The reason I'm making this post is because I sincerely believe many people who don't call themselves artists would enjoy drawing if they (and others) allowed themselves to do so.
I have a few thoughts for anyone who has contemplated drawing more for any purpose.
Purposes of Drawing
At the comic workshop I went to over the summer, one of the instructors talked about how she coordinates her plots for her YA fiction. For each chapter, she will do a small drawing of the most important scene of the chapter. Though she isn't a trained artist, her thumbnails help her organize her book with visual anchors. I was so delighted with this idea and it stuck with me --drawing at any level has such powerful uses!
- 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!
We all remember a teacher who would preface their lectures a MILLION times by saying "Remember, I'm not an artist, okay??" before drawing a stick figure on the board. This preface can be put before many other activities that a non-professional decides to participate in. "I'm not a dancer, okay? Don't judge me."
There's an inherent need to give context to a lack of skill, lest us be judged for enjoying the experience. One of the first steps towards engaging in a fun hobby or starting the road to making a hobby a profession is resisting the urge to judge your own work so harshly that you decide not to participate in it further.
In other words, "I'm not an artist" can often result in a person giving up on drawing, when being good or bad was never 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.
I generally don't invest in expensive materials for sketching. It feels intimidating, especially since my sketchbooks are for spitting out ideas rather than making finished drawings. I usually buy a cheap hardbound sketchbook from Michaels and work through that. I remember 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! I also really enjoy drawing on post-its for this same reason.
As for actual drawing materials, all I can do is 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'm happy to share which tools I use because they affect my enjoyment while creating! 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.
My final tip would be to take recommendations from artists you like, try some different materials, and find out what you enjoy the most! 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 is to plan a drawing or explore an idea. 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. 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 copy it to understand how it was drawn. "Hmm, I really like how this person drew this hand." It's like learning a new yoga pose or vocabulary word. If you like the usage of an element, you want to test it out in an example scenario before you can incorporate it into your own work.
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!