Why drawing is a lot like gardening

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

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I started growing my own herb garden last year. 

They’re potted mostly, but that’s because with two jack russell terriers tearing away in my garden they wouldn’t survive on the ground for long. I was inspired by Jamie Oliver picking his selection of herbs straight out a pot when I re-watched past episodes of 30-Minute Meals – and I asked myself why can’t I do that? Supermarkets around me aren’t always stocked with herbs. Well the fancy ones do have them, but they’re far away and I really didn’t want to drive 30 to 40 minutes to a mall just to pick up a few sprigs of rosemary!

So I started my gardening journey by buying packs of compost and potting soil (because using the rather unfriendly looking reddish-clay earth we had in the backyard yielded poor results too many times to be a coincidence), and had plastic cups all ready to go for germinating. I bought seeds of herbs that I liked – and as with anything I start, I did it with gusto.

After I sprinkled over my seeds of sweet marjoram, dill, rosemary and sage – all in individual pots – and stuck ice-cream sticks with the plant’s name on a washi-tape (because markers on wood looks icky when it gets hit by water). I gave myself a pat on the back and stood back to marvel at my handiwork. Hurrah! Then the waiting began. I watered them everyday, and looked at them in the morning, and once again in the evening. Nothing. All that stared back at me was black soil. I had hoped for a glimmer of green to peek through. Nada.

I waited and lowered my expectations. I peeked in nonchalantly (and yet hopeful) for a week before I spotted something popping out from the fresh ground. YAY! A quick glance over my other 3 pots of herbs however, signaled a nay. Maybe they weren’t  ready to come out just yet? Maybe I got some bad seeds? Maybe the ants got to them in the middle of the night. Or slugs munched on them maybe? I don’t know. All I know was that my web browser history is ridden with gardening vocabulary, of the amateur sort, trying to figure out what went wrong.

Which got me to thinking. Creating anything – work, art, writing, etc – is almost like growing your own little garden. The same goes for businesses too.

You can sprinkle your seeds of imagination and ideas and be careful about them – judiciously watering them, feeding them, talking to them – but sometimes they don’t turn out the way you want them to. Which is why you spread them all around, in different pots, in different forms: through seeds, new cuttings, or the bulb of an old sprout. Some may take root and grow upwards, strong and tall. Others don’t take, and end before they can even begin. Some grow new shoots, only to be eaten by a passer-by snail; leaving only the barest of signs of being grisly eradicated before it could fully form.

And once you get these seeds on the ground, all you can do is wait. And water them. And wait again. And this process repeats itself as it grows; needing a complex combination of efforts to not only keep it stable, but to allow it to thrive and bear fruit.

It’s a nod to the universe in so many parallel ways – your labor of love is as complex, and yet while you can control a big portion of it, the rest is up to fate. One hopes for the best, and yet prepares for the worst. It’s a little dance in which you won’t know how it all will turn out; but one thing’s for sure: if you keep those seeds hidden, locking them away from soil and sunshine – you’ll never know how it all turns out.

So toss your seeds – your ideas, imagination and creativity – into the ground. Let them take hold and burst through the ground fresh and alive with hope. And what if it doesn’t turn out? Well, then it’s time to plant new ones.

Just remember to add water and love. And watch out for those sneaky slugs.

[Illustration: Lieke van der Vorst]

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Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 08/14/15 under artists,business,idea generation
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