PaperFaces retrospective

Drawing a day projects are a lot like resolutions made for the New Year. Often started with the best of intentions, but abandoned shortly after from lack of motivation.

Two years ago I felt inspired to start the PaperFaces Project as a way to improve drawing skills that had laid dormant for a decade or so. With an iPad, a stylus, and the Paper by FiftyThree app, I set out to draw as many portraits as possible before boring of the idea.

First PaperFaces portrait of my wife.

What a difference two years made.

Last PaperFaces portrait of my wife?

How did i do it?

I’m not going to lie, finding the motivation to create something every day is incredibly difficult. Even with the proper motivation, making yourself available can be even more challenging. I’m proof that it can be done while working a full time job, fulfilling husbandly duties, caring for a set of twins, and maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits.

The 2 little rosebuds @ 3 months

Tools of the trade

Drawing Everly with Pencil by 53

Start a routine

Having a routine and sticking to it was the key to hitting my goal. After a month I settled into a daily habit of putting the twins to bed and then drawing for an hour. Making time became more natural as my mind and body got used to this schedule.

Share it

Making my project and efforts public was another huge reason I kept at it for so long. With each new follower or portrait request came an increase in pressure to continue on. I suppose this could have affected me in a negative way, but I decided to look at them as positive reinforcements — small nudges to keep me from slacking.

Take a step back

On their own these faceless drawings weren’t all that interesting, but assembled together like Voltron in Moleskine book and gallery forms they became something stronger. A quality that is easy to miss when you have your head down, focused only on the drawing at hand.

Photograph of a PaperFaces drawing

Having my work printed helped give it substance instead of being 1’s and 0’s I carried around on a tablet.

Keep it fun

The last thing anyone wants to do is make more work for themselves. To avoid turning this into a chore I created artificial limits for the project:

  • Set a frequency and end date, e.g., one doodle every day for a month.
  • Omit anything that takes too long to complete, e.g., drawing facial features.
  • Chose subject matter that is varied and keep you interested, e.g., a new face every day.

Keep it challenging

Easy and simple can turn boring in a hurry. The challenge of capturing portraits with Paper is was what originally attracted me to the app. When I first started there were only a handful of colors to choose from and no zoom or Blend features. It was during this time that I grew the most as a creator, learning how to push the tools through experimentation and practice.

With enough practice I was able to evolve as a creator and produce sketches with greater detail.

PaperFaces evolution

As confidence levels grew I wasn’t afraid to change the rules to challenge myself. Over the course of two years I did this numerous times by straying outside my comfort zone. First major change was switching from the ink pens to the watercolor and pencil tools. The next was when I decided to move away from drawing blank faces and attempt something more realistic.

By the numbers

Initially I planned on drawing a single portrait each day for just one year. When I zipped through 365 days I decided another year wouldn’t be that big of a deal and ultimately completed 886 finished drawings.

I’ve gotten through one-third of the 2,805 requests I’ve received on Twitter since tweeting for volunteers two years ago. tweet screenshot

Here’s a breakdown of the various types of portraits I’ve completed.

TypeNo. of Portraits1
Star Wars12
Bearded Dudes113
Animals and Creatures17

And for the curious here’s the various styli I’ve used over the two years and some quick impressions.

StylusQuick Impressions
Just-Mobile AluPenLasted me a few months before wearing out. Tips aren’t replaceable.
LunaTik Alloy Touch PenMy trusted sidekick for a long long time. Tip took some serious abuse.
Ten One Design Pogo ConnectMost of my drawings are done with a Pogo Connect now. Two broke due to bad hardware design. Wore through about four R2 tips. Connectivity issues are maddening.
Pencil by FiftyThreeSuper reliable when I’m not wearing out tips in a few days. Flirting with it again after recent Paper update that scales tools when zoomed in.
ZEN 3 in 1Precision disc tip dead on arrival. Rubber nib still going strong.
Universal Touch Screen PenCheap, small, light, and pretty crappy. Comes in a 3 pack that I have as a backup if I ever lose my other styli.

The strange and the unique

When my project was picked up by a few high profile designers and developers it spread pretty far through those circles. Drawing as many bearded dudes in flannel shirts as I have, any time something different came up I was thrilled. Here’s a small sampling of my favorites from the last two years:

blue goat man

wolf man

colander head

horse headed man drinking a beer

pipe smoking velociraptor

glitched out portrait

guy freaked out by a sheep

2001 iPhone portrait trickery

Goat slaying high priestess

Girl covering her face with hair

What’s next

After two years of doing the same thing every day it’s time to mix it up. I’m not leaving the #MadeWithPaper community or anything crazy like that, but I am shifting gears slightly.

By stopping the daily portraits I’ll free up time to craft new tutorials for my Mastering Paper for iOS series. I know quite a few of you have been patiently waiting, so expect a new batch published more regularly. I also want to get serious about that companion piece I’ve hinted at and turn it into electronic and/or printed books.

Don’t get me wrong, drawing strangers for the last two years has been great. But a big part of me is interested in creating work on a personal level again. In a past life I kept art journals filled with blind contour drawings and scribbled thoughts. I’d love to try and replicate this in Paper, building on the techniques I’ve mastered drawing portraits and turn them into a set of Moleskine books.

And for those who missed out getting a PaperFaces portrait I’m still offering my services. Color and black & white Paper portraits can be commissioned.

Thank you!

The positive support I’ve received in the form of retweets, favs, likes, hearts, reblogs, emails, DMs, and much more — made the days I thought about quitting tolerable. To the handful of you who supported2 me in the early days with donations and portrait orders I appreciate your generosity so much! And of course a HUGE THANK YOU to the team at FiftyThree for making the tools that rekindled my love for creating.


  1. For the purpose of keeping things consistent I consider a portrait a single drawing regardless if it includes multiple faces. If I was to count the amount of faces I’ve drawn the numbers would be much, much higher. ↩︎

  2. Big ups to each of these fine humans. Jason D., Leif S., Julio C., Kenn W., Brady R., Sascha G., THe SKuLL, Robin B., Dan K., Kevin K., Kristen L., Kevin W., Kristen L., Ted W., Joss V., Oleksiy C., Amy H., Michael S., Daniel W., Ruth G., Leah S., Alfred K., Richard K., Matt H., Jennifer M., Toropchin A., Carlos F., Paul J., Benjamin M., Liam D., Joel M., Dave B., Christopher K., Jacob L., Zach F., Braden R., Eberth M., Chet Y., Heikki H., Tom B., Brooks S., Graciela H., Ben M., Stef S., Rob L., Michael G., Francesco C., Miguel M., Adeirra A., Jason C., Aaron R., Raúl A, Tim M., Ryan D., Jameson R., Andrew B., Bridget D., Juan R., Kyle K., Nick A., James O., Janis R., Vasileios M., Aaron M., James G,. Ruth P., Ryan F., Chistianna M., Vanessa T., Alexander M., Glenn S., Jessica P., Maria G., Bobby H., Jose A., Nicole D., Wesley F., Peter J., Michael M., Sailesh P., Jayne W., Antonio M., Wakes M., Liese A., Miguel R., Jonathan H., Adam M., Artem T., Glen N., Diako M., Nimesh R., Cherie P., Hristian K., Jens T., Mark E., Bryan C., Matteo F., Lorenzo R., Bill L., Antonio C., Thomas D., Lisa O., Ruben H., Leanne V., Dean M., Jeffrey M., Hoon S., Mieng-Ly S., Arno S., Umberto A., Isabelle V., Marcus E., Matt D., David M., Matthew B., Andi S., Andrew E., Yousef K., Jonas C., Peter B., Patricia H., Daniel-Ray V., Lita S., Charlotte H., David S., Richard M., Stefano D., Christie N., Ronald J., Janet R., Paula L., Angelic P., Chris S., Liesse A., Mary D., Jane D., Ed G., and Elizabeth G. I hope I didn’t forget anyone… ↩︎

Made Mistakes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees when linking to and affiliated sites. For full details read the complete disclosure policy.