for no more than 20 mins at a time, then step back and assess. Look at the big picture and forget about the details. Leave the drawing/painting alone and take five.

I always used that time to put the kettle on to deflect my mind elsewhere. Be warned because that can backfire.

Be Careful With The Coffee

Too much tea and coffee will make you agitated and tired at the same time. For years I drank too much. and the more you drink, the more you need. It gives you a small boost, then a withdrawal. I was always yawning and caffeine was the culprit.

Now I drink decaf coffee. I still have the coffee break but without the consequences. My energy levels returned and my morning headaches stopped.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t work 8 hours at a stretch. If you break your work into small sections, you will get the same work done in less time, and often to a higher standard. I know there are times you have to work longer hours but reward yourself afterward with some extra free time.

It’s for your mental health!

I have a hangout (pre-pandemic) in Sumatra where I spend a few winter months every year, and I take work with me. It’s as cheap as chips, and I’ve found the perfect work routine. Three hours of work in the morning and snorkeling or diving in the afternoon.

I can make myself work because I have a treat waiting for me every day. It works. Three hours is the perfect length of time to concentrate and not get fed up and exhausted.

Being a Perfectionist at Drawing Makes You Tired and Stressed

I speak from the heart. I am a perfectionist and it drains me like nothing else.

It’s not just the concentration required to draw photographically that’s so draining, it’s the ridiculous pressure you put on yourself to be more than good.

Any perfectionist will tell you, they are their own worst enemies. I can devote a whole day trying to perfect one square inch of a drawing. I will see one irrelevant unimportant flaw and obsess until I get it right.

Further Reading: Hyperrealism: What’s the Point?

No one, and I mean no one, will ever see any difference, only me. What’s the point? I don’t know, yet I do it over and over again.

It is exhausting. Not just mentally but emotionally too. You beat yourself up over nothing. I always want to be better than I am, and when I move forward the goal line shifts. I never quite get there.

Photorealistic pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler. Example of needless perfectionism making you tired.
‘Family Life’ by Kevin Hayler

People tell me how lucky I am to draw so well and I hear their words, but they don’t register. They look at the results, while I look at my intentions. That’s not the same thing.

I always know what I want to achieve and have to settle for an acceptable compromise instead.

Perfectionism is self-induced stress.

Sitting at a Drawing Board all Day Will Make You Tired

There is no doubt about it, sitting at a desk or easel all day is not good for you. I’m sitting at a keyboard now and my back is aching yet again.

Lack of exercise saps your energy. Everything becomes a chore and an effort. If drawing is mentally tiring, the act of drawing is physically tiring. Sitting down all day wipes you out.

If you are one of those lucky few who can stand and draw, you are onto a winner. For the rest of us, we need to have breaks to stretch our legs. Better still you should find time to exercise properly.

I know my posture is bad. I draw small very detailed drawings and inevitably I have to bend down to see what I’m doing. Even sitting upright at my easel makes my neck ache.

It’s another reason not to work for extended periods of time. Not only does the discomfort make you tired, but there is also the possibility that you will get a repetitive strain injury.

Does Your Mood Affect Your Drawing?

Your mood definitely affects your drawing, but as a professional, it’s something you have to battle through. I can’t get up in the morning and say I don’t feel like it today. I have to go to work and draw for a living.

Only hobbyists have the luxury of drawing and painting when they are in the mood. Even then, I know that the right mood is all too often out of reach. Just the act of starting a drawing can put you in the mood.

I might not feel like drawing but when I see the drawing emerge it makes me want to crack on. It can be hard to break away and stop thinking about it, especially if all is going well.

Then there are those days that drag because life is full of ups and downs, and that’s no different for artists. Sometimes you sit there wondering what to do and then your hand doesn’t sync with your eye. You draw and for some reason, everything is an effort. Nothing works.

It happens to everyone.

However, the same is true in reverse. You sit down to draw one day and amaze yourself. Everything works the first time, and life is a breeze. When it happens, and it’s not as often as I’d like, my mood definitely changes.

If I have an unexpected triumph and surpass my own expectations I can be grinning like a Cheshire cat for days.

Can You Draw Anywhere and Get Work Done?

Just finding the right space where you can work, can make or break your ability to concentrate. We all need different things. Some people require solitude, others can zone out in a busy environment, it’s all a matter of personality. There is no right or wrong place.

When you find that perfect space, you must learn to focus on the job at hand and make a start. As soon as you start putting marks on your paper your brain applies itself to the task.

Personally, I need people around me in order to concentrate. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but for me, the hustle and bustle of everyday life allows me to break off from drawing and be stimulated in different ways.

Further Reading: Is Being an Artist Lonely?

I find it refreshing to separate my mind, step away for 5 mins and return revitalized.

I have adapted my approach to drawing between serving customers. That’s right, I draw in front of people to encourage them to interrupt me. Far from inhibiting me, it acts as a spur to encourage my progress.

I want people to come and look, ask a question or two, and flick through my work. The last thing I need is to be left alone to get on with it.

I draw in small bursts of activity. That may be 2 mins or 20 mins at a time, and then I’ll stop. I’ll chat, or sell, or just look around me. It’s a stop-start rhythm, all day long.

When I get home I’m shattered.

Ironically if I had my own space, as I’ve had during the pandemic, I get nothing done at all. As far as I’m concerned you can draw anywhere, but in my case, that means anywhere rather than home. I need to get out.

Conclusion

Drawing, and painting, is mentally demanding. For most serious artists, pushing themselves towards excellence requires laser-focused attention to detail.

John Singer-Sargent, one of the greatest artists ever to have lived and renowned for his mastery of loose movement, reworked his paintings over and over until they looked spontaneous. He knew what he wanted and contrived to achieve it.

I wouldn’t go so far as claiming that drawing and making art is intellectual, I don’t think it is, but it is mentally taxing; as any single-minded pursuit can be.

Drawing makes you tired and it is normal.


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