If we only consider drawing to mean realistically or accurately depicting a subject, we miss out on a whole variety of different styles of drawing methods. No one style is better when it comes to art—the important thing is physically putting pen or pencil to paper and making marks. Whether those marks are messy or ‘inaccurate’ doesn’t matter because the goal is to get creative, not reproduce reality. Letting go of the idea that drawing has to look a certain way is an important first step in the creative process. It will be easier said than done as the mind is going to make a fuss if it doesn’t look perfect. But as nothing ever is perfect, having such high expectations sets you up for disappointment before you’ve made a single mark.
Gary Panter talked about the downside of trying to draw realistically: “You might want to draw more realistically or in perspective or so it looks slick — that’s is possible and there are tricks and procedures for drawing with more realism if you desire it. But drawing very realistically with great finesse can sometimes produce dead uninteresting drawings — relative, that is, to a drawing with heart and charm and effort but no great finesse.”
Heart and charm and effort—far more interesting (and a kinder approach) than slick and uninteresting.
If you accepted the challenge to draw more often, what kind of marks do you visualise making and of what types of subjects or objects? The idea of what we should draw can keep us from making any marks at all – especially if a perfectly photo-realistic pencil portrait is what you consider drawing to be. The Oxford Complete Wordfinder defines ‘drawing’ as “a picture, depiction, representation, sketch, plan, outline, design, composition, monochrome, cartoon.” That definition covers a very wide range of possible marks and styles. With no mention about how realistic the drawing needs to be, how closely it reflects reality, you are free to pursue drawing without any refined technical skills.
David Maclagan in Line Let Loose suggests an endless range of drawing possibilities: “Drawings are records, observations, discoveries and inventions, sometimes all at once.” If you widen your definition for what drawing can be, a whole world of possibilities opens up. Possibilities may include ‘bad’, messy, childish, spontaneous, quick and colourful marks, plus any other marks that surface during the making process.
Can drawing be a tool to get you to connect more fully with your life? This is something Frederick Franck in Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing explores. After engaging consistently with a drawing practice for many years, he discovered that seeing and drawing “had fused into one single undivided act. I call it seeing/drawing.”
He explains that looking-at the world is different to seeing it:”…we have become addicted to merely looking-at things and beings. The more we regress from seeing to looking-at the world… the less we see. The less we see, the more numbed we become to the joy and the pain of being alive, and the further estranged we become from ourselves and all others.” We are bombarded everyday by thousands of images, sounds, sights and experiences but are we really seeing?
Franck encourages us “Seeing/drawing is an immunization against the addiction to looking-at: it restores the gift of seeing – that is: of Being, of being fully alive.” To pick up a pencil and draw something is to begin to use our eyes more fully, to begin to really see what is in front of us. The process of drawing can unlock a stronger connection to our attention and allow us to open our eyes to a more fuller human experience.
Art you make today is not only the foundation on which you build confidence and develop as an artist. It’s also potential inspiration for future art. Don’t underestimate the power of a curve of a line, a tiny pattern or smallest detail within a piece of art that could be a starting point tomorrow, next week or month.
Peter Parr in Zen of Drawing talks how work created today, not matter how small, has value: “A sketch should be kept, as it will almost certainly be used sooner or later, no matter how slight it may seem at the time. Its primary value to you was its creation – an immeasurable benefit to your wellbeing.” The value is you made something out of nothing. That is enough.
While your first instinct may be to throw out any art you don’t like, it’s useful to keep it for a while, somewhere out of sight. At a later date, pull out the art and look for details of interest. You don’t have to like the whole piece of art. Can you find a small area that intrigues you? Cut that bit out and use it as inspiration to make more art. Revisiting old art after a period of time creates distance between you and the art and reviewing it may give you a different perspective.
As Parr encourages, “Time spent quietly observing and drawing is a gift beyond price.” A gift indeed, if you can see that the value is in the process and not the entirety of each individual art work.
Most answers to most of your creative problems are so simple, you may not believe them. Making art as an adult can be challenging if you’re out of practice. Why then, if children make their art with so much freedom, do adults find it difficult to create with that same freedom? Dan Roam in Draw to Win suggests that we find drawing difficult because of our own beliefs about our drawing abilities and the answer is “you mostly just need to get out of your own way.”
He identifies a list of things that make drawing hard: Impatience, wondering what to draw, worrying about what’s next, editing as you go, a blank sheet and “art.” Then he suggest things that make drawing easy (which are also all solutions to the above issues): Curiosity, starting with a circle, letting your hand go, drawing now and editing later, making marks on the page and “just do it.”
Do you think the suggestions for what makes drawing easy are too simple to be true?For example, if you feel paralysed by blank paper you should make marks? But the mind is your biggest obstacle and it will try to resist at every turn (via the inner critic). “Make marks?” It scoffs. “What’s the point in that if it’s not “‘proper’ drawing? This is a waste of time!” But making marks warms up your hard and starts the creative process. It puts you in a different frame of mind, one where negative chatter can falls away so you can get on with the fun of being creative.
Have you ever sketched something to create a physical memory instead of just taking a photograph? Most likely you’ve more photos than sketches but drawing is something that can enhance your memory of past events and bring a richness to new experiences like travel.
Danny Gregory in the Art For All podcast ep 8, describes travelling somewhere new: “When I stop and study something new, it sparks ideas and I recognise new connections. I get insights into my own life by seeing how it differs from this new place and I learn not to take anything for granted. Just because we always do things this way doesn’t mean that’s the way you have to do it. So it allows me to kind of live life on more vivid terms.” Although travel is an enriching way to to experience new worlds, just by looking closer at your own neighbourhood, you open up to seeing things differently.
Gregory explains on a past Japan trip describes “I just wasn’t engaged and present. But drawing has changed all that. When you sit down and you draw something, all of your senses are on. Study Notre-Dame for half an hour and you’ll never forget it. Draw the plaza outside St. Peter’s Vatican and it will be severed into your brain cells. Not just the sights but the smells, the sounds the temperature – all of it. While I draw I’m experiencing life in super-high definition. Vacations are really expensive. You spend thousands of dollars on hotels and restaurants and museum admissions and they become even more costly when the memories that you’ve picked up, fade before your tan does. But I can open any of my travel sketchbooks and I’m instantly transported back to Florence, to Vienna, to Kuala Lumpur because the drawings that contain all those memories are there. They are encoded in ink and watercolor.”
Koosje Koene on the podcast agreed that “doing it [drawing] everyday and documenting certain moments and certain places, it is a way of taking photographs, only you use your pen.”
The idea that drawing can be even more effective at creating memories is something Juhani Pallasmaa discusses in a lecture on the thinking hand: “this multiple nature of the sketch… makes me remember vividly each one of the hundreds of scenes I have sketched during 50 years of my travels around the world. Whereas I can hardly recall any of the places I have photographed because of the weaker embodied recording in taking of photograph.”
If drawing helps us hold onto memories more effectively, perhaps we should consider picking up a pen instead of a camera more often.