I have a few encouraging thoughts for anyone who has wanted to draw more, and good news! Drawing has many other purposes that span beyond professional work and are accessible to any skill level.
Purposes of Drawing
Okay, so, here's the deal. Drawing has so many other uses humans the ones that we generally judge to be acceptable beyond a career or an activity for kids. When we don't feel proficient in an activity and feel that others may judge us on our skill level, we often give a disclaimer of some sort. Think of teachers repeating "I'm not an artist" before using the whiteboard to demonstrate an idea! Sometimes when I tell people I'm an artist their first response is to put down themselves and their own skill, usually, "I can't even draw a stick figure." I never know what to say to this I'm just going to say it here:
"That's okay!! I'm not judging you and I'll fight anyone who would!! Everyone gets better with practice and if you want to I'm cheering you on. And if it doesn't interest you that's okay too!!"
The crux of all this is that I believe drawing is so much more approachable than we make it, and enjoyment of drawing shouldn't be put behind an elitist wall of skill, experience, or career. Just because some people strive for the highest level of skill or position in the field they're in, doesn't mean we have to measure everyone else by their stick. Consider how challenging and circumstantial it is to become the best of the best. Such measurement and judgement of yourself and your peers can only result in negativity and perpetual sense of failure. You don't have to be the absolute best at something to enjoy it, and honestly, there's a good chance you'll enjoy it more. So stop putting yourself down, and if you've ever had even the slightest inkling of wanting to draw, read ahead with an open mind.
- If you draw things you enjoy, improvement will come more naturally.
- Make yourself laugh! Don't be too hard on yourself.
- Draw every day if it makes you happy, but don't force yourself if it doesn't!
One of the first steps in engaging in a fun hobby OR starting to make a hobby your profession is resisting the urge to judge your own work so harshly that you decide not to participate at all.
In other words, "I'm not an artist" can often result in a person giving up on drawing, when skill was never such a deciding factor in enjoying the activity. This is why children can draw carefree and confidently! They can hold up a scribbled crayon page and confidently declare, "This is a spaceship!" It doesn't matter whether or not the spaceship is in perspective or accurately proportioned. What MATTERS is that they had fun and created something they enjoyed making.
Investing in expensive materials for sketching feels intimidating to me, especially since my sketchbooks are for spitting out ideas rather than making finished drawings. I usually buy a cheap hardbound sketchbook from Michaels, or draw on blank pieces of recycled printer paper. Rebecca Sugar once said she uses a binder full of blank paper as a sketchbook so she could easily tear out drawings she disliked without feeling bad about it. Letting your paper be disposable is an easy way to lower pressure on yourself! You don't have to keep anything you dislike just because the paper you drew it on is expensive. I also really enjoy drawing on post-its for this same reason.
As for drawing materials, I'll pass on the pens and pencils that I love to use. I also highly recommend checking out Jetpens; they have very detailed reviews of different drawing and writing supplies that weigh the pros and cons of each.
I love to help others find tools that fit them!! Working with tools you know other artists enjoy can be an encouraging starting point. Pen and program settings can also affect how natural drawing feels when working digitally.
Pens will teach you to confidently make choices.
Pencils will teach you to build up slowly towards an idea.
A cool and useful thing to remember is that different tools will cause you to draw different ways! For example, a brush pen tends to make me draw more flowy, curved stuff while a stiff felt tip pen makes me want to draw angled geometric shapes.
My final tip would be to take recommendations from artists you like, try some different materials, and take note of what tools work best or you! I generally like smoother sketch paper, thinner consistent line pens and soft colored pencils, but your preference may be different!
What should you draw???? WHATEVER YOU WANT!
Some cool drawing prompt resources:
The purpose of a sketch for me is to explore an idea. Sometimes just starting with simple shapes will lead me into a subject to draw. If I already know what I'd like to draw, I use lightly sketched "placeholders" to mark where I want to put things later. For example, when I draw a head, I draw a circle first. This marks where the head is going to be as well as its size. Then I draw a horizontal line wrapped around it. That's the eyeline. Then a vertical line - that's the center of the face for the nose and mouth.
The point is, I very rarely start just drawing high-level detail without plotting out the space where that detail will live. If you draw light and build as you like the form, you're allowing yourself to sculpt and pick and choose rather than going in blind. Give yourself guides and try sketching light! Sketching is planning and it'll make your drawings look more proportionate.
Something I didn't consider until later in my education was that the size of a drawing can drastically affect how it looks. The brush size you use and the size of the subject you draw is another aspect that many artists find a comfortable preference in, so it's definitely something worth exploring!
Skilled Drawing Requires...
Muscle Memory (Physical Repetition)
Visual Reference (Stored Information)
If you want to test the power of muscle memory, try drawing or writing with your non-dominant hand. Even skilled artists will have a harder time making the same drawing!
Building both of these requires PRACTICE! If you're interested in improving how you draw, I think both of these aspects weight in equally to success in drafting what you imagine.
Something I didn't internalize for a long time is that all drawing comes from reference.
ALL drawing! I'm mostly talking about visual reference, but reference can be emotional too. It's the same reason people say to "write about what you know." The important missing second part to this sentiment is "If you don't know it, research it so you do!"
The purpose of all of this is to say that ALL artists, even the greats, used reference and studies to make their work. Being able to draw things from memory is the result of repetitive, built-up reference of certain subjects in the brain. If I asked you to draw a face, you know from experience that a face has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and that the elements of a face are somewhat symmetrical. You know that eyes are the highest, followed by the nose and the mouth. Part of growing as an artist is creating a growing visual library that is stored in your brain and kept fresh through use.
Another way to think about a reference is to compare it to an academic paper. Most academic papers require sources to be referenced, whether or not actual quotes are used inline. The development of a strong concept in any form is aided by the use of reference.
An example of great reference: Norman Rockwell's photographs he used for his paintings.
A very cool tutorial guide on creatively using photo reference.
From Wikipedia: "A study is a drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece, or as visual notes. Studies are used to understand the problems involved in rendering subjects and to plan elements to be used in finished works, such as light, color, form, perspective and composition."
I really love the idea of a study as "visual notes." Whenever I feel like I want to add new elements to the way I draw, I go into my giant folder of artwork I've saved from Twitter. I find a piece of art I like, or a part of a drawing, and I try to imitate its form, shading, composition, color, depending on what I want to learn. "Hmm, I really like how this person drew this hand." It's like learning a new yoga pose or vocabulary word.
Studies don't have to be copied from Renaissance artists or master painters! Though those are also good starting places to find visual reference. If you find art you like online, try copying the shape of it, or a certain aspect of it. See how they build/structure/draw eyes/whatever it is! Copying and studies is a great way to learn how to draw appeal. Print out art you like and draw along with it or use tracing paper! Build muscle memory.
There are great free drawing resources online - Pinterest, Twitter, and Gumroad are all great places for finding example artwork and drafting tips. Grizz and Norm's Tuesday Tips are an excellent series on how to draw different body parts/poses/appeal.
An example of a cool study: Alex Kolano's study of Gauguin's work.
VISUAL REFERENCE - Try it yourself!
If you want to see the power of visual reference firsthand, try this little exercise.
Bonus: Try drawing that anteater from memory a few days later!
This exercise is based on a post by Jack Stroud on Twitter.
I hope some of you found the information in this post helpful or encouraging. I always get excited when people who don't consider themselves artists try their hand at drawing or creating in any way. I'd love to continue to encourage people to draw if they enjoy it, and I think knowing more about the relationship between art and reference was an eye-opening equalizer for me.
Onwards, and happy drawing!